Debatable.

I’ve gotten a bit fed up engaging in certain dragging arguments with some people, for the following reasons:

  1. We don’t play the same game. I wander into conversations thinking I’m going to find the debating equivalent of the Queensberry Rules. As it turn out, I might as well be expecting dancing dodos. I don’t want to play at who can be the loudest, or the rudest; who can spawn the biggest logical fallacy; who can toss the largest word salad. So I end up largely standing there, dodging metaphorical spitballs, waiting for the “proper” debate to get started. It generally doesn’t.
  2. Life is short. If something is not educational, entertaining, or uplifting, I’d rather pass.

I’ve been toying with a different tack. I’m working at perfecting a list of single-statement discussion killers, designed along the lines of Rory’s Golden Move:

“Every single motion should:

  1. Injure the threat.
  2. Protect yourself.
  3. Improve your position.
  4. Worsen the threat’s position.”

Rory is talking about a physical move (and if you’ve not played with his “Dracula’s cape”, you’re missing out, particularly if you’re an itty bitty person like me). I’m looking for the equivalent in debating terms.

Working out a physical golden move is, in theory, relatively simple; for instance, if someone is about to punch you in the face, you want to avoid getting punched that time, avoid getting hit again, hurt them or let them hurt themselves, and position yourself so you can hit them, lock them up, or get the hell out. I say it’s simple – in practice I still suck at this with a vengeance, because I can’t think and move at the same time. However, I can follow the theory without any problems.

Applying the Golden Move’s criteria to a non-physical scenario however, sets my brainwheels spinning. It requires me to define all the terms in the situation. What does “injuring” mean, in this context? Protecting? What makes a position good or bad? Turns out that half the time I get into these situations without a clear understanding of what I want to get out of them. Besides, there seem to be so many variables in operation that coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution just doesn’t work.

In addition to all other considerations, I still want to play by my rules. For instance, I know full well that for religious people, quoting scripture can work as a shutter-upper. However, appeals to authorities, particularly to subjective authorities, are against my rules. I don’t want to lower my standards just for the sake of cutting a conversation short.

My favourite strategy to date is finding a way to help my interlocutors openly state the logical or factual inconsistencies in their statements. Give them enough rope, basically. Sometimes, when they find themselves expressing obviously contradictory thoughts, they change their own minds. More often they just go apeshit at me in revenge. I don’t class that as a loss: I’m always happy to help jackasses display their jackassery in public.

This kind of thing can make me the jackass, though, in certain situations. The “golden move” may allow me to destroy my opponent’s arguments, yet put me in a very bad social position. For instance, if I were to trip up five-year-old children into explaining to themselves how Santa cannot exist, that would not be a particularly proud moment for me and would likely cause me some social backlash. Where I choose to draw that line – when I choose to determine that an opponent is quite simply not armed enough to engage in a battle of wits, or too fragile to survive it – can be rather subjective.

So far, I’ve come up with a pathetically short list of potential one-touch-knockout statements. I’m not telling you what they are, in case I need to use them against you. The main result of this exercise has been to make me realise how entirely idiotic I can be when engaged in a debate. I’m not an idiot because of how I debate (unless I get roused and lose it, which happens); I’m an idiot for engaging in certain debates in the first place. The goldenest move, more and more often, seems to be to just walk on by.

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