- On Debate
Guide For Conducting An Effective Political Debate
I debate quite a bit online, in person, in business, and in every other possible forum. It’s the best way to learn whether your ideas are supportable or not. I tend to treat arguments as tests, and debates as laboratories. I don’t know whether my argument will hold up until I test it in the lab. I know this confuses people because I come across as more committed than I am. Arguments are engineered structures. You build them as well as you can. But they have to be tested. I don’t know if they support what I intend them to until they’re tested.
Debate a skill. It’s an art form. And a civic duty. Learning to debate is hard work.
Everyone has reference books. Damer T. Edward’s “Attacking Faulty Reason” is a book commonly used for teaching debate in colleges and universities. It’s as good a reference as any.
But, while it’s the most common approach, I disagree with quite a bit of Edward’s principles for conducting a debate. It’s awfully victorian and absurdly genteel for today’s politics. We are not in a parlor or a classroom. We’re in a battle for the species. The western tradition is unique in the world. The citizens of the world live in some form of prosperity disproportionately because of western scientific technology. And western scientific technology is the result of western political technology: competition, innovation, consumerism, rule of law, the work ethic.
Instead of his genteel approach, I argue that in political debate, one must not count on the other party to do anything rational, logical or honest - because political debate is almost entirely about the transfer of status and money from one group to another, between one class to another, over differences in preferences not differences in facts. And because the stakes at hand are very high, the debate is not conducted in any semblance of a genteel fashion. In that light, if you wish to win, you must not count on the other party for anything, and instead, must carry the full burden of the argument yourself.
So my approach is to carry the full burden of debate on myself.
And to carry that burden, I follow the following principles:
1) Know your positions and why you hold them. The purpose of any arguent is to falsify your own beliefs, and learn from it, as much as it is to dismantle or discredit your opponent’s positions.
2) Conduct One Argument At A Time. Stick to one problem at a time. And stay on point until it is resolved. Then move on to the next point.
3) Seek To Understand. Seek to understand your opponent’s argument. Do not assume anything. Ask all the questions that you need to in order to understand your opponent’s position.
4) Disassemble your opponent’s argument. Disassembly of most political arguments is quite simple if one breaks an argument into the incentives and transfers. Or more simply, if you “Follow the money”. Following the incentives will expose almost every argument for what it is : an effort to take from someone else for a supposedly ‘noble good’. NOTE: This is why I use Propertarian reasoning. It exposes the direct and indirect transfers in any political action.
5) Make only clear and honest statements. Unfortunately when you are refuting a common misconception, or a series of them, you must make a long chain of clear statements. Think of how hard Darwin had to work to argue the concept of evolution. So simple arguments are for simple topics. But clarity is is required to make a complicated argument.
6) Make your arguments in terms of human actions. And translate your opponents arguments into human actions. If you cannot describe something as a series of human actions, then you do not understand your own argument and very likely are wrong yourself. So make sure you can make your argument as a series of human actions. Each action then will take place in the context of the incentives available to the actor at any given time. As such, errors in either your argument or your opponents will be exposed by stating or restating arguments as human actions.
7) Account For Opportunity Costs: Be very cautious of the fallacy of ignoring or discounting the opportunity costs that humans pay in the real world. This is why conspiracy theories are almost always false. All people at all times, can choose from all opportunities that are available to them at any moment. Opportunity costs are as real as hard costs.
8) Use Economic Data, Because Economic Data Is The Only Reliable Political Data. So called scientific data from surveys about human beings that is conducted by testing is almost always false – humans are heuristic and the methods of the physical sciences do not account for the untestablity of human beliefs. Economic analysis is extremely accurate in measuring human behavior because in commerce, people demonstrate their preferences by their actions – something that they do not do with their words. Therefore make sure you understand the economics of any argument. People’s perceptions, and the measurement of their opinions is a poor substitute for economic data that demonstrates their preferences. Therefore economic data always is superior to perceptual, and so called ‘scientific’ analysis.
9) Determine Which Social Class you and your opponent are arguing for. Most political arguments are in fact, attempts to benefit one social class at the expense of the others. The more elaborate model of class hierarchy that I have hypothesized is a very effective means of disassembling class motivations so that you can understand them.
10) Remain skeptical of your own argument. Every statement contains many assumptions. If you discover that you are wrong, cede only the point where you are wrong and state that you must now reconsider your position in light of what you’ve learned and ask if you can return to the debate afterward. Do not let your opponent claim victory on the broader argument, just state that you are now unsure and must rethink the position.
11) Avoid snarky, cunning, or emotive and other distracting comments. Ridicule is a form of theft. It breaks the contract of debate. If your opponent ridicules you, then attack your opponent for lacking intelligence and honesty, state that he is a fraud, and so is his argument, and accuse him of wasting your time, then ask if he wishes to return to the debate, or whether he wishes to continue to demonstrate that he has lost the argument.
12) Thoroughly defeat your opponent until he walks away. Do not claim victory early. Conversely, never surrender early. Stick with your argument until either you have learned that you are wrong, or you have either caused your opponent to walk away, surrender, or admit that you are correct.
13) The audience is the judge. When you believe you have won the audience, declare victory, and summarize why. Thank your opponent for helping you learn something. (by defeating him.)
Arguments you will win if you understand economics:
If a preference requires a transfer from one person to another or one group to another, or one class to another, it is either an involuntary or voluntary transfer. ALL MORAL ARGUMENTS consist of some kind of prohibition on involuntary transfer of costs from the group to the individual. But you must understand those transfers in order to make moral arguments, and use those transfers instead of moral arguments.
Arguments you will lose, no matter what:
0) Empowering Your Class At The Expense Of Others are always false : We have created a single-class style of government out of our three-class model of english government, and in doing so created a permanent open class war. Social and economic classes exist. All people are classist, culturist, racist to some degree, unless they are at the very bottom of the proletariat where they are attempting to coordinate with other proletarians to gain political power across class, race and culture boundaries. The question we face is how to cooperate given that we have these different class, race and culture preferences. Our current system of government is a winner-takes-all model that means perpetual class warfare.
1) Moral arguments are never true. Moral statements describe some sort of contratual utility. They are not ‘truths’. You must understand that underlying utility and argue that instead of moral ‘shortcuts’ that describe those underlying utilities. Those forms of utility are simply some form of prohibition on transfer.
2) Arguments that rely upon Spirituality, Magic, Mysticism and Religion are always false ON THEIR FACE. (If not under economic analysis, where they often appear to be quite beneficial). Anything that assumes divine intervention, or the existence of a divinity in the material world. Gods exist like numbers exist. They do exist. They just do not have any of the powers that mystics assign to them. They just have more utility and impact than do such things as historical or mythical characters do. Instead, understand the economic impact of scriptural statements, and argue those statements instead of their abstraction. For example, the ten commandments is nothing more that a list of forms of private property for people who are poor, and a prohibition against any other form of law that would interfere with those commands to respect property.
3) Arguments to preference. Taste is not debatable. Preferences are not. On the other hand, opportunity costs, and real costs are. That human beings did not understand this problem because it has been masked by religion and moral codes for so long is the reason we have these debates.
4) Arguments to political Ideology : All philosophies are class philosophies. All political ideologies are class philosophies. All ideologies seek to empower one class at the expense of the other classes, so that they an arrange society for their benefit. The uniqueness of the anglo model that we call Classical Liberalism, was that the king, the upper class, and the middle class, all had houses of government. Their mistake was in not creating a house of proletarians, instead of handing over the house of the middle class to the proletarians through increased enfranchisement.
Damer T. Edward’s Principles
The Fallibility Principle
“Neither of us may be right”
When alternative positions on any disputed issue are under review, each participant in the discussion should acknowledge that possibly none of the positions presented is deserving of acceptance and that, at best, only one of them is true or the most defensible position. Therefore, it is possible that thorough examination of the issue will reveal that one’s own initial position is a false or indefensible one.
CURT: You should assume you may be wrong, but never assume your opponent is doing so. The purpose of political debate is either to persuade your opponent, or persuade others by demonstrating the failure of your opponent’s arguments.
The Truth-Seeking Principle
“Honestly Search For The Truth”
Each participant should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake. Therefore, one should be willing to examine alternative positions seriously, look for insights in the positions of others, and allow other participants to present arguments for or raise objections to any position held with regard to any disputed issue.
CURT: This is not the purpose of current political debate in a polarized electorate. Since all current political debate is not for the purpose of seeking truth, but for gaining political power for the purpose of conducting involuntary transfers, or preventing involuntary transfers, then assuming a search for truth on the part of one’s opponent going into a debate is simply a silly hangover from the Scholastic era – it assumes a commonality of incentives and purpose that is not true in contemporary democratic politics. The electorate is polarized behind the egalitarian strategy of increased reproduction and the meritocratic strategy of improved reproduction. It is little more than a gender strategy conflict. Contemporary democratic political debate is entirely for the purpose of creating or preventing transfers between social classes. Nothing more. And anyone who argues otherwise is either naive or deceptive.
The Clarity Principle
“Speak Clearly, And Stick To The Problem At Hand”
The formulations of all positions, defences, and attacks should be free of any kind of linguistic confusion and clearly separated from other positions and issues.
CURT: Yes. You should. But you should not expect your opponent to do so. Because they will not.
The Burden of Proof Principle
“The Burden Of Proof Rests On The Person Making The Statement”
The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the participant who sets forth the position. If and when an opponent asks, the proponent should provide an argument for that position.
CURT: Yes. And you can easily hold your opponent to his burden of proof.
The Principle of Charity
“When restating your opponent’s positions, do not ‘cheat’ by recasting it in a weaker light”
If a participant’s argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be expressed in the strongest possible version that is consistent with the original intention of the arguer. If there is any question about that intention or about implicit parts of the argument, the arguer should be given the benefit of any doubt in the reformulation.
CURT: Yes, this violates the principle of honest debate. You should not violate it ever because you must retain your credibility. Credibility is important in public debate because the the audience will more easily believe your arguments when arguments are toss-ups, or when your opponents falter. I realize that I puts greater burden on myself by following this principle but it’s better to debate a lot and get good at it then cheat a lot and never get good at it.
The Relevance Principle
“Stick To The Topic At Hand”
One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to set forth only reasons that are directly related to the merit of the position at issue.
CURT: Yes. You should. But do not expect your opponent to, and viscoiusly assalut him for dishonesty and fraud if he does, then ask him to return to the debate.
The Sufficiency Principle
One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to provide reasons that are sufficient in number, kind, and weight to support the acceptance of the conclusion
CURT: Yes, but this requires that you actually understand your arguments. It is very unlikely that unless you debate fairly consistently for at least two years on any topic that you will have sufficient mastery of it to be able to create sufficient and necessary arguments.
The Rebuttal Principle
One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to provide an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument or the position it supports and to the strongest argument on the other side of the issue.
CURT: Yes. You must master your subject, but do not expect your opponent to master it.
The Resolution Principle
An issue should be considered resolved if the proponent for one of the alternative positions successfully defends that position by presenting an argument that uses relevant and acceptable premises that together provide sufficient grounds to support the conclusion and provides an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument or position at issue. Unless one can demonstrate that these conditions have not been met, one should accept the conclusion of the successful argument and consider the issue, for all practical purposes, to be settled. In the absence of a successful argument for any of the alternative positions, one is obligated to accept the position that is supported by the best of the good arguments presented.
The Suspension of Judgement Principle
If no position comes close to being successfully defended, or if two or more positions seem to be defended with equal strength, one should, in most cases, suspend judgment about the issue. If practical considerations seem to require an immediate decision, one should weigh the relative risks of gain or loss connected with the consequences of suspending judgment and decide the issue on those grounds.
The Reconsideration Principle
If a successful or at least good argument for a position is subsequently found by any participant to be flawed in a way that raises new doubts about the merit of that position, one is obligated to reopen the issue for further consideration and resolution.
The Acceptability Principle
One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to use reasons that are mutually acceptable to the participants and that meet standard criteria of acceptability.
Seattle, WA, United States
I am an independent theorist of Political Economy in the Conservative Libertarian tradition. And as a methodological Propertarian I attempt to complete the work of Rothbard and Hoppe by suggesting post-democratic political solutions for heterogeneous polities.
"De Philosophia Aristocratia"
Anglo Conservatism is the remnant of the European Aristocratic Manorial system and the Classical Liberal philosophy of the Enlightenment, combined with our ancient tribal instincts for group persistence and land-holding. It currently consists as a set of sentiments rather than as an articulated rational philosophy. And without that rational articulation, conservatives lack the ability to create and promote a plan that is a positive and rhetorically defensible alternative to the hazards of accidental bureaucracy and purposeful socialism.
This lack of an articulated philosophy leaves conservatives vulnerable in the public debate with Schumpeterian public intellectuals whose advantage in both volume of production, and simplicity of argument poses a nearly insurmountable challenge.
Libertarianism by contrast, is a rational philosophy of an articulate but permanent minority. It is based upon a solid, rational and critical methodology, even if it is flawed in its initial assumption: the principle of non-violence.
Unfortunately the Rothbardian Anarchist movement has appropriated the term "Libertarian", and left Classical Liberals and Conservatives alienated from the only system of thought with which they need to articulate their political sentiments in rational and empirical rather than moralistic and sentimental form.
By repairing the flaws in Libertarian philosophy we can use its methodology to provide a rhetorical solution for conservatives - a language which in turn may become an articulated philosophical body of argument and advocacy for the frustrated conservative majority.
Kinsella’s Criticism of Locke, and My Explanation of Locke’s Reasonable Mistake, and What To Do About It.
71 days ago
Liberty Isn't Inherent. It's unnatural. We create it with Organized Violence.
75 days ago
Propertarian Definition: REVOLUTION
75 days ago
Giving Rorty Another Try
75 days ago
An Skeleton Argument In Defense Of Rorty From Hoppe
75 days ago
A Propertarian Definition of Ruthless
75 days ago
The Self Deception Of The Enlightenment View Of Man
75 days ago
On Rent Seeking
75 days ago
- Kinsella’s Criticism of Locke, and My Explanation of Locke’s Reasonable Mistake, and What To Do About It.