The divergence of effectiveness and rigor

​I had an idea during the recent furore over the Google memo. Someone—not me—should create a Twitter account that takes responses to events and media that people post online and assigns them a rating. The rating would be derived from Paul Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement:
Graham, in his essay, assigns a code to each level of the hierarchy:

DH0. Name-calling.
DH1. Ad hominem.
DH2. Responding to tone.
DH3. Contradiction.
DH4. Counter-argument.
DH5. Refutation.
DH6. Refuting the central point.

So some social justice warrior calling James Damore a dick-bag would get a “DH0”. An in-depth, rigorous refutation of each point of Damore’s memo would get a “DH5”. I would follow that account.

But here’s the mistaken assumption that I make, and I believe Paul Graham made when piecing together his hierarchy: thinking that refuting the central point is the same as gaining an advantage in a debate. As Venkatesh Rao pointed out in Portals and Flags:

“The point of complex debates is not to prove your side right and the other wrong. Smart people make this mistake most often, and end up losing before they ever get started. The point of complex debate is always seduction: winning-over rather than winning. You do this not through logic or even novel insight, but by demonstrating a more fertile way of thinking. One that promises to throw up an indefinitely extended stream of surprises within an ever-widening scope.”

Winning-over rather than winning. The consequences of this observation are far-reaching. The most insidious being that the rightness or truth of a statement is not what determines its adoption. What determines its adoption is whether people are willing to agree with it. Another way of holding this in your mind is to begin to assess all arguments in two different dimensions: rigor and effectiveness. The two are separate because not all effective arguments are rigorous and not all rigorous arguments are effective. Read multiple books about the same topic and you’ll see the divergence. 

Naturally, such a truth can be and is exploited for profit and gain. I’m not condoning that. What I am saying is that once you realise that effectiveness and rigor are not the same thing, once you see that there’s a difference between winning and winning-over, it allows you to be ensnared less often by the purveyors of effective but non-rigorous arguments. It allows you to move through the world with less chance of being burned by the constant flame wars over the latest cultural taboo. Mind you, it still means others will be hooked by effective, non-rigorous arguments. But I don’t know exactly how we can begin to change that. Any ideas?