Beware the Debater

Posted on August 5, 2014 by Robert Ringer Comments (31)

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One of the most time-wasting and exhausting exercises I can think of is being sucked into a debate — especially if the debater has tapioca between his ears. An argumentative person is not only unpleasant to be around, he also can consume large chunks of your time — time that could otherwise be used in beneficial ways.

An accomplished, incurable debater has the potential to frustrate and exhaust you to an alarming degree. Because relationships with debaters have such great potential for slowing you down, it’s important to be able to recognize when you’re in close proximity to such an individual.

To help toward that end, I have summarized below the Ten Dirty Tricks of Debating, which are the most commonly used tools of the debater’s trade.

DIRTY TRICK #1:   THE FALSE PREMISE 

Basing one’s argument on a false premise is one of the oldest tricks of clever debaters. It’s a mainstay of most political debates, wherein politicians find that they can slide a false premise by sitcom-damaged brains without much effort. Worse, supposedly opposing parties (as in, Democrats and Republicans — or, more appropriately, Demopublicans) begin most of their debates with joint false premises, thus giving viewers all the more reason to assume that such premises are correct.

DIRTY TRICK #2:   USING THE DESIRED CONCLUSION AS A PREMISE 

Using the desired conclusion as a premise — sometimes referred to as an a priori argument — is just a bold version of basing one’s arguments on a false premise. The debater who employs this tactic merely restates his own conclusion as though it were a fact. 

DIRTY TRICK #3:   PUTTING A SPIN ON A NEGATIVE

The term spin refers to the art of cleverly and smoothly twisting the truth, and it is now considered an essential tool for those who have dedicated their lives to the art of debating. The objective is to take a crystal-clear fact that negatively impacts the spinner and twist it — i.e., “spin it” — in such a way that it gives the illusion of being a positive.

DIRTY TRICK #4:   FEIGNING INDIGNATION WHEN TRAPPED

Some people are world-class actors when it comes to feigning indignation in situations where they realize they’ve been caught in a lie, misstatement, or worse. I have a simple rule when it comes to indignation: The louder and more vehement the protest, the less credence I give to the person’s indignation. As Emerson put it, “You shout so loudly I can barely hear your words.”

DIRTY TRICK #5:   TAKING THE OFFENSIVE WHEN OVERWHELMED BY THE FACTS

Taking the offensive with an aggressive, all-out attack is a strategy that goes a step beyond just feigning indignation, and is often employed when the facts appear to be undermining one’s arguments. The more overwhelming the facts against the dirty-trick debater, the more aggressive he becomes and the more effective he is in getting the other party to back off.

DIRTY TRICK #6:   MAKING INTIMIDATING ACCUSATIONS

Making intimidating accusations is another trademark of political debaters, the objective being to put the other party on the defensive. Some popular accusations, both in and out of the political arena, include: “You’re just selfish”; “You don’t care about starving children”; and, the ultimate intimidating accusation, one that quickly brings most people to their apologetic knees, “You’re a racist.”

DIRTY TRICK #7:   FOCUSING ON IRRELEVANT POINTS

Switching the focus of the conversation is a convenient way to escape being overwhelmed by the truth. Straying from the main point and changing the subject is a dead giveaway that the facts are closing in on the debater. Criminal defense attorneys employ this art when they distract the jury’s attention from any damning evidence against their clients by focusing on side issues and irrelevant topics.

DIRTY TRICK #8:   USING INVALID ANALOGIES

Oversimplified, an invalid analogy is the equivalent of comparing apples and oranges. When a debater uses an analogy, you have to follow his words carefully to make certain that A matches up with B and C matches up with D or you’ll find yourself boxed into a corner. If you allow an invalid analogy to slip by uncontested, you’re heading toward its natural consequence — an invalid conclusion.

DIRTY TRICK #9:   DEMANDING PROOF FOR A SELF-EVIDENT FACT

There is a whole school of thought that revolves around the idea that everything is relative and therefore nothing can be proved. The philosophy of relativism teaches that the premises people use to make judgments vary according to their genetic makeup, backgrounds, and environments. However, an axiom is a self-evident truth that requires no proof, and rational, honest people do not require proof for self-evident truths.

You do not have to prove that the sun comes up every morning, but there was a time when it was necessary to prove that the earth revolved around the sun. As with invalid analogies, if you allow someone to base his argument on the contention that a self-evident truth cannot be proven, an invalid conclusion is also a forgone conclusion.

DIRTY TRICK #10:   EMPLOYING INTELLECTUAL OR ESOTERIC WORDS

While esoteric language makes for good entertainment, you should never allow someone to use it against you in a debate. I’m an advocate of Occam’s Razor Principle (also known as the Principle of Parsimony), which states that the simplest and most direct explanation is generally the best explanation. Making explanations more complicated than necessary is often nothing more than a smokescreen intended to hide the facts.

No matter which of the above dirty tricks is employed, the bottom line is that you can’t afford to waste time on people who turn every conversation into a debate. If you value your time, you must learn to rise above the fray. And the best way I know to do that is to ask yourself if the resolution of this or that point of contention is really all that important in the overall scheme of things.

With very few exceptions, the answer is no. Always remember that a debater becomes impotent if he has no one with whom to debate, and you should make it a point never to volunteer to reinstate his virility. Whether or not you believe you are capable of outdebating someone should never be the issue. The real issue is, why in the world you would even care to try?

If you’re serious about getting to where you want to be in life, you simply don’t have time to be constantly mired in debates.

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

31 Responses to “Beware the Debater”

  1. anthony schuman says:

    So how do you deal with someone who has drunk the Obama koolaid? They religiously follow all 10 of your points as do all of the Democrat politicians.

    • Robert Smith says:

      What about Republicans who drank the G.W.Bush koolaid and all Republican politicians. They also religiously follow all 10 points above. Is this what you're implying?

      I would argue you just made yourself guilty of point #6: making intimidating accusations. Oops. :)

      The question probably should be, "how do you deal with someone who religiously follows all 10 points regardless of their political, religious, or other point of view?". Robert already included the answer in the final paragraphs.

      "No matter which of the above dirty tricks is employed, the bottom line is that you can’t afford to waste time on people who turn every conversation into a debate. If you value your time, you must learn to rise above the fray. And the best way I know to do that is to ask yourself if the resolution of this or that point of contention is really all that important in the overall scheme of things.

      With very few exceptions, the answer is no. Always remember that a debater becomes impotent if he has no one with whom to debate, and you should make it a point never to volunteer to reinstate his virility. Whether or not you believe you are capable of outdebating someone should never be the issue. The real issue is, why in the world you would even care to try?"

      • John E. Gabor says:

        You just did. And it sounds like you are both demopublicans. : )

      • Lynn Long says:

        I would argue you just made yourself guilty of dirty tricks 1, 4 and 8. oops back at ya. By the way, you're wasting my time.

        • Robert Smith says:

          Lynn,

          Would you explain how I'm guilty of tricks 1 (false premise) and 4 (feigning indignation when trapped), please? I can sort of see #8 (false analogy) if the assumption is that my substitution of "Republicans" and "G.W.Bush" for "Democrats" and "Obama" from the original post is invalid. This is a genuine question. If my communication skills are lacking then I want to improve them.

          With regard to my "Oops :)", I thought the smile would make it more tongue in cheek, but text doesn't convey as well as an actual face and I can see how it might come across as snooty or insulting. That was not my intent at all. if offense was taken then I apologize.

      • alastairbarnett592287422 says:

        To: John E. Gabor.
        Debate: a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

        He wrote an article on debating. I saw no opposing argument in the piece. How can you misconstrue that to mean a debate? So no he didn't.

    • Bill Zimmerly says:

      Simple … disengage!

  2. Paul Anthony says:

    Nice article, but…
    No one would dare comment, lest you label them a debater!

  3. pedantic twit says:

    May I suggest a Dirty Trick #11? Using ridicule when your argument is illogical or invalid.

    You see Jon Stewart doing this all the time on The Daily Show. Can't make a rational argument against those you disagree with? No problem, just laugh at them.

  4. Tex says:

    Excellent summary, Robert. I especially liked Number 4. I've concluded no one "debates" in the true definition of the word anymore. Instead, they resort to trying to out-shout the other. With diminished hearing in my old age, all I hear is deafening noise. So don't try to confuse me with the facts when my mind (sic) is made-up!

  5. Brian Brian Smith says:

    I live by the mantra that "The argumentative defense of any proposition is inversely proportional to the truth contained therein." Go Robert!

  6. Excellent points, Robert, as usual. As a young kid, my mother taught me truthful argument/debate. Lesson #1 was that, the minute you attack your opponent, and not the subject, and the minute you stop seeking truth through argument, you’ve lost everything, including your integrity. That was 50 years ago. It was all about honesty. Today, lying has become the norm; and seeking truth is rare. (IMHO)

  7. Jim Rice says:

    Robert you have a problem. For one who draws a lot of conclusions from the idea that we have "Natural Rights" derived from "Natural Law," you don't hold up very well against your first rule. I'll give you that there are very valid reasons for what you have listed in the past as "Natural Rights" as coming from some social construct between men, but where in nature do you see it decreed that we have a naturall right to own property. My search through history fails to find any instance of nature being in the property or real estate business.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      Go fishing some time in a spot that a cottonmouth has claimed. If you're talking about man, it goes back to at least Moses' time…

    • Liz says:

      I wondered about the idea of property ownership being a natural law when I was younger and just couldn't see where in nature there was any support for the notion. Then one day, it occurred to me that it's impossible for two people to swallow the same bite of food and there it was — the natural law for property. It appears that a person does have the right to secure for himself all that he desires for his well being, including proprietary rights enabled through agreements with others.

  8. alastairbarnett592287422 says:

    Hey Robert: Looks like you've stirred up a lot of debaters. You must have hit a sore spot.

  9. brent says:

    #4 reminds me of one of my favorite retorts from The Bard. "The debater doth protest too much methinks."

  10. Greg says:

    I love politics, and I love the pugilistic aspect of debate, maybe a little too much. But one thing I've discovered over the years is the debate is not for the benefit of the debaters. You'll rarely get someone to concede a point much less change their mind, it's the audience you're trying to convince.
    I'm a conservative/libertarian and I've watched the country go to hades in a hand-basket as a result of leftist policies (primarily but not entirely). So if I've got the time I'll engage in a debate with a lamp-post because I cannot bear to concede the field. If you don't push back you'll get pushed around.

  11. theczech says:

    The art and science of true debate is a good thing; it helps us formulate plans and make decisions, but only if properly executed. A good moderator would referee such rule violations as these thus keeping the debaters in check. Don't expect to see that anytime soon in our currently depraved culture!

    Of course some debates end with a bang like the "Interview at Weehawken" in 1804.

  12. Bob says:

    Robert Ringer, thank you for the tips of wisdom!!!!

    • Teri says:

      If one has the time to debate that must mean one has no interest in improving their own life, they just have time to rip up the other guy. So much wasted time….

      • think too much says:

        I would hope that Robert was only referring to those who are in it for purely egotistical reasons.

        Otherwise we should be shutting down our courtrooms (which I wish I could say were totally free of this problem). What a wonderful world it would be, in which nobody ever had an argument. :)

  13. Gary Waltrip says:

    I am always getting into debates with liberals, about global warming, illegal immigration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other topics. I used to avoid such confrontation, but debating has helped me overcome my fear and to develop better arguments. Debating can heighten one's thinking and speaking skills.

  14. Serge says:

    Why should I allow a frustrated chump to use any of the above on my time. It works for him since he gets to vent, his negative bs and I have to walk away feeling the bad energy.

    • think too much says:

      To an extent you can turn it against the chump by catching him in his contradictions and pointing out the rules of logic 101 every time he violates them. As someone else pointed out, it's often just for the benefit of people watching, but it would also expose the chump for being a chump, so he'll be less of a chump the next time.

  15. @LeonSpies says:

    Our politicians in South Africa are masters in this art and employ all ten of these tricks with unbelievable skill

    And the media? Well they just suck up to it.

  16. Richard Lee Van says:

    This is a good argument for colleges to require Logic 101 of all freshmen no matter their major. Too many college grads are merely TRAINED in their fields but remain UN educated in general. One kind of "talker" at our restaurant-hangout here where I live is the MONOLOGER. He doesn' t let anyone else talk if he can get away with it! And if you do break in, he dismisses you as "dumb". I've called it to some guys' attention and ticked them off big-time! Pseudo-friends no more! Good riddance. Better to be alone with one's "mind time" than be part of most "discussions" I decided. Best to be Mister Lonely socially. But, a truly educated mind is NEVER lonely. Inner discussions AKA "thinking" is far more productive, enlightening and even "fun".

    • think too much says:

      Identify a contradiction and then just sit back and let the monologuer publicly fight with his own confused, cognitive dissonance-addled mind. It's like judo. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. :)

  17. bill says:

    robert. one of the things i love most about you is your accurate perspective on the subject of human nature as you have demonstrated again in this article. i would note that socrates observed many, if not all, of these over 2,000 years ago, suggesting mankind hasn't changed in that time.
    i have had the misfortune to encounter many people in my life who AUTOMATICALLY disagree and wish to argue about everything. even if you tell them they are right, they will continue to argue! this is a thankfully small, but especially irritating type of person to say the least.
    the inherent problem with any kind of argument is that in order to "win" the other side has to admit to being wrong, and this almost NEVER happens, regardless of the abundance of evidence. the opponent is not seeking the truth, he is just trying to win, and "make true that which he loves" (as a very wise man once noted). the only thing to do in this case is to remove yourself from the situation and refuse to argue. as an intelligent person you must accept the fact that the vast, vast majority are simply very unintelligent and childish and there is no way to fix them.

    • CARA says:

      HEY, I HAVE A SISTER-IN-LAW WHO PRIDES HERSELF ON BEING A TOP DEBATER – SHE TOOK A DEBATING CLASS IN HIGH SCHOOL, AND REALLY, IT'S PATHETIC, ALBEIT MADDENING, TO BE AROUND HER AS EVERYTHING IS UP FOR GRABS. SHE'S STILL PRESENTING HER CASE AT TOP VOICE EVEN AS YOU AGREE WITH HER AND WALK AWAY, AND SINCE IT'S FAMILY THE ONLY THING TO DO IS WALK AWAY FROM HER BUT YOU CAN ONLY GET SO FAR (AWAY) AT THE HOLIDAY DINNERS, ETC. IF SHE HAD SOMETHING INTELLIGENT TO SAY AND WASN'T SO COMBATIVE ABOUT IT, O, WHAT A RELIEF IT WOULD BE!!

  18. DGMH says:

    RR's "Million Dollar Habits" is now out in Kindle.

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