Winning Debates – A Simple Tactic

As much as I would like to be, I am not an especially keen debater, either face-to-face or online. In responding to critical comments made by another person, I find it very difficult to suppress the urge to blast them with everything I think I know, drowning them in a flood of (probably quite irrelevant) information that leaves neither of us with much time to draw a breath.

The futility of such an approach should be obvious. Against opponents in possession of convictions as firm as one’s own, you are only likely to encourage an equal and opposite deluge in return, the conversation spiralling downwards into ever deeper levels of minutiae that leave the original topic forgotten. At some point, it might even descend into a battle of reputations, with each side eager to outdo the other for the sole purpose of saving face and pride, with no actual truth ever being realised at all.

On the other hand, when engaging with those who have not considered the matter in question in much detail – having made, instead, a casual or emotional remark perhaps – overwhelming them is likely to turn them off rather than enlighten them. Indeed, one particular risk is to leave that other person feeling somehow unworthy or stupid, repelling him from any future engagement with such questions, even if he concedes his immediate point.

Indeed, it is important not to underestimate the importance of this latter type of person, who is likely to be, by far, the most numerous. Keen thinkers and ideological leaders are always a bare minority of the population, although it is their ideas that shape those of majority. To survive, any regime depends on, at the very least, its mere acceptance by the majority of the population; it does not require their overwhelming support, helpful as that may be. It is only able to achieve this passive acceptance if it has, for the most part, the upper hand in convincing them that it is on the right side of the ideological battle. It is, therefore, these people, the masses, who will be the ultimate deciding factor in any outcome between individualism and statism, or between liberty and tyranny, not the intellectual bodyguard directly. The road to liberty will not be paved with the skulls of our ideological enemies, but will be trodden by the boots of the masses. If we are to engage with these casual folk, our task is to convince them that our way of thinking is the correct one. It is not to assault them in a campaign of mental warfare as if they are all devoted Marxists and ultra-statists.

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