Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.
This phrase and its variants strike a chord of incredulity when I read them, especially if they show up late in an argument, after several points are raised and rebutted. Presumably someone who devoted that much time and passion to arguing over an issue would be greatly interested in swaying people towards their firmly-held position.
Then the cynicism I’ve built up over my years of being an internet skeptic sink in: Trolls. The particular variation I’m speaking of are those who argue a position not because they believe it, but because they enjoy angering and frustrating people who hold a contrary position, often with deliberately and transparently fallacious arguments. They avoid changing their position or making any sort of concession a sincere person might make in the face of good arguments to amplify the frustration.
Less cynically, it harkens to my own soft-sell vague spirituality phase of my life, when confrontation was discouraged and “negative.” It dipped in postmodernism, since being right wasn’t considered a part of being happy or prosperous. Phrases like that were used in attempts to move the argument towards a non-judgmental brainstorming session where any idea was welcome. The problem is that brainstorming is a beginning for generating a large pool of ideas to test, not a place where you want to remain. Finding good ideas means sorting them out from all the bad ones. This means you have to be willing to criticize an idea that looks bad or defend an idea that you think looks good and argue convincingly in either case.
Advice to my opponents: If you don’t like having your position criticized, think twice before asserting it. It’s better to bow out or remain silent than to grow indignant because you didn’t expect opposition. It gets worse if you carry on an extended argument and then claim that you weren’t arguing toward the purpose of argument, namely convincing other people. In the age of the internet, where insincere trolls arguing for the lulz are a dime a dozen, don’t use an escape clause that so easily depicts you as one of them.