Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Framing The Debate

The advent of blogging has given many people the opportunity to debate and discuss just about every issue under the sun. For the most part, this is a positive development. Unfortunately, this blogging has also exposed the ugly underbelly of modern thought.

Critical thinking, logic and reason are in very short supply amongst the unwashed masses. I am no great philosopher and I am not an educated man (in the formal sense) but somewhere in my early twenties I started learning how to actually think through things before sticking my foot in my mouth.

One of the biggest problems I encounter in a debate is the failure of my opponent (for lack of a better word) to have considered the unintended consequences of a proposed action.

I once saw a letter to the editor about seat belts. The man complained that the law said he had to wear a seat belt while driving his car but people riding motorcycles don't. He said it wasn't fair. This man obviously failed to consider what would happen if someone was strapped to a motorcycle when it was in an accident. If your bike goes down you want to get away from it. Being strapped to the wreckage wouldn't be much fun. This person could only see the supposed unfair application of the law rather than the actual purpose of the law.

To counter this problem, it is necessary to stop the debate and explain the consequences of the proposed action. If you have some documentation to back you up, use it. If your opponent is honest, he'll take the information under consideration. If he discounts your documentation, ask him why. You should also ask for documentation that supports his claim. In return, you have to be willing to do the same.

A person unwilling to hear any fact or opinion that contradicts his view will generally either change the subject or launch a personal attack on you. Don't let him them get away with it.

I'm going to reveal a little secret of mine that I hope my opponents never catch on to. (Any of you regular readers who generally disagree with me, stop reading now, you're not allowed to see this.)

Whether I'm responding verbally to someone in a group of people or in a public forum such as a blog, I tailor my response to those unknown people that may not have reached their own conclusion yet. I hardly ever expect to change the opinion of someone I'm debating in public. In fact, it would be useless to debate someone in public except for the fact that I might cause someone to think about something they had not previously considered. I treat every debate as a classroom lecture. This technique has proved to be very effective. Back when I was slaying liberals on, I would get email from people thanking me for putting an issue in to perspective for them that they could never quite articulate. While my opponents were foaming at the mouth, launching personal attacks and trying to change the subject, I was addressing the silent observers who were either undecided or open-minded enough to consider they might be wrong. I have discovered a long term benefit. If you are consistent in your presentation, some of your opponents will start repeating what you say.

Back in my days, one of the things I harped on was that 'government always tends toward tyranny'. There was almost no political discussion where this phrase was not applicable. In a forum full of hard core leftists, I eventually found a few that were repeating that phrase as if it originated in their own mind. I was amazed. After I thought it through, I realized that it makes sense. If your positions are not well thought out to begin with, you will drift toward saying those things which were presented clearly, concisely and repeatedly. When you find your opponents repeating your mantra, don't alert them and put them on their guard. They might repeat your opinion to people you would not otherwise have contact with.