Life as an Extreme Sport

Examples of How Not to Argue

My post on organ sales in China, starting from a post over at AJOB’s blog, has created a bit of a furor. I think these sorts of debate are important to have in the public sphere, and thankfully, when you send email to someone, you do implicitly give them permission to do what they want with it, including posting it online. So, for those of you who don’t see my inbox, here’s the letter I was sent tonight… and my reply. Please take notes on proper arguing styles, as argumentative fallacies really irritate me. If you’re going to argue, do it right and well, or don’t do it at all.

From: Charles Liu
Date: Sun, 15 Oct 2006 21:44:48 -0700
To: Me
Subject: RE: [Academia as an Extreme Sport] Comment: “Organ Sales in China”

Kelly, here’s an article from Stanford Asia Pacific Center:

It covers the subject of growing media freedom in China.

I’m curious – have you been to China? If you haven’t I suggest you go take a
look for yourself, perhaps then you’ll know what is propaganda and what is

(If you can’t read Chinese try not to blame 1.3 billion people; it ain’t
their fault.)

The Chinese search engine result contains many points of view, including
those consistent with yours. Ar they too propaganda?

The fact there has been a wide range of opinions this subject in China for
years, shows the eventual legal reform by the Chinese government this year –
is a result of their own national dialogue, not because BBC did a story or
people like you bitched about ethics (as if the Chinese are unable to decide
for themselves.)

And you claim to understand buddism?

And for completion sake, my reply:

Yes, I’m one of those “irritating” Westerners who claims to understand Buddhism. I have the fun of scholastic backing as well as personal, and have studied with leaders in both the academic and spiritual side – so, I know my Buddhism. I even took the time to run it by Rinpoche, to make certain my understanding was firm. I realize it must be a shock to find out a Westerner does know what she’s talking about – but hey, China imported Buddhism, too, so why not? India’s the country with claims to the religion.

Not only do I have the background to make claims about Buddhism, I have the background to make claims about bioethics, too – it’s not just “bitching”, it’s years of academia leading me to being able to make informed statements – and you? You want to challenge my authority to talk about Buddhism and ethics and China, what about you? You obviously feel you can speak more authoritatively than me on all three, so lay it out. Show me your credentials for all of the above, so I don’t just write you off as some internet irritant.

Have I been to China? No, I haven’t. However, I’ve the fun of being raised by an international businessman who was one of the first Westerners to be invited to do business in China, and has run several successful multinationals there. In addition to my father’s years of experience with the culture, I have several Asian relatives, including my Chinese niece – one of the many abandoned girls adopted by those Westerners you’re so quick to denigrate.

Your mistake is that you’re making a straw man argument – you’re attacking something that is not at issue, in an effort to distract from the real issue. The issue at hand is organ sales from prisoners apparently killed on the basis of need for their organs. Attempting to take the critical eye off of that issue is nothing more than a straw man attack attempting to distract from the uncomfortable truths of the situation. America’s organ donation issues are not at issue, and the only thing relevant about China in the debate, is that which relates to the problem – nothing else. It is, sadly, a common fallacy among people who either don’t want to debate the issue, or don’t want to admit that something distasteful is occuring.

Sometimes, I miss the lack of mood icons on Word Press – it’s so much easier to indicate exasperation and irritation that way.


  1. At least being Catholic I only get the whole “sexually repressed android” comments, and not that I’m just playing at my religion. Small comforts, I guess.

  2. Just to keep it all together, the two emails I received in reply. Since said person is still trying to pull a straw man, I’m going to have fun and utilize my fine skills of ignoring the irritating.

    From: Charles Liu
    Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 11:13:08 -0700
    To: Me
    Subject: Re: [Academia as an Extreme Sport] Comment: “Organ Sales in China”

    Kelly, here’s your claim:

    “Anything from within China, however, must be considered as propaganda.”

    If this claim is false, do you think you have sufficiently refuted my
    argument that you have ignored China’s reality and their own national dialog
    on this issue?

    And I’ve proven you wrong by 1) citing you the article from Dr. Rowen. Did
    you even read it? It’s from Stanford; 2) the fact there are opinions within
    China that are consistent with yours.

    So Chinese people who agree with you are spewing propaganda too? Where’s
    your proof all excutions in China are unjust? There are no bad guys in
    China? Give me a break.

    You must think they, as subhumans, are some how less qualified, or unable to
    make judgement/decision/mistakes on their own.

    Go see the real China for yourself. I used to hate China with passion, and a
    trip there few years ago cured me of it (BTW I’m an American.)

    Good Luck,

    From: Charles Liu
    Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 11:56:18 -0700
    Subject: Re: [Academia as an Extreme Sport] Comment: “Organ Sales in China”

    “it’s years of academia” – yet you are shy about the details. Dr. Rowen, the
    director of Stanford Asia Pacific Research Center, has an impressive bio
    open to the public. Where’s your CV that lends credibility to your “I know
    better what’s propaganda”?

    “raised by an international businessman who was one of the first Westerners
    to be invited to do business in China” – are you claiming some sort of
    “legacy credibility”? That’s not your credibility is it?

    Go see the real China for yourself and expand you mind a little, that’s all
    I can tell you. If your dad runs a multi-national in China, it shouldn’t be
    hard for you to travel a little there.

    Frankly, I find little interest in attempting to hold conversations with people who resort to continual straw men attacks, and refuse to address anything being asked of them. The “I’ll just ask you more questions” is a distraction technique designed to get someone to become defensive and reactionary, and hopefully ignore the fact that you (the you in question being Charles) cannot answer any of the questions posed of you. I’ve better things to do with my time.

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