I recently involved myself (as I'm apt to do) in a totally absurd argument about artistic genius, social influence, and individual effort over at Comicboards.com. (Yes, the familiar cliché about having to post message after message because "Someone is wrong on the internet!" does apply.) It basically amounted to someone claiming that, for example, Harry Potter is the creation of an individual genius that transcends issues of influence and cultural antecedents, and two others of us arguing that it's absolutely insipid to claim that Rowling acted in a vacuum and that Harry Potter could not have existed if, for example, Tolkien had never written Lord of the Rings. To anyone with a modicum of knowledge of social or cultural theory, this is hardly revolutionary - at its simplest level, our ability to communicate relies on our use of a symbolic order that precedes and exceeds us, and within which we are constantly acting and being acted upon.
To this other debater, though, this is an opportunity to invoke some of the stupidest and most underhanded means of declaring victory in an internet debate. So my issue isn't so much with this particular argument as it is with the sorts of strategies that she deployed in order to fake a "win". This list is incomplete (feel free to propose new items), but succinctly sums up the unfortunate turn that this discussion took in the past 24 hours or so:
1. The common sense victory - Reduce your position to an unfair, but totally undeniable, truism and assert that your opponent's disagreement with you equals a rejection of the truism. (For instance, assert that you're just supporting the artist, whose craft requires hard work and dedication (the truism), and that anyone who doubts the "wholly individual" genius of an artist lacks respect for that artist's enormous efforts.)
2. The moral victory - Announce that you're walking away from the debate. (Bonus points for returning because you just couldn't let your opponent continue to get it wrong.)*
3. The victory in absentia - Mock one of your opponents in a forum that is restricted or to which s/he doesn't have access, but to which you know a number of other participants in the forum have access and will be able to witness your victory dance. (Bonus points for classiness if 3 follows directly after 2.)
4. The lowest-common denominator victory - If all else fails, play the intellectual laziness card by suggesting that your opponents' efforts to refute your argument - via various appeals to textual authority, social theory, and lived human experience, as well as their need to correct your theoretical errors - and refusal to agree with you is evidence of irrationality and a closed-mind. (This is especially effective if your opponent is right.)
5. The ad-hominem victory - Ignore all the arguments and poke fun at your opponent with a non sequitur or other incomprehensible and ostensibly humorous gesture in order to emphasize that while his/her seriousness is surely derived from insecurity and anxiety, you are so comfortable in the truth of your opinion that you can openly joke about it. (Although I'm lost on exactly what this one is supposed to accomplish and how it could fool anyone.)
It's incredibly difficult to do any of this offline - or, at least, to do without someone calling you on it immediately - but all too common online. And this is why I sometimes hate the internet.
*I am, of course, occasionally guilty of engaging in this one myself.