When one wades through forums and encounters “debate” the way I have, you can’t help but run into the annoying tactic of rhetoric called pilpulering. Usually it manifests itself in the form of constant bickering over every point, whether primary or secondary. The idea also is to distract from rational discussion. The method is so ingrained in the pysche of Jewish commentators that it behooves those in the counter movement to be fully aware of what we are dealing with.
David Shasha, director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage, explains how it works. It evolved from the rabbis, who controlled the discourse around interpretations of the Talmud, or what Shasha called reinterpretations. He writes:
What is thought to be the Jewish “genius” is often a mark of how pilpul is deployed. The rhetorical tricks of pilpul make true rational discussion impossible; any “discussion” is about trying to “prove” a point that has already been established. There is little use trying to argue in this context, because any points being made will be twisted and turned to validate the already-fixed position. …
The contentiousness of the Middle East conflict is intimately informed by pilpul. Whether it is Alan Dershowitz or Noam Chomsky, both of them Ashkenazim who had traditional Jewish educations, the terms of the debate are consistently framed by pilpul. What is most unfortunate about pilpul — and this is something that will be familiar to anyone who has followed the controversies involving Israel and Palestine — is that, since the rational has been removed from the process, all that is left is yelling, irrational emotionalism, and, ultimately, the threat of violence. It is this agitation that continues to mar a political process that has long abandoned the rational understanding of the issues involved in its construction.
In the Jewish Talmudic teachings, the term “pilpul” is basically referring to the art of mastering various bullshit debate tactics, which includes a number of rhetorical tricks allowing the pilpuller to interpret the Talmud in however many ways they want.
This was extended into Jewish thinking and argues/debates the etymology of words, meaning and so on in such a way that you can justify anything out of any context, even if the original context had nothing to with the latter justifications based on manipulative cunning, logical fallacies, ad-hominem attacks and straw-man tactics.
This was called the Lav Davqa Method. In English, we might call it the “not quite” way of reading a text. When a text appeared to be saying one thing, the Tosafot — in order to conform to the already-existing custom — would re-interpret it by saying that what it seemed to mean is not what it really meant.
Pilpul occurs any time the speaker is committed to “prove” his point regardless of the evidence in front of him. This hair-splitting leads to a labyrinthine form of argument where the speaker blows enough rhetorical smoke to make his interlocutor submit. Reason is not an issue when pilpul takes over. What counts is the establishment of a fixed, immutable point that can never truly be disputed.
The key to dealing with this is framing the debate and not allowing the pilpuler the full luxury of doing so. If you use low-hanging fruit in your arguments, say about the behaviors of specific named Judiacs, then you can use the nitpicking as a martial arts move that takes advantage of the pilpuller’s weight. Luckily, most of the time the pilpuller operates by rote and rarely comes up with anything very original.
Here is an example of such a duel pertaining to a New Nationalist article about the fraudulent Milgram and Zimbardo experiments run by dishonest Jews with agendas. The first dead giveaway that you are dealing with a pilpuller is that they operate as if they didn’t read the post. This of course is a manipulation to diminish the value of the post. The pilpuller is also trying to draw you into an emotional tar pit, hoping you might say irrational things. And people on our side of the debate fall for this trick all the time. If you do this, please keep in mind that this is a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust ground long game. A pilpuller will not typically give you a home-run pitch, so keep your cards close to the vest. You goal is not to convince the pilpuller but to influence others who are more neutral.
The following is an example drawn from Reddit. The question that “richard golbes” poses is standard and rote. Note that if you wish to view how our posts are treated at Reddit or weigh in, the social media tab is at the end of the article. Just click the Reddit logo as seen below. Also, if you support our work, we don’t ask for money- just shares and upvotes. Since we are subject to organized brigading, an upvote from you keeps us in the que longer.
In the case of Milgram and Zimbardo, I have the advantage that others have criticized their “research.” “richard golbes” is no dummy and knows that, so notice how he twists that reality to make my points irrelevant and not pertinent. Also, note how he “out of the blue” inserts the rote and emotionally loaded term “holocaust-denier” into the exchange. This is shifting the goalposts — but I am not going there, as my tactics involve a ground game, which requires framing the conversation the way I want.
Milgram’s research isn’t taken very seriously in the scientific community.
As for the Nazis: did they not mindlessly bow to authority? Or did they wholeheartedly believe in what they were doing? Probably a combination of both. Unless you are a Holocaust-denier, in which case the Milgram thing is just a red herring.
As my whole article is there to be read by anybody observing (my goal), I simply use “richard golbes’” own weight and agree about the lack of credibility of the Milgram research. But I also point out the obvious observable fact: that this wasn’t always the case.
And I also answered his assumptive question directly and tried to stretch it to a double by effectively agreeing the research was not just lacking in credibility, but was evil. At this point, there isn’t much here for a pilpuller except for repetition, or another goal post shift, which at this point would largely reinforce my low-hanging fruit points. All this was done compactly and without getting bogged down into the long-winded rhetoric and razzle dazzle of the pilpurer. Try to keep it short and sweet. And oh, keep an English dictionary handy to deal with doublespeak and newspeak.
I am glad to hear his research not longer is given much cred. But at the time his (and others like it) were widely publicized and in turn implanted into the public consciousness.
To broad brush with fake research a whole people as carrying out crimes because they “bow to authority” is just out right dishonest and evil. In reality criminals are specifically selected for dirty deeds, then and now.
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