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How Debate Destroys Communication Cheat Sheet by

communication     debate     destroys


The concept of debate, while great for sharpening one’s wits and increasing one’s mastery over language and argument within a specific context, is fundam­entally flawed in its approach to truth-­see­king.

The truth is not something that can be found through clever applic­ation of wordplay, but something that must be accepted on the basis of evidence. But even evidence is oftentimes insuff­icient for the conversion of oneself and others, and this list has been compiled to help change minds and move conver­sation.

1. We're all closed­-minded w/respect to something

Just as we, as humans, cannot intuit dimensions beyond three, the fact that we do not understand or agree instin­ctively and immedi­ately does not necess­itate a position’s falsity (and it often doesn’t). Currently, we place unders­tanding by the least informed of society as the standard by which we determine truth from non-truth, and truth should not be held hostage by the ignorant. Nobody knows everyt­hing, and just as we expect others to be, for some reason, ignorant of what we know is correct, we should never assume full knowledge of any particular subject.

2. The best form of persuasion is like fishing

Anyone who was gone fishing should know that the reel is – with good reason – not a one-way device. Pulling too hard during the wrong moments breaks the string or the rod, but giving slack strate­gically helps one ultimately succeed in catching even the largest of fish. The wonderful feeling of crushing your opponents should be saved for the times you wish to humiliate your worst enemies in a public forum. Changing minds is not unlike seduction, while debate is closer to a contest to see who can assault whom first; people do not like being brutally attacked and will usually stubbornly cling to their beliefs if pushed too hard at once.

3. Your goal should not be to convince

Your goal should not be to convince the other person of your position, but to learn his or her position and test it. You should be willing to give up your beliefs.

If both parties go in absolutely convinced that they are 100% correct in points of contention at the expense of the other’s view, it is inevitable that they talk over each other. However, if both go in conceding at least that the other could be correct, then the real problem is confirming whether or not the other argument is convin­cing. One should go into each argument fully willing to lose, but to also use his own body of evidence to set a high bar for the other person to jump over. This is a subtle change, but is not a petty one with a difference without a distin­ction.


“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-i­nte­lle­ctu­alism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowle­dge.’” – Issac Asimov.

4. Know in advance what type of evidence

Know in advance what type of evidence would force you to give up your position.

All arguments should be falsif­iable. It is important to know and determine beforehand what would convince you that you are incorrect, and this bar should not be changed to accomm­odate your world view given new, opposing evidence. Evidence that refutes your own claims should not be used to further your own argument through misapp­rop­ria­tion. It is fine to concede specific points, but one should in no way, to use a terrible borrowed phrase, move the goalposts, or the necessary conditions for defeat.

5. Minds rarely change in real-time

Often, people view their opinions given by their parents, their profes­sors, or experi­ences as insepa­rable from who they are as indivi­duals. As a result, it is important to plant the seeds of doubt rather than bulldoze over their sense of identity and cause potential fall-outs. Minds are changed in the privacy of people’s homes, not during debate, and the expect­ation that people capitulate in front of their attackers is an unreal­istic one.

6. Nobody likes a devil’s advocate

While it is ideal to be intell­ect­ually curious and to test the limits of what one believes at the margins, nobody likes a person who wastes time. Origin­ally, advocatus diaboli was officially known as promotor fidei, or the Promoter of Faith, within the Roman Catholic Church before the “Devil’s advocate” became a popular phrase, and the position was used to cause proponents of beatif­ication to strengthen their arguments that certain candidates were worthy of sainthood. One should not be a contrarian simply for the sake of being different or delibe­rately obtuse, but for exploring the depth of one’s knowledge and opinions.

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