Laughing At An Argument Is Not A Rebuttal, Even If You’re A Libertarian – Freedom Philosophy

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I had an interesting experience during my days at university. I witnessed a debate over the issue of capital punishment. One fellow supported it and brought with him data on deterrence impacts and ethical arguments on justice. His interlocutor made a disappointing joke he heard on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show – no data, no analysis, no philosophy, just a witless quip.

Surprisingly, the others listening in started smirking, nodding to the quip, and agreed. The joke was the argument, and the peers validating the position was the justification. The mob had set in, and rigorous analysis was impossible.

Today we’re left with the spawns of Stewart. As they were rising to prominence I began hosting philosophy symposiums and I noticed a rise in odd behaviour among some. When someone articulated a proposition they disagreed with, their response was, to begin with, laughter. It became an expected phenomenon, and I began to label the individuals who do it ‘the laugh track’ – they pretend to laugh at things they don’t believe are humourous.

I don’t know how to neatly state my case, but after hosting 300 symposiums I can modestly claim that I have never once seen the laugh track go onto say something intelligent about the topic at hand.

It’s akin to the practice of correcting someone’s grammar if they disagree. The same can be said of eye rolls accompanied by scoffs. These are a non-rational means of saying, “I’m more intelligent than you”, without having any substance. People don’t resort to these tactics if they don’t need to, and only if they wish to engage in social power plays rather than learn truth.

If people have something intelligent to say they simply say it, otherwise if they’re passionate about telling others they disagree then they use other tactics. Again, I don’t have an argument to substantiate this, I can merely point out that after 300 debates I’ve never seen substance follow someone who laughs at an idea they disagree with.

This laugh track has become an internet phenomenon. It’s replaced with the laugh react. Our thoughts are propagated with irony rather than analysis, with pun rather than pen. The phenomenon existed prior to social media, it existed prior to late-night comedians, but each step has amplified the phenomenon.

The echo-chambering has been amplified as well. Social media made it possible to have a mob mentality from a distance. The dangers in this are countless. Validation from a peer is the cause of a great many atrocities and now it happens virtually.

I recently had a discussion with some libertarians on the issue of wearing masks. I arrived at the discussion armed with a literature review on epidemiology, which I’ve written academically about in the past. I was met with laugh reacts and poorly constructed memes.

An interlocutor gave a counter-argument which was not the first I’ve heard of it, “Your side is so weak you can’t even meme”.

This is the final stage, the endgame of Stewart’s truth by comedy approach. It’s truth by non-methodical thought. The laughing at a disagreeing thought caught on and it spread. It’s a group of people who arrive at truth by popular opinion.

It’s the individual who says in seriousness, “I am the wisest, for I have laughed at the most other ideas, and you are the most foolish, for you have been laughed at the most”.

It’s superficiality put on steroids. An inability to engage seriously with thoughts contrary to one’s own is actually an intellectual deficit, not a strength. This is our point of arrival, where people who can’t contemplate alternative perspectives begin laughing at other points of view, they find validation through peers and wonder why their points lack reason or rationality.

This is a call to increased reason – to increased investigation. We ought to search deeper than that which our friends have affirmed. It’s a call to rejection of laugh reacts to substantiate truth. We can do better.

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby has a philosophy degree with the University of New Brunswick. He works for a Cayman Island hedge fund service firm, owns a real estate company, and has been in the financial industry since 2004. He is the director of Being Libertarian - Canada. He is a member of the People’s Party of Canada and the Libertarian Party of Canada.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. I realized this was true some time ago. Most generally, when you articulate your ideas and offer facts, I find that they will just begin flinging accusations and epithets at you. Like You’re a Racist, homophobe, Rape apologist, etc. What they want, is for you to defend against it in order to trap you into a “Damned if you do/Damned if you don’t no-win argument. (Have you stopped beating your wife?) These people will not even acknowledge sound facts let alone entertain and discuss them. So a few years back, I began to Laugh at the accusations and name-calling. Many times I will begin talking to them in Yoda-isms, in Yoda’s voice. Which I’m quite good at. “Clairvoyant you must be! See into my soul you can! Judge my motivations and intent you can! etc.” All while laughing uproariously with a look of surprise (Think Tucker Carlson) I actually got the name ScriptFlipper from that tactic.

  2. There is a difference between logic and rhetoric, and oddly enough rhetoric doesn’t appear to need to be verbal.. as you noted.

  3. This page came up in a search I did in a pique of frustration with this exact phenomenon. Thank you for writing about it. While my politics have run the gamut over my life, I have always tried to make the genuine effort to keep debates on-topic and consistent. To see an ever-increasing swathe of the population simply either laugh-react statements with which they disagree out of the gate, or worse – take what had seemed a worthwhile discussion (albeit one in which there was no likelihood of accord) – and chunk it whole cloth out of the window with an emoji is just disappointing on so many levels. I realize those that choose this end to a conversation believe they are flaunting some sort of superiority, but that couldn’t be further from the case.

    Anyways, thanks again for writing on this.

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