Attitude and Appearance

The tone argument is a form of derailment, or a red herring, because the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issue at hand. Drawing attention to the tone rather than content of a statement can allow other parties to avoid engaging with sound arguments presented in that statement, thus undermining the original party's attempt to communicate and effectively shutting them down

—“Geek Feminism” on “tone arguments”[0].

At an earlier point in my life, I agreed that “tone arguments” were red herrings and irrelevant to the discussions which they were used in. When discussions take place over a textual, impersonal medium such as Usenet, “tone arguments” seem far more irrelevant; when discussions take place over a physical, personal medium such as a conference or user group, they are far more relevant. How we express ourselves is a great indicator of how we can win hearts and minds to our positions. Scientists do not advocate the Darwinian theory of evolution with ebullient tears. They advocate it with a wide array of statistics and reason. Upcoming writers would be well advised to note that scientific books and essays are most often bereft of hysterics and uppercased words.

Over the past few years, I have come to a few conclusions regarding DOM libraries. I think that most have been written in a poor manner and provide more problems than solutions. I also think that the DOM selectors which most Web developers use are frivolous and distort the underlying tree structure of document trees. Those conclusions are held by few Web developers. As is often the case with minority positions, I have often found that I have been swarmed by people who have disagreed with me. Because I arrived at my conclusions via logic and reason, I wanted to convey the same logic and reason to my interlocutors. To do otherwise would only lead to more strife and confusion. My scepticism of DOM libraries has lead to great problems in my personal life. Employers have been loath to hiring me; peers have gazed upon me with furrowed brows and dismissed me. Often, my problem has been one of expression: physical and literal. In person, I appear annoyed and disinterested. I appear annoyed because I have deep personal problems coupled with deep scepticism of plenty of technologies. Interviewers expect me to use some of those technologies, and I often assent to doing just that. However, my countenance seems to belie my words. If I were to express assent to using a certain technology which I did not like, I may do so with a grimace, even though I was willing to accept the tools given to me. Interlocutors could then conclude that I was unwilling to use certain technologies and, therefore, lying through my teeth. If I were to express assent with a smile, I would be perceived in a much more positive manner.

I attended a recent user group which provided a presentation on an emerging technology which I was sceptical of. When I walked into the presentation, I stood with crossed arms, grumbled about hype to myself, and watched. The sceptical attitude tipped towards a negative attitude. Afterwards, I reflected upon my past struggles with perception and how my attitude could have caused the strife which I found myself suffering from. At various times, I have initiated an argument with another developer, prompting them to answer for various inaccuracies and misconceptions. In doing so, I have been told, I have often been perceived as being negative or adversarial. Scepticism is perceived as inconvenient or negative. Whether that may be the case is not the issue being argued. The issue being argued is how sceptics can express themselves without negative consequences.

A man whom I respect, an œconomist by the name of Walter Williams, noted[1] some advice which he was given by another œconomist, Milton Friedman. Friedman told him that though his grasp of the subject matter was great, in order to win hearts and minds, he should smile. Williams was not making incorrect points, but he could have conveyed them in an amiable manner as Friedman often did. Amiability yields great returns when used on a receptive audience. Jokes are perhaps the best venue to convey amiability and could be used far more often by sceptics. Milton Friedman once quipped[2] that given a desert to manage, a government would create a shortage of sand. His point was that governments were often inept at management and failed to notice œconomic incentives. The point itself was negative, but the quip made it far more appetising to the audience.

In short, the matter which we present ourselves and make our arguments in has a large impact on how we are interpreted and how receptive others are to our opinions. An argument is no less valid when made by a person with dishevelled hair and a tattered coat than it is when made by a person with styled hair and a suit. However, it is more credible because the people listening to the argument have noticed the extra effort put into the presentation. In the same manner, an argument made with a joke and a smile is more effective than an argument made with a scowl. We should not underestimate the effects of proper presentation.

When I read an article which is filled with uppercased words, exclamation marks, or distracting GIF images, I give it less credence because it was written in an immature manner. I seek adult arguments made with care and rigour, not teenage diatribes. Appearance and attitude, though not conclusive, help people reach conclusions. Those qualities should not be ignored.

http://www.heymiller.com/2011/03/walter-williams/ (see also: Walter Williams’s Big Classroom—National Review, April 4th, 2011)
http://bfi.uchicago.edu/post/milton-friedman-his-own-words (when I find the relevant video, I will cite it)