Proof by Verbal Assault

In formal debates, a Gish Gallop is as term for when one debater attempts to overwhelm their opponent with a large number of arguments too quickly for them to respond to all of them in the time allotted. It’s what in the world of professional debaters, you call being a dick. However, outside of formal debates, something like the Gish Gallop also appears all over society as a form of social violence which is, while not entirely ubiquitous, common enough to see in most places you look for it.

I want to point to a pattern where, when someone has a problem, or thinks the person their talking to is in the wrong, they will just verbally bombard them with their correctness, condescendingly and aggressively talking down to them, scolding them, and refusing to stop talking long enough to let them respond. I’ve seen this in both my social and professional circles, and once I started looking I saw it lots of places. I see it with how customers treat service workers, I see it with callout dynamics in online spaces, and I see it in political arguments between family members, and I see it troublingly often with parents when they scold young children.

Another example of this is in how groups like Autism Speaks will try to abuse autistic people into masking. “I just want you to improve, which is why I’m going to abuse you into acting how I want you to act.” It’s basically an attempt to use operant conditioning on someone, treating them like an animal which you can carrot-and-stick into doing what you want. On longer timescales, this is how trauma bonding happens.

The pattern is that they just keep being angry and abusive until the person they’re attacking recants their position, lowers their head, and mumbles an apology. This is a form of social violence, it’s abusing someone into agreeing with you, it’s proof by assault. You’re right, because you won’t stop hitting them until they tell you that you’re right. Sometimes, especially with parents and children, it escalates past social violence to actual violence, making the social violence even more threatening as it encodes itself as a prelude to what might come next if you don’t submit and they keep escalating.

If you think someone is doing this to you, you should not try to argue back at them. They’re not willing to hear your side, they know they’re 100% right and nothing you could say will change their mind. The only way to get them to stop is to submit, flee, or to out-escalate them. They don’t want a discussion, there’s nothing to discuss, you’re just wrong and need to be put in your place. Someone who can’t escape from that abuse will break eventually from it. Breaking won’t make the abuse stop though.

In fact, the more you break and give in, the more you are training your abuser that abuse is a good way to get you to do what they want. If you stand up to them and ride through the extinction burst, you’ll sever the causal chain that links abusing you and getting their way. This can be hard however, as before the behavior goes extinct they will attempt to out-escalate to the maximum degree they are capable of, often including physical violence. Be very cautious of attempting to out-escalate someone who is using proof by assault on you. If someone has all the cards, you’re kinda screwed if you can’t get away from them. If you look at a situation and realize that you’re taking an intolerable amount of damage from exposure to it, consider what you’d be willing to sacrifice to break the abuser’s grip on your neck. What really matters? How much are you willing to leave behind?

Leave a Reply