Recently, I got called out in a discussion where I labeled something a “bad faith” argument. We were talking about the last Seattle City Council election between Dan Strauss and Heidi Wills for District 6. I said one reason it was wholly appropriate Wills lost because she made a bad faith argument that the Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link should be replaced with an elevated bikeway. Someone took me to task on labeling Wills’ concept — and by extension Wills — was acting in bad faith.
A bad faith argument is one thrown out to obscure a hidden agenda, coming to the negotiation table with no intent of reaching an outcome. Tossing off lazy words about an elevated bike lane carries a hidden agenda of torpedoing the project. Seattle is notoriously cheap when it comes to bike infrastructure and the Missing Link has been the most contentious segment of the Burke-Gilman Trail for decades now. Make it more expensive? That’s trying to dunk the whole thing.
But does it rise to the level of bad faith? Or was the idea simply disingenuous, something that was an insincere solution to an honest argument. Wills spent time on the city council, and more than a second paying attention would inform her that any bike lane was contentious, much less one at ten times the price. But she was engaging in the discussion about the Burke-Gilman Trail. A bad faith argument would not have gotten that far.
Disingenuous arguments versus bad faith arguments. They’re both misrepresentations. But the focus of the lie is different. And its impact on the listener is different. Those are vital as we come into the final days of this election, where misinformation abounds.
The Focus. It’s not me, it’s you.
Disingenuous arguments are a lie about the person making them. It’s being dishonest that the person making them is capable of seeing complexity in the situation.
A good example of this is the City Council Position 8 race. Candidate Kenneth Wilson proposes to re-open the West Seattle Bridge before it’s structurally fit. His solution includes shaving down the bridge’s concrete barriers and opening one lane in each direction to cars. From his website, “I have difficulty understanding that with 100,000 vehicles per day why the West Seattle Bridge had not been similarly prioritized for some level of opening.”
It is a disingenuous argument because it engages the debate about the bridge on legitimate terms, then misrepresents Wilson’s ability to come to grips with the complexity of the situation. As an engineer, he’s fully capable of recognizing that more goes into the decision to reopen a bridge than just the weight it carries. There’s traffic diversion, enforcement, monitoring, and completing further repairs. As well as the outstanding question of what if the calculations are a little off and the bridge collapses with people on it? Competent engineers can recognize the peril.
Compare that to the underlying misrepresentation of a bad faith argument. It’s a lie against the discussion itself and you, the listener, for thinking that the issue is important. Bad faith arguments are just to occupy the debate and turn it into an energy sapping argument. Bad faith goes beyond straw men and red herring debate stylings because it’s not a rhetorical device. It’s a straight up attack on having the discussion.