Charles’ Rules of Argument: the short version

There’s a great piece of Old Internet Culture called Charles’ Rules of Argument. I’ve found it to be extremely useful in how I discuss difficult issues online, in particular in deciding how to pick my battles, what I’m trying to get out of an argument, and how to fight burnout and manage my energy.

You can read the original version if you’re interested in a good yarn, but there’s a wonderful precis of it in the Ada Initiative’s Ally Skills Workshop, which I’ve been teaching a lot over the past few months. Here it is, with my notes in brackets:

  • Don’t go looking for an argument [there will always be enough of those headed your way]
  • State your position once, speaking to the audience [it’s hard to convince people to change their minds, but you can often sway observers who are less invested in Being Correct]
  • Reply one more time to correct any misunderstandings of your first statement [Do this after waiting a bit for replies to roll in]
  • Do not reply again [IMPORTANT]
  • Spend time doing something fun instead [Self care! It’s a thing! You should do! Eat some ice cream, watch trashy TV, hug a friend.]

I find that I often underestimate the toll that Arguing On The Internet takes on my energy levels. It seems amusing at first and then I look up and it’s two hours later and I’m exhausted. Charles’ Rules are incredibly helpful as a tool to keep you mindful of the impact on your life that online debate can have.

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One thought on “Charles’ Rules of Argument: the short version

  1. It is a strange feeling when you’re reminded that your blog is sometimes read by people you don’t know.🙂

    I’ve been meaning to update that post for a while, the second half is a cynical guide to “winning” arguments through tone trolling, and I really should have done a better job of being clear it’s a bad way to argue if you want to keep friends.

    [Ed note: carlfish left a second version of this comment, in which the last sentence said that it was “written before I knew just how much that tactic was used to silence minority voices.” – I wanted to make sure to include that point as well🙂 ]

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