[*How to Argue with Right-Wingers – A Winning Strategy to Dealing With the Other Side *]
Conservatives, Christian Right, Alt-Right, etc.
A Mini-Book by:[
Daniel A. Amerson]
Although the author and publisher have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at press time, the author and publisher do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
All Rights Reserved: Daniel A. Amerson
Cover Illustration Copyright © 2017 by Canva
Chapter 1 – “What the Hell is Wrong with Them?!”
Chapter 2 – The Poor State of our Political Discourse
The Rogerian Argument
Chapter 3 – A Whole New Worldview
Chapter 4 – Know Your Stance, Understand Theirs
Once You’ve Learned the Terms
Features vs. Fronts
What Do YOU Believe?
Chapter 5 – How to Argue (Properly)
Part 1 – What to Argue About
Part 2 – How to Argue Your Point
Chapter 6 – Stress That You’re Using a Partial Perspective
Admit the Possibility that You Might Be Wrong
The ‘Please Help Me Better Understand’ Point of View
[*Chapter 7 – Common Sticking Points and How to Escape Them *]
Situation 1 – Don’t Let Them Control the Terms
Situation 2 – The Model of Perfect Behavior
Situation 3 – ‘If Things Were Different, Things Would Be Different’
Situation 4 – Claim the Credit / Claim the Blame
Situation 5 – Playing into a despot’s agenda
Situation 6 – Appeals to Immovable or Unprovable Authority
[*(Bonus) Chapter 8 – *]Continual Learning – Learn from the Source
This mini-book is for smart people who want to the ability to not only tolerate, but discuss deeply with those who hold radically different views. The typical cause for this inability is inexperience. Given the choice between a person we agree with and we you disagree with, we’re apt to pick the former, as we don’t want the added stress of surrounding ourselves with people who disagree with us. All well and good, but we aren’t challenged enough to refine our world-view.
Since we’re apt to agree with our friends over fundamental values, we tend to not only take these values for granted, we also attribute these values to good moral character. With this foundation, we’re shocked to find that other people disagree with them.
When dealing with ‘right-winger’, someone that we assume hold differing viewpoints from you, it’s important to use selective techniques. Because you’re playing on an emotional minefield (you don’t know what they like or dislike), your approach should be different from when you’re dealing with friends and family. Make a throw-away comment against their values (without realizing it), and the discussion is finished, even if you continue speaking.
This book is most important because political discourse has become polarized in recent years. This book will provide ideas to speak sensibly with a ‘right-winger’ – which can mean conservative, neocon, Republican, Christian Right, etc. – in a way that will reduce ill-will, while keeping a low-tolerance for nonsense.
The mini-book below can teach you to outwit any right-winger you meet:
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_ ] According to a Gallup Poll, 37% of the United States population are self-identified Conservatives [ 1]. By name, Conservatives are often labelled as [_right-wing], reactionary, and [traditionalist. _]Some Conservatives are Christian, hence the term _Christian Right.
Conservatives are, however, often characterized as anti-evolution , anti-global warming , anti-abortion , anti-social security , anti-universal health care , anti-immigrant , and just plain bad people .
And yet, they are the most politically active Americans , which might be the cause behind the Republican win in the US 2016 elections.
You may consider their attitudes to be anti-science, anti-women, anti-poor, anti-minority, xenophobic, bigoted and hateful.
You might think that right-wingers block progress in every way, shape or form. You might also think that life for everyone would be much better if they all just disappeared!
However, I offer a word of caution.
From this point of view, there’s nowhere to go; if you believe that they are horrible, that means that, in your world, anyone who is right-wing is evil and must be stopped at any cost. There is no discussion, only condemnation.
Let’s take a step back; what if their positions come from an adequate thought-out point of view, supported with decent reasons and evidence to support them? You wouldn’t know unless you spoke with one.
Nonetheless, if you frame their political opinions as morally evil, you would be motivated to learn more about them. However, if you want to discuss with conservatives about politics, you must learn more about them, and you learn more about them by speaking with them.
Most don’t bother to learn the other side’s genuine political positions; instead, it’s easier to interpret their views in the least charitable light. It’s likely that you’ve been learning about right-wingers from your left-winger friends. Why not just learn from the right-winger directly?
Your leftist friends will paint over their ideas with their own. This bias, albeit un affects the way that you enter conversation with any right-winger. This will also affect how you perceive any person that you learn is a right-winger.
Instead, if you can speak with them in terms they understand, and present new information correctly, you might be able to nudge their opinions. But, is that possible? What about cognitive dissonance?
We are all subject to cognitive dissonance when we’re presented facts that contradict our beliefs . As Leo Tolstoy says: “I know that most men…can very seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as to oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty – conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.”
Nonetheless, most of us can change our views to some degree, which is why we’ll be using a gentler approach when discussing with the other person. We do this with the specific aim of working towards finding truth.
I don’t suggest trying to convince those who are satisfied with their own conclusions, fully resistant to change. Don’t use these techniques on these types of people, as they won’t work. Many have built a lifetime that would fall apart if one of their core beliefs turns out false, so they will defend it with their life.
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If you look on YouTube, many political videos are titled:
[“Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Transgenderism and Pro-Abortion Arguments”
“Bill Maher owns PC panel…”
“Elizabeth Warren Goes Off On ‘Loser’ Trump”
“RON PAUL PWNS GOP DEBATE QUESTION”
“ESPN Firth Take: Will Cain and Stephen A. Smith OBLITERATE Max Kellerman…”
“Tomi Lahren Destroys Trevor Noah…”
“Trevor Noah Destroys Tomi Lahren…”]
Although a lot of this is clickbait, it’s indicative of our political climate. It seems that people are actively searching videos that feature their opponents being trotted out and ‘OBLITERATED’. We seem to enjoy watching our political opponents get ‘SLAMMED’; ‘political opponent’ is an understatement, as our political wedge has led us to attribute badness upon our political opponents.
Although expert debaters can dismantle an argument with precision, it’s not so easy for the average person to accomplish. Often, it looks like a barrage of unrelated statistics (like a Gish Gallop ) and we do nothing more than polarize the other person, pushing them back into the corner you purportedly hate.
As satisfying as it may be to dispose of someone, what does it accomplish? Will they suddenly begin agreeing with you? Will they suddenly ‘see the light’ and join your movement? In both cases, no.
They can handle fiery criticism by dissociating from it; they can justify that your comments were caused by anger, and that means that you didn’t truly ‘mean it’.
But, suppose they were criticized by a robot; although impersonal, the unsettlingly precise statements are more likely to make them question yourself, as these criticisms are more likely to be true. I use this analogy to posit that rationality is more powerful than emotion in these types of discussions, most of the time. A calm composure suggests that its stated words are true. Emotion still has its place; we may drive home a logical position with emotion, but emotion itself should not direct our position; that is the place of logic.
Carl Rogers was an American psychologist from 1902 to 1987 . During his career, he made tremendous advances in psychotherapy, one of which includes the publication of his book ‘Active Listening’ _]along with Richard Farson . This book was a component of [_client-centered psychotherapy, his invention, in which the therapist emphasized his personal relationship with the client . According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, client-centered psychotherapy _]is defined as: “[_fostering personality growth by helping individuals gain insight into and acceptance of their feelings, values, and behaviour.”
Very few of us actively listen to the other person. This includes you. Others notice when you don’t listen, but their awareness comes in the sense of a hunch; they feel that something’s missing. It isn’t until they encounter somebody who listens to their ideas attentively (and who digs for further meaning) that they realize that they’ve met someone who cares. They also feel at liberty to discuss some silly or off-the-wall ideas without fear of judgment.
To be able to listen effectively, you must:
i. try to understand their complete point of view;
ii. confirm your understanding by confirming with them;
iii. refrain from casting judgment until you fully understand their point of view;
Do not use active listening to set up a ‘got you’ moment, and do not use their ideas to form a misrepresentation of their worldview, such as a strawman argument.
Instead, work towards logos; although it’s a theological term, [logos _]is a Greek term for _reason, [plan, _]or _word. In rhetoric, it is known as ‘an active rational and spiritual principle that permeates all reality’ . It is the assemblage of your ideas into an argument that is compatible with the other person’s ideas, aimed towards the pursuit of a greater truth.
Softly challenge them (and yourself) to an elevated level of discourse; by changing the focus of the discussion from argument-winning to truth-seeking, then, in order to win, you lose by doing these two things:
i. Failing to bring facts, reasons, and evidence
ii. Failing to honestly report your perspective
Although this book is called ‘How to Argue with Right-Wingers ()’ , this book defines a ‘win’ as the ordering of your ideas into an argument that is capable of gently challenging their identity. This means that you ask questions and contrast their ideas against themselves in a way that encourages them to strengthen their arguments. If done right, they will fix the holes in their arguments by researching them themselves.
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When you discuss with someone with your political leaning, then the two of you are entering a discussion in agreement with 9/10 or 10/10 of your fundamental unexpressed beliefs. But, when you meet with a right-winger, you might agree with 3/10 to 5/10 of your axioms. You will find out this discrepancy very quickly based on the throw-away comments you both make, and your respective reactions to them.
You might both agree on the importance of freedom of speech, to respect religious values, and to preserve the constitution, but you might disagree on other things; he might be a Protestant free-market Capitalist who prefers ‘traditional family values’, while you might be a materialist Marxist atheist who puts equal importance on homosexual marriages as you would heterosexual.
If you’re only ever surrounded with people who share your worldview, then you might chalk up these differences to intractable conveniences; it takes the form of “he’s dumb,” “she’s evil,” or “he’s crazy.” But consider that there’s a likely [_reason _]as to why they hold their views.
Every stimulus from birth – from your upbringing, your country, your education, your parents, and your friendships, among others – has shaped your life in a small way. We might call this your environment. That isn’t to say that your innate (i.e. genetic and hormonal) constitution hasn’t shaped your life, it’s simply that your environmental shaping is easier to understand.
Let’s compare you with your interlocutor (in other words, the person you’re speaking with); from birth, there might have been several dozens of environmental forces that affect how you think, what you believe, and what you do. Even if you started off at the same point, you’ve diverged in two different directions.
There is a field of study called Phenomenology which focuses on our inner experiences. An interesting idea from this field is that you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ more easily the things which you’ve already been disposed to recognize. If you work as a sub-contractor/painter, you’ll notice the quality of paint jobs at other peoples’ houses. If you work as a cook, you can look at a pantry and see (in your mind) 10 possible meals. This means that we might have access to both the same world and the same facts, but we don’t arrive at the same logical conclusions. This is true even if all parties are committed to logic and reasoning.
This means that we ourselves will learn information that confirm our worldview, while completely ignoring information that would challenge our worldview, while our interlocutor does the same in regards to her worldview. By ‘completely ignore’, I mean that we sometimes won’t even detect it when it is presented to us.
To a certain extent, if we were placed in a similar situation as our interlocutor – the same upbringing, the same parents, the same education, the same experiences – we would arrive at similar opinions to them. Understandably so. Conversely, if your interlocutor were in your shoes, they would be thinking much like you do now. We can figure out what has shaped our perspectives by talking about these factors; history.
We approach our interlocutor with assumptions about how we think the world works. We take these assumptions for granted, and assume that everyone else holds these assumptions. They are, for the time being, invisible and irrelevant to us, as we don’t consciously refer to them as we go about our lives. However, when these assumptions are called into question, they become very relevant. Assumptions either become emboldened or substituted with an upgraded version.
A great example of things we take for granted: whenever your car works, you hardly notice your car as a car; you see it as something that will take you from place to place. But, if your car breaks down, [_then _]you see it as the complex machine that it is. If you intend on fixing it yourself, you need to look at every part of the car and analyze the individual parts.
Part of changing these assumptions is that a portion of your identity must die in order to replace it with a more refined and reality-based version of itself. This death is, in a sense, hastened by the feelings caused by cognitive dissonance; either the conflict remains between the two contrary assumptions, or one gives way to the other. There is a drawback, which is that this process is vulnerable; we aren’t willing to change specific assumptions about the world at all, let alone around other people. That’s why it’s important to avoid the confrontational frame of ‘either I lose or you lose’ when discussing with other people.
Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out other people’s basic assumptions about their worldview? You can.
You do this by learning more about the forces that shaped their life; ask questions about upbringing, childhood, experiences, or simply ask what reasoning has gone behind their stance. By regressing into the past, we might reach greater insight about the way they’ve configured their life.
What about the argument from authority[* *]; sometimes, our reasons for believing something rest upon an immovable premise. In the technical sense, the argument of authority allows someone to point to an outside source as a sufficient reason to support their claim. This might mean that you refer to someone in high-standing – a judge, a police officer, the President, the law, their God – but in looser sense, this could also take the shape of an immovable belief, a hard-line moral code, a prejudice, etc. It is the sufficient point of regress for their reasons; they’re satisfied with stopping there (although you may not be).
Someone who is religious will refer to their religious text and the grace of their God. But what if you’re either not religious or from a different religion? How do you discuss with them in any meaningful way?
Someone who supports a law might do so on a moral basis. But what if you hold a different moral standard?
These are examples of an argument from authority.
There are ways to address the argument from authority later in this book, but here’s some ideas to tide you over; when someone refers to an authority, they pass the responsibility of proof to that authority. This means that they’re less likely to have thought any further for reasons to support the authority. In a good case, you might be able to rouse them to improve their arguments.
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It’s fine to disagree with ‘right-wingers’, so long as you know what a ‘right-winger’ is. You don’t learn who right-wingers are by listening to left-wingers’ descriptions of them. The solution is to learn from them directly.
Do you know the difference between left-wing and right-wing, besides the fact that you are one of them? Did you know that conservative and right-wing _]are distinct terms? Same with [_liberal _]and [_left-wing.
You are most likely a smart person, but we all tend to pick up political vocabulary in conversational contexts. I propose that you research the individual political terms, divorced from pundits or friends, who often color its meaning with their bias.
Understand the terms, and learn to differentiate them. Here’s a good list to start:
· Classical liberal
· Free-market capitalist
Use a dictionary – Oxford , Cambridge  – or even Wikipedia to read further.
The main point of this exercise is to stop using political identities as slurs; just because someone calls an idea ‘right-wing’ doesn’t necessary mean:
i. That right wing is evil;
ii. That the idea itself is right-wing; it might be something different.
Don’t let other people control the label; just because you heard from another that idea X is liberal, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. [_Idea X _]could fit be an idea shared by liberals and conservative, or just conservative.
By learning the definitions and terms, you’ll be the one in control; no longer can people put you in an arbitrary box. No longer can they call you a Communist just because you believe in some sort of social support; you can teach them the differences between a Liberal, a Socialist, and a Communist.
When you’re familiar with the definitions, then you should diligently categorize political beliefs, using the definitions as benchmarks. Then, whenever you’re in a discussion, you can now categorize the other person’s ideas and treat them appropriately.
Do your best to build up their position, and try to knock it down; you do yourself no favors by misrepresenting the other person’s position. By doing what’s known as a ‘strawman argument’, you earn a cheap victory by defeating an artifice that can’t fight back.
For example, when discussing health insurance, if they are opposed to a bill that allocates more funding to the federal health care (i.e. single payer), don’t presume that they’re opposed because they want to see children and old people dying of cancer on the streets, in misery and turmoil. Instead, look at their strongest reasons for being opposed to this bill, and challenge that instead.
Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his novel The Brothers Karamazov , challenges religiosity on a moral level. Although he was an existentialist, and possibly religious, but this book presents the strongest case for atheism. In the book, the parents of a young girl lock her into a freezing outhouse overnight, and she freezes to death. In a later conversation, Alyosha, the naïve younger brother, has his religious views challenged harshly by Ivan, the second oldest. Ivan suggests that a just God wouldn’t allow such meaningless death, among other arguments. Dostoyevsky had the skill of building up both sides of an argument, and then proving his own argument.
By building up your understanding of the opposing side, you give your opponent the privilege of having their argument dismantled by an honest and fair intellectual thinker.
Although we’ve been speaking about political labels, it is easy to acknowledge that some people give themselves a title that shields their extreme views. It provides, in other words, a front, or a presentable appearance, much like the baker who uses his store as a front for money laundering.
He who calls himself a Socialist might do so to justify his Communist views. Or, she calls herself a civic nationalist, when she’s really an ethnic nationalist. These people are putting up a front, in which they present a beautified version of their ideology.
In these cases, your knowledge of political definitions will help you. Keep in mind that many elements of each political identity overlap with one another.
Using your knowledge of politics, figure out what you personally believe. This way, you’re able to firmly stand up for something. Find out the issues, and then figure out whether you are in favor of or against them. Finally, form your identity, basing yourself off your answers.
Why do you believe these things? “Because it’s the morally right choice” isn’t a sufficient reason. You need real reasons to support your position, which is precisely what we’ll be doing in the next chapter.
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Almost anyone knows how to argue, but very few people know how to argue well. Once we separate the parts of an argument, you’ll quickly understand why. This chapter is divided into two parts; first, you must know [_what _]to argue over; then, you must know [_how _]to argue it.
In A System of Logic [_, _]John Stuart Mill proposes the following when it comes to the topic of discussion:
“We…examined the different kinds of Propositions, and found that, with the exception of those which are merely verbal, they assert five different kinds of matters of fact, namely, [Existence, Order in Place, Order in Time, Causation, ]and[ Resemblance]; that in every proposition one of these five is either affirmed, or denied, of some fact or phenomenon…”
The point of the above statement is that there are but five things to argue over, and of those things, they are true or false.
Here is an example of each of the five things:
1 – Existence:
Pro: “There is a problem with our health care system.”
Con: “There isn’t a problem with our health care system.”
With Existence, the debate is about whether the Proposition (a statement that one offers as a true statement) exists.
2 – Order in Place:
Position 1: [“The Affordable Care Act was signed into effect in the Oval Office.”
__]Position 2: “The Affordable Care Act was signed into effect in the Congressional Office.”
With Order in Place, the debate is about the Proposition takes place. We assume Existence when speaking about where a thing occurs.
[3 – Order in Time:
**]Position 1: “The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.”
Position 2: “The Affordable Care Act passed in 2008.”
With Order in Time, the question is about the Proposition takes place. We assume Existence when speaking about the time that a thing occurs.
[4 – Causation:
**]Position 1: [“The Affordable Care Act passed because Democrats wanted to appeal to the poor by giving them free handouts.”
__]Position 2: “The Affordable Care Act passed because Republicans blocked all other efforts at sensible health care reform, and the Democrats had Congressional majority.”
With Causation, the question is about [+what caused +]the Proposition to take place. This usually takes the form of a ‘why’ question. We assume Existence when speaking about what causes a thing to exist.
5 – Resemblance:
Position 1: [“The Affordable Care Act, in practice, is much like the NHS in Britain.”
__]Position 2: “The Affordable Care Act, in practice, is a socialistic step to Communism.”
With Resemblance, the question is less about actual connections, and more about the perceptions related. We assume Existence when we say that a thing resembles another.
(6) – Number
Later in the book, Mill extols the value of Proof by Number, and praises mathematics. Number is a sub-category of existence, but we shall give it its own title. Thus, we add an additional factor to argue about.
Position 1: [“The Affordable Care Act has given 12 million new people access to insurance.”
__]Position 2: “The Affordable Care Act has given 10 million new people access to insurance.”
With Number, the question is about the number relating to the Proposition.
In the book The Craft of Research , the authors suggest that when writing research papers, one should take the following approach to convincing others:
“In a research report, you make a , back it with , support them with , and to others views, and sometimes explain your of reasoning.”
The same can apply to political discussions. There are five parts in this statement; while you only need three to make a good argument, using all five will make you an expert at debating. The elements are:
i) Make a claim
ii) Support the claim with reasons
iii) Support your reasons with evidence
iv) Acknowledge and [*respond *]to others views
v) Explain your principles of reasoning
The first three parts – claims, reasons, evidence – are a chain of thought in which the strongest and broadest statement (the claim) and supported by smaller and more provable statements (reasons and evidence).
The remaining two parts – acknowledging and responding, and explaining your principles – are a way of defending the first three parts; it protects your ‘chain’ of claim-reason-evidence from picking pulled apart from any argument that would otherwise weaken its connection.
Let’s analyze the specific elements:
1 – Make a Claim
This is the easiest part of an argument. You pick a position relating to one of the six elements (Existence, Order in Place, Order in Time, Causation, Resemblance, and Number), and you make an affirmative statement. This becomes your position.
You can begin most claims with the hedge: “it is my firm opinion that…”
This is because the claim is the boldest and least substantiated part of a debate. It isn’t worth much on its own, but many people are satisfied with statements alone. Discussion become more interesting whenever you use the other elements.
Example: “I am happy with my government.”
2 – Support the Claim with Reasons
Now that you’ve made a claim, you should find reasons that support them. Reasons are other statements that plausibly explain why the Claim is valid.
In the example above, the claim doesn’t give enough information. We are apt to ask: “ are you happy with your government?”
In this situation, we are asking for reasons.
These reasons can be statements that use any of the six types of Propositions. In this example, these reasons assume that they make the person happy.
Claim: “[I am happy with my government.”
__]Reason: “Because my government gives us permission for free-speech.”
If you want to be an expert debater, . If you only provide one reason for being happy with your government, there might be three reasons for not being happy with your government, meaning that your main claim is not able to be supported.
Let’s think of more reasons:
Reason #2: “[Because I’m allowed to think whatever I want.”
__]Reason #3: “[Because it doesn’t pass discriminatory laws.”
__]Reason #4: “[Because I can work in any job I want.”
3 – Support Your Reasons with Evidence
Your reasons are still unsubstantiated; you need to provide proof that your reason exists as you describe it. This is where you need to do some digging. When you find enough evidence to support its respective reason, then that reason can support your claim. Find enough evidence for enough reasons, then your claim can be taken as true.
Evidence for Reason #1: [There are no laws that prohibit people from speaking openly about their opinions. Most legal loopholes surrounding free speech are ineffective. A legal journal on free speech collected a sample of legal proceedings regarding libel and slander laws and found …
Evidence for Reason #2:] [No one has ever been arrested or imprisoned for their thoughts (weak evidence, so you should reconsider this reason)
Evidence for Reason #3:] [There are no laws that discriminate, or permit discrimination, in regards to sex, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. Our charter/constitution states … and any case where someone discriminates in business is handled punitively.
The internet has given the average person access to worlds of information. Since there is plenty of false information, here’s what to look for when digging for evidence:
· Research studies and journals are the best source of evidence, as they’re obligated to stick to strict standards
o These research studies should have some numerical or strict objective measures;
o Be wary of the social sciences, as, according to a study, only a third of the research studies it tested were able to be replicated .
· Laws, statutes, and by-laws that relate to the location in question are very useful. You can find plenty of this online. However, since you’re likely not a lawyer, exercise caution before coming to a conclusion.
· Avoid articles and blogs, as they can be written by almost anyone; if they mention a study, dig online for the original.
· Avoid hearsay and gossip.
4 – Acknowledge and respond to others views
Assuming you’ve presented your claim, reasons, and evidence, then someone might try to undermine your reasons or evidence to undermine your claim.
Acknowledging and responding the counterpoints is useful as a defensive measure; if you know what they’re going to say, then you know how to respond to them without hesitation.
Again, learn your interlocutor’s position so that you can do this better.
5 – Explain your Principles of Reasoning
Being capable in this skill means that you’re able to connect the dots between claims and reasons. How are your reasons connected to your claim? If you can verbalize that, then you’re in a stronger position when debating.
Practice thinking in these terms when discussing with others.
If you’ve heard a claim and want to hear their reasoning, consider using:
“What reasons do you have to support that?”
If you’ve heard a reason and want to hear their evidence, consider using:
“[That sounds interesting; where can I find that information for myself?”
“Where did you find that information? I’d like to research it for myself.”
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You don’t know everything, and I trust that you know that. But, in conversation, the other person might believe that you think you do. It’s not a question of distrust so much as a belief of smugness and arrogance. When dealing with an arrogant person, you never want to give ground to them; it’s a terrible feeling when someone you dislike is correct (and it’s worse when you were simultaneously incorrect).
Although you might not intend to come off as a know-it-all, clear the air with a couple of conversational tips. These techniques will teach you how to tell the other person that you’re basing your ideas off of your incomplete, imperfect perspective. We can call this a ‘partial perspective’.
In his book, The Secret Life of Pronouns , social psychologist James Pennebaker analyzes the speech patterns of interviews, blogs, conversations, and other forms of speech, in order to pull from it the ‘function words’, such as pronouns, articles, prepositions (25). These function words allow us to figure out more information about the person who’s speaking; is this a powerful person or not? Is it a man or a woman speaking? Is it a younger or older person speaking? It’s worth a read, but that’s not what we’re discussing in this mini-book.
The book mentions a group of words called ‘cognitive words’. I’ve adapted them into Verbs that we can use to present our partial perspective to the other person.
Some examples of cognitive words: accept, acknowledge, anticipate, assume, aware, believe, concern, consider, contemplate, decide, determine, estimate, figure, impress, opt, occupy, rationalize, reason, recognize, realize, reflect, resolve, suppose, think, understand, vote.
Some examples of cognitive words in use:
“[I accept that some people are not a fan of this budget proposal.”
“I recognize that you might be doubting what I’m saying.”
“I estimate that we’ll reach 30,000 book sales by the end of the year.”
“I’m concerned about what this means for our company.”]
In Never Split the Difference , FBI Negotiator Chris Voss uses an interesting technique to make an observational comment about the other person. This technique is called labelling (26).
Labelling works by commenting on the [_appearance _]of the situation, not the situation itself. This means that you won’t be caught making a statement that is untrue, as we can’t deny a person’s experience.
It works as so; after listening to the other person, you follow up with a sentence that begins with one of the following:
“[It seems like…”
“It sounds like…”
“It appears that…”]
You can hedge it further by saying:
“It sounds like you’re saying…”
This sort of statement gives you permission to comment on a variety of situations. Consider, Voss suggests using this tactic in emotional situations, but this can even be useful when verifying what other people have said.
“It sounds like you’re telling me that you want there to be less government intervention in the health care system.”
Even if you know you’re right, admit that you might be wrong. This diffuses the ideas that you are talking down to the other person, while showing that you’re taking a shot in the dark.
[“For all I know, it appears that…”
“I could be wrong, but it sounds like…”
“Based on what you’re saying, it seems like…”
“From my experience, I’ve learned that…”
“It sounds like I might be misunderstanding…”]
When there are misunderstandings, there are a couple of options.
First, there is the ‘explain yourself to me’ mindset; in misunderstandings, your questions are pointed in such a way that you are putting the other person on the defensive.
Second, there is the ‘help me better understand’ mindset; in misunderstandings, your questions are more constructive and move the discussion forward.
There aren’t any particular scripts relating to this point of view; instead, it’s a general demeanor that you use. It also helps you phrase your requests for more information:
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In this chapter, you will learn what I refer to as ‘conversational monkey wrenches’; they’re valuable in a debate because they prevent you from focusing on the issue. These ‘monkey wrenches’ are sly techniques that people will not only learn, but continue to use because they work. They often don’t realize that they’re doing it, but they use them because they tend to work.
You can easily make somebody stop these techniques by swatting it away with a refined statement that brings you back to the issues; in short, you collapse their technique. They won’t try to derail the conversation further because they know that you know how to call them out.
Although this chapter only covers a few situations, you can apply the ideas to other similar situations.
There exist certain words with uncertain definitions; although they carry a specific meaning, they are used by many people for many different meanings. Even if you don’t intend on abusing these types of terms, be sure to be aware of when other people use it.
Many words, like [_problem, _]are like a Rorschach test  (the inkblot test in which you analyze the client’s interpretations) that lead the listener to hearing whatever they already believed on a topic. We can use certain words to set off an emotional reaction in our audience.
When speaking about certain qualities, people will agree with them when they speak to their self image; for instance, when speaking to a group of workers, if we say that they are hard-working, they will tend to agree with you, whether they work 20 or 100 hours a week. We quickly see how certain terms connote relativity.
The term glittering generalities apply to terms when people don’t exactly understand the meaning. Debaters clamor over the meanings of these words to give them a rhetorical advantage, even if they aren’t using an accurate definition.
These terms are valued because for a few reasons; first, they sound pleasant to the ear; second, they are connected to higher virtues; third, because of the second reason, it appeals to the emotions. Here is a brief list of examples: American values, patriotism, freedom, justice, morals, ethical, truth, facts, logic, equality, love, God.
Again, these words have definite meanings, but they are difficult to pin down; consider that philosophers have been clamoring over these terms for centuries, and that various philosophers have had varied, and contradictory definitions of these terms. Don’t assume that the other person has such an refined appreciation of this fact; they most likely use the term in a way that grants them expediency towards affirming their own ideology.
[_Snarl words _]are not only very emotive, but will flood the listener with a variety of possible meanings. The word is often said in such a way that the actual word doesn’t matter; rather, the inflection behind the word typically carries the meaning.
Typically, it is accompanied with contempt or snark, suggesting that the word is negative in itself. Such words include New Age, bigot, ghetto, pro-lifer, Communist, feminazi, gun nut, etc. The term sets into place the speaker’s opinion without ever stating it outright, making it much harder to pin down and defend against.
Included with this set of words include morally charged words, such as slut, womanizer, pig, misogynist, denier, heretic; in other words, words that impart moral judgment. These words are a reckless and irresponsible use of your language; you owe it to your audience to be as descriptive as possible in your language.
Use description to remove the emotional sting from the word; take slut; you can easily remove the emotion by describing someone as someone who has a lot of casual sex. Suddenly, one is left only to judge the act, and not the word. To describe the word impartially removes a lot of the emotion behind it. Demand that the other person sticks to the same ideals.
In Jiu-Jitsu, tournament matches begin on your feet. Assuming it’s a uniformed match, the best strategy to gain advantage is to get “grips”, or to grab somewhere on the opponent’s gi (a uniform that is also used in karate) and to use it as leverage to imbalance them. Done right, you throw your opponent to the ground, and you get an advantageous position.
When someone gets a grip on you, whether on your collar, on your elbow, on your waist or on your wrist, the solution is to break the grip, and to break it fast. If that works, the next step is for you to get a grip on your opponent. In a discussion, this means that whenever somebody tries to set the ‘frame’ of the discussion, you refuse to accept it by putting in your own frame.
The point is this; don’t let them get their ‘grips’; to do so, don’t let them control the terms. Ask for their definition when they use a word that has many meanings. Also, explain that the word can mean many things:
“Nowadays, can mean ten different things. Do you mind telling me what you have in mind when you talk about ?”
Let’s consider what a poor worker should do to become wealthy; let’s ask a conservative.
According to the conservative, they must work non-stop, which means that they need to spend all their time at work. There also shouldn’t be overtime to disincentive business. They should be able to accept any wage, even if it is beneath the current minimum wage, as minimum wage laws ‘force businesses (with a gun!) to pay a certain wage’. Since unions are too much of a hindrance, we must do away with unions completely, which means that employers would be able to make any type of demand to their employees, and employers should accept them.
How do you expect a poor worker to become wealthy? Well, according to the conservative, these workers should adopt the ‘Model of Perfect Behavior’. The model, which we’ll abbreviate to MPB , expects that they should work 80 hours a week, rely to public transportation to run on time, brave their irrational and capricious managers, learn independently, save 10% of income, and be an engaged and active parent.
If the worker doesn’t fit the MPB, then that conveniently explains why they aren’t wealthy.
Why do we expect perfection from other people in an imperfect system? Why shouldn’t adequate work and engagement lead to adequate living conditions?
Be careful of the people who suggest that unless people live up to perfect behavior, they should receive a pittance. Verbalize it as so:
“[It sounds like you’re holding people to a high standard just so that they can reach a bare minimum standard of living.”
“It seems like these people are dancing through a minefield; surely, something would go wrong. They get sick, or there’s some emergency. What then?”]
__]Situation 3 – ‘If Things Were Different, Things Would Be Different’
When having a debate, the discussion will likely go into the hypothetical. When this happens, notice the certainty that the other person might speak of what would happen to certain people in different situations.
“If I were poor, I would do [Model of Perfect Behavior]”
“[If I were rich, I would do x, y, and z honorable thing”
“If you were x, you wouldn’t be so quick in saying y.”]
They seem to be certain of themselves, but they have no way of knowing for certain what would happen in certain situations. And, neither would you.
You may respond: “[I realize that I wouldn’t be the same person if I were raised under different circumstances. But, there’s no real way of knowing what would happen.”
__]Situation 4 – Claim the Credit / Claim the Blame
If the other person builds up their ideology as the cause behind many good things, than they should be ready to accept that their ideology has caused bad things as well.
For example, if your conservative friend touts the fact that Judeo-Christian values permeate the morality of the Western world because of the writings of the Bible, you’re perfectly in your right to bring up the fact that one of those values include the prescription of slavery. If they’re willing to accept the credit for the good effects caused by certain idea, make sure that they’re willing to accept the blame for the bad effects caused by that same idea.
It is certainly true that these same countries ended slavery, but it was by some value outside of the Judeo-Christian type (namely modernism), since it is outside of the prescriptions of the Bible specific to slavery.
Be sure to avoid the fallacy of equivocation, in which you compare two similar but different ideas as though they were one.
You might respond: “[Surely, if you’re willing to accept the good parts, you should also accept the bad. From what I’ve heard, the book of Leviticus has the first written mention of slavery. Do Judeo-Christian values take credit for that too?”
__]Situation 5 – Playing into a despot’s agenda
If you support the idea that citizens should be able to get low-cost (or free) health care, does that make you Communist? That is the type of system the Communists want, after all. Even if you aren’t a Communist, you are playing into their agenda, aren’t you? Your political opinions ease the transition towards a Communist system, so why should be allowed to have that opinion?
Firstly, if the other portions of your political belief are not racially supremacist, you are not a racist. You probably share the same opinion on free speech as the KKK do – namely, you both want to be able to speak on your own behalf – but that doesn’t mean that you’re a KKK sympathizer. It just means that you share a sliver of similarity in a polar opposite set of opinions.
Don’t allow yourself to be lumped into a group with other people. Besides, there are reasons for supporting a policy that aren’t racially motivated. Even if a policy affects some races more than others, it may not be
You may say something to the effect of: “A movement is not defined by its fringe members. Although I might share one point in common with some awful people, there are dozens (and hundreds) of other points that we don’t share.”
Be sure that for every ideology, make sure that these so-called ‘fringe members’ are in the minority. Otherwise, your reply is moot; it might as well be a front, presenting a pretty membership package to attract new members, and then indoctrinating them into becoming yet another ‘fringe member’.
**]Situation 6 – Appeals to Immovable or Unprovable Authority
When your interlocutor speaks to an unprovable authority, then they’re using a reason to support their claim. If you don’t believe in that reason, then you don’t believe that their claim is valid. Your ideas are incongruent, and you should do your best to quickly resolve that incongruity.
For example, one might bring up the Bible to provide reasons, but you might not believe in the Bible. Therefore, referring to the Bible will do very little to convince you.
When you believe that they are appeal to authority, consider stating:
“Though you might be convinced enough by that reason alone, I myself don’t find it to be enough of a reason. Could you elaborate as to why that _][the claim] [_is true?”
Hopefully, you can prompt the other person to give further reasons that support their claim. If that doesn’t work, move to evidence:
“Okay. I mean, if your reason is true, then I assume that there is some evidence to back it up. Do you have anything top of mind?”
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The key to becoming good at debate is to become good at distinctions. [*debate is the art of distinctions; *]The single best exercise you ever did in school was the similarities vs. differences. It worked your mind to separate words from other words, concepts from other concepts. One of the best ways to being understood, or even winning a debate, is to distinguish your ideas from all other similar ideas to allow a clear channel of communication between you and your interlocutor.
You do this from continuous learning and deepening your network of facts.
In 1940, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren published the book How to Read a Book . Although it’s a strange title, the book teaches to read complex books at several levels of analysis. In Appendix A, they themselves compiled a reading list of ‘endlessly re-readable’ books. This list, containing over 130 authors, and over 200 books, was compiled into the Great Books of the Western World .
Contained within these books are the ideas which have shaped the intellectual and moral landscape of the West. Such authors include, among others, critical thinkers such as [Homer, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, Dante, Machiavelli, Calvin, Bacon, Shakespeare, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Milton, Pascal, Locke, Newton, Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau, Bentham, Emerson, Mill, James, Nietzsche, Freud, Santayana, Russell, _]and _James.
Some of these books are extremely useful in regards to politics and economics. I’ve compiled a brief list of recommended books to refer to when discussing politics.
Again, you want to attack your opponent at his strongest point. Read their books so that you can understand their arguments. Then, speak to those arguments instead of their caricature.
The mini-book below can teach you to outwit any right-winger you meet:
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If you disagree with someone intensely, you may feel some intense emotions. Remind yourself to breathe as much as you can; although these feelings will linger, you can keep your composure. The other person might feel similarly, so speak to others with this in mind.
Furthermore, when dealing with people that you disagree with, you might feel some degree of insecurity relating to your political identity; it’s a strange feeling that your positions need revising. Don’t worry too much; you must continually question your positions, and if someone is able to get you to challenge your ideas, all the better.
Continually challenge your ideas. Your position strengthens by subjecting it to scrutiny.
Thanks for reading!
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