This article submitted by Christopher Peffers
I got in an argument with a liberal on Facebook the other day. This is a pretty common occurrence for me (and much of America) but I don’t mind. I like the arguing. Nothing gets my fire burning like a good debate. It’s good to throw around ideas with people that disagree: you’ll either learn something new or sharpen your own viewpoint for later debates. It’s a win-win as long as it’s a good debate. This was not a good debate however. I like to think of myself as a pretty level headed person but I’m ashamed to say I lost control pretty quick. I’ll attach the original post then continue my thoughts below.
Post in question*
There’s a lot to process there. Usually I find it’s good to focus a rebuttal on one point and go from there (one good thing to keep in mind when forming an argument is that one good point alone is better than that same good point with a few weaker points your opposition can attack aggressively). What I’m not proud of is I didn’t focus on the thing that bothered me the most. I went after Hillary right away. Called her a crook and a liar and maybe even a sociopath (the Clintons often get me seeing red in conversation). I should have focused on the most offensive thing in that statement: point number 3.
I understand it can be tough to debate certain people. There’s a certain class of people who never quite learned how to have a discussion. No matter what you say they’ll dig their heels into the same tired points over and over again. They’ll respond to a thoughtful point with insults and screaming. The original poster phrased it succinctly: they are not there to have a talk, they are simply basking in their own self-righteousness. I have a name for people like this. I call them “everyone at one point or another in their lives.”
It’s good to realize when you’re wasting your breath and need to move on. The entire modern world was mostly built by people who realized they weren’t getting anything done and decided to pursue a more successful path. The freedom to pick our battles is one of the most positive things about modern life. Specialization is one of the greatest forces for our accomplishments as a society and may be the core reason we’ve made it this far. Few animals even get a chance to die in a warm room surrounded by loved ones (dogs being the only other one I can think of. Thanks for being bros, dogs.). But it’s necessary to understand that people’s willingness to listen is based on potentially millions of things that any individual trying to convince them has no control over. Refusing to engage people is hands down the worst way to jumpstart a social movement. The people who are your loudest opposition are often times the people most worth engaging. Many times these people are angry simply because everyone refuses to talk to them as if they’re adults. They are treated constantly like their opinions don’t matter and that encourages them to sink deeper into their beliefs.
This attitude is exactly why the democrats lost the election. Well, their first mistake was running Killary instead of Papa Joe (I don’t like Joe Biden but that guy would’ve polled at 70% the moment he stepped in the arena and would’ve never lost that lead). There are a lot of reasons people voted for Trump (it would be asinine to assume 40+ million people had the same motivations for getting up in the morning, let alone picking the leader of the free world) but if we focus on the so-called “swing voters”, the ones who didn’t decide until days before the election, we can get a better picture of why he won. The democrat strategy was to vomit a list of terrible things that Trump has done and they assumed that would be enough. But for the people who made it to November without their final decision this was a problematic strategy. If they were still undecided after the litany of terrible press that followed Trump clearly more of the same wasn’t going to change their minds. Compare that to the republicans strategy of parroting all their concerns and making ambitious promises to fix those concerns immediately. Now, I’m not saying every Trump supporter was stupid enough to believe everything he said. In any other election it would be a terrible strategy. But Hillary was the one person this strategy worked gangbusters against. When they asked each side to present their case one made them a bunch of crazy promises and the other called them evil and idiotic for even considering literally the only other option they had. They felt their opinions were being shouted down so they found someone to shout down the democrats’ opinions.
I suppose refusing to engage is a slight improvement over silencing opinions through oppression. If the louder, angrier potion of our population simply shut up it would certainly be a lot easier to think. This would be a fine decision to make if one doesn’t care if their movement dies. Somehow I don’t think this is what democrats (or any other ideological group) want however. So if you’re willing to listen to what I have to say (admittedly I have zero credentials) I would like to offer one giant piece of advice to get the most out of your debate experiences:
Never outright refuse to debate anyone
This is the simplest piece of advice I can offer. People tend to think of losing an argument as a more damaging act than anything else when trying to get a movement going. This causes them to only pick fights with people they know they can beat. They argue the same few good points against people who haven’t thought out their position as well just so they can add a victory to their group’s pile and call it a day. One argument has never changed anyone’s mind though. People have far more bad ideas than good so evolution has given us this gift of not believing everything we hear right away. To win hearts and minds you must stoke the flames of discussion so they are constantly burning. You may argue with a brick wall for years then one day that wall finally agrees to a point you made and you realize they were listening all along, the change just wasn’t visible until now. And even beyond them, someone might overhear the argument and start silently moving to your side.
I’m not saying you have to continue a bad argument as long as they’re willing to continue, only so much work can be done in a day and we all have our limits. Just don’t flat-out give up on people. That won’t inspire them to get better, only sink lower (sometimes even violently so). Given how close the election was I’d feel comfortable saying it was the sole reason the democrats lost an election they should have won in a landslide.
And conservatives, don’t start getting all smug because the liberals appear slightly worse in this metric at the moment. This has been the trend in American politics for decades now. One party gets in power and decides they don’t have to listen to anything their opposition has to say. It’s why the presidency seems to without fail switch parties every 8 years as of late. The party in power simply becomes insufferable and the swing voters start looking elsewhere. Put the work in to break the cycle.