This post isn’t going to be about persuading people in the conventional political realm. For that, you should ask a politician. This post is about debating political ideas with people, whether in person or on the internet.
The first thing that you should know is that you’re unlikely to get someone to cede their position or their fundamental beliefs in the course of a discussion. People will tend to be less focused on whether or not their position is right and more on how they can show that they have the stronger position. Because they’re focused on that, rather than on figuring out what’s actually true or preferable, you’re unlikely to shift them much in the course of a discussion.
Emotions will also tend to run high in a debate. There are a couple ways to handle it depending on your objectives and the rules of conduct of a given discussion space. You can either be emotionally withdrawn, or you can use passionate expression to bowl over the other person’s position. What your personality is like and what the situation is should direct what method you choose to use.
What you can do is shift the beliefs of other people who might be watching the exchange. And you might be able to indirectly influence the beliefs of the person that you spoke with originally on a longer timeline than the course of a given discussion.
Knowing all this can save you a lot of frustration.
I use humour.
It is worth studying the example of Mencius Moldbug, who left a great many comments on various platforms. I’ve collected all that I could find here:
I’m especially fond of his exchanges on 2blowhards.com, Center for a New American Security, Easily Distracted, and HackerNews.
At times, he is knowingly provocative. He will bluntly state his outrageous opinion, and argue for it relentlessly, especially when arguing with a known personality. At other times, he will leave just enough information to allow the audience to discover the desired conclusion, such as by making an observation without writing out the implications. He provides plenty of supporting literature, including anecdotal and primary evidence. He is occasionally taunting, but otherwise civil. He will compliment his debater for their honesty, intelligence, or integrity, if only to skewer them in the next sentence. He strives to be rhetorically compelling and often makes use of indirection and synecdoche to keep things varied. His observations are casually stated, never requiring any familiarity with any theoretical tradition including his own. He will contrast the elegant simplicity of his own arguments with competing narratives, humorously pointing out the absurdities, asymmetries, and ironies present in the latter.
Thanks for the link. A new adventure to pursue.
Ezra Pound's Ghost says
“…other people who might be watching the exchange.” Exactly. What’s that saying? Something like, “Never argue with someone confirmed in their opposition unless there is an audience in front of which to embarrass them” or something like that. Not sure what the actual saying was or who said it, but its apposite.
“When arguing with an idiot, consider that he/she may be having the same problem.” (from somewhere)
From Dennis Prager,: I try to stick to “facts”, before advocating a position/conclusion. My purpose in the discussion is clarity (from both sides), not agreement. Of course, I am blessed with all the faults enumerated in the article, so my attempts are usually flawed.
Mark Citadel says
Good advice, and I’ve found your observation about convincing people their fundamental assumptions about a topic are wrong to be correct. People typically go into any argument with the fall-back position that somehow they are still right. Everyone is guilty of this, but the exceptions to the rule fascinate me. For instance, I was convinced that teenagers having sex was necessarily a bad thing until I had a discussion with somebody in the comment section of this very blog. As it turned out, I had it wrong, and became convinced that in fact, it wasn’t that so much the issue that teenagers should wait for marriage, but that teenagers should have been getting married, which was considered very normal in ages past. Suddenly a lot of pieces fell into place, and I had a clearer understanding of the Modern problems of promiscuity.
I then formulated these ideas in my most recent essay ‘A Reactionary Proposal on Marriage’. It goes to show, if you put a well-thought out argument together, you can break through people’s assumptions.
People also move in stages, and it’s often difficult to figure out what stage a person is at in a debate or conversation.