The Problem With Debating Everyone

Bad Arguments Vol. 45


Let me paint a scenario for you that you’ve likely been in before. You’re scrolling around on Facebook or twitter, and you see a political post. You make a comment on it showing either your support or disagreement, then shortly after you’re met with a massive, multi-paragraph response that attacks your comment, a whole series of thought that you didn’t even express, and you as a person for daring to say anything. At that point you have two choices, start debating with them or move on with your day.

Let us say you went with the first option. There could very well be a great opportunity for good discourse back and forth with the other commentator, but realistically the chances of that are slim. You might counter their points and ignore their insults, but more likely they’ll begin to respond in a very expected way. They’ll double up on the insults, throw out some non-sequitur points, and start moving goal posts. The counter-arguments will tend to just be more claims pretending to be arguments, and the few counters that might hold weight are either unrelated to the actual post or comment, or are some form of “gotcha” point that they position as if it will completely disprove your entire ideology. Usually, they’ll throw a little bit in about how knowledgeable they are just for good measure.

These types of people are bad actors, and, despite how often I advocate for good debating, frankly aren’t worth your time. As I’ve commented before in previous articles, when we enter into a debate it is important to have a reason for doing so. Are we trying to win over the audience? Our opponent? Or are we simply looking to exchange ideas? Against bad actors, you aren’t likely to accomplish any of these. You could potentially convert the audience, but once a bad actor gets up in arms the bulk of people who could be swayed end up walking away leaving practically no audience to convert.

As much as it may seem a counter to much of what I’ve previously written on debating and discourse, there comes times and situations where it simply isn’t worth engaging. Sometimes, it could very well just boil down to the opposition being bad at discourse, but more often than not it’s simply a case that discourse isn’t on the agenda. There’s a few things I find make it easy to identify whether or not jumping in might actually result in something positive.

Things that will stand out from the gate include obvious sophistry, use of fallacious arguments, red herrings, non-sequiturs, moving of goal posts, and leading with either insults or some assumption of their own superiority. A mix of the aforementioned list is usually par for the course. In those types of scenarios, we need to ask “what will I get out of going in on this with this person?” If the answer is nothing then there is no fault or issue in simply moving on.

Much in the same way that the state shouldn’t have a right to your earning, the type of people I’ve described don’t have a right to your time. If someone is approaching in good faith to have the discussion, I definitely encourage people to start debating and exchanging ideas. If the intentions are simple malice, however, it’s better to let them walk on into what will amount to a small life.

Read more from Killian at Think Liberty here.


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