The principle of charity is one of those difficult to maintain bits of basic conversational decency, namely the assumption our interlocutor is neither a moron nor evil. All too frequently, however, it is the first piece of excess weight to be jettisoned in the high-speed game of debate. Calm and considered becomes fast and dirty. It is the triumph of a certain type of rhetoric over reason, and the ground for all ad hominem attacks. What I wonder is whether there is room for some middle ground, or some manner whereby we can attack…justifiably.
The first need not be the face-saving, third-way, risk-averse, Swiss-inspired take on argument. Perhaps the reductio ad absurdum is one way for this to take place, since in this way we accept our opponent’s terms, and take them to a final conclusion that in its extremity whiplashes back in a shockwave of ludicrousness on the starting premises. This too, however, involves a certain suspension of the principle of charity, because our partner in this discussion (which is what we should probably consider our opponent to be) can protest that they did not intend for their position or argument to have the scope which we may have imputed. The second could be a kind of “just war doctrine” for argument.
I believe that the best route is to start with a technological, network approach, allowing this to inform our discussions and arguments. As such, if something (an idea, critique) creates more information or even knowledge, then it is valid. If it is posturing, cynical, opportunistic, then it is not. Only that which is constructive (or not overtly destructive) is valid. Cynicism and the “cool” attitude of neo-conservative, laissez faire post-modernism is a performance, an act of being “knowing” rather than the effort to created knowledge.
Well, all I can hope is that my interlocutors would start with the premise that if I managed to somehow feel my way through the fug of idiocy, to mash my troglodytic hands against a keyboard for long enough to eventually produce something that borders on grammatical consistency and logical intelligibility then that maybe, just maybe, I am not some sort of satanic imbecile hell-bent on the destruction of civilization and indeed the universe itself via the twin idols of incompetence and depravity. I should be so lucky.