I just love debates. I have the honour of speaking to many highly talented people, we have awesome private and small scale discussions. I’ve also gotten into some pretty memorable internet bum fights. However, I have yet to have a truly edifying public debate. I shut down a flat earther and laughed at an aryan kang, but I haven’t yet publicly debated someone who actually had a good idea to defend.
This is largely because of the Dunning Krueger effect. Smart people with good ideas don’t necessarily want to publicly debate them because they are unsure of themselves (the flip side of the heightened inhibition that gives them a greater capacity for introspection and discernment) while less intelligent people with less good ideas lack the inhibition to stop themselves from spouting off jibberish and having emotional breakdowns during debates. Smarter people have too much inhibition to take the risk of saying something regrettable (this is usually preferable, but not always).
This is why you really want to be careful with debating. Once you debate someone, it’s out there (probably) forever. If it turns out you were wrong, as the aryan kangs will soon learn they are, that’s a pretty big egg on your face. This is where Luke Ford’s strategy to “stay in your lane” comes in handy. Know what you know. Master your domain of expertise. Don’t tread into other fields unless you are certain you can defend your position.
Let’s explore some debate fallacies and consider possible solutions.
Taking the Bait
I am guilty of this myself occasionally. People start to troll me and I troll them right back. It’s been suggested that I simply ignore the trolls and not engage with them at all. To avoid getting into the mud with low IQ troublemakers, take a deep breath and consider whether a comment is worth responding. If trolls are just after attention, starve them. However, when people are promoting libel campaigns against you and constantly trying to undermine your credibility, it makes sense to defend yourself. A general rule with trolls is: the less said, the better.
You done fucked up.
If you don’t want me to make videos about you, don’t say dumb shit.
Affirming a Negative
Making claims such as “the mind is not a quantum computer” or “no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure” (the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem) and “reincarnation is impossible” are considered bad form in proper debate. When affirming a negative, the debater implies that they have enough knowledge to know what a thing is not. If you have enough knowledge to know what a thing is not, but cannot offer an explanation as to what a thing is, you are placing yourself into a precarious position.
The only time affirming a negative is acceptable is when the positive can be logically contradicted. Even this approach has risks however, because all assertions of logic are axiomatic. This means that negations are only true if the underlying axioms are true. Although many axiomatic systems are compelling (i.e.: boolean logic), since axioms are essentially ad hoc, we have no way of establishing their supreme validity and thus any conclusion drawn therefrom would be disproven if it was later established that the foundational axioms were fallacious.
Generally, if you disagree with someone’s position, the best way to address it is to list good reasons why their position is flawed and also to present a counterhypothesis. Without a counterhypothesis, even the best negation proof is weak.
Balance Between Defensive and Offensive
One of the main criticisms I have against people’s debate strategy is that they spend too much time on the defensive. The average spectator changes their mind based on a multitude of reasons, (often) least of which is logic. They lean towards a more charismatic speaker who reflects/improves their own bias. They yearn for a dog in the fight of internet ideological wars. Ultimately, they want a leader that they intuitively sense will give their genes the greatest chance for long term survival. Therefore even if your ideas are superior, if you cannot deliver your message in a manner that inspires that level of confidence, you will not succeed in rallying people to your cause.
Attacking too much comes across as overcompensating. Kind of an “all bark no bite” type of deal. Generally I would not recommend an attack first strategy unless you have a personal history with your opponent and they are a huge asshole on a regular basis such as Youssef Khanjari (who despises me for my excellence), or Kevin Wu (an alt of a deranged person who claims I stole their science theory when in reality I never heard of him) or even Jacob Shartle, who was rude enough to me to deserve a permanent nickname.
If I debate one of those mouth breathers, I won’t be giving them any respect and I may lead with an insult. That won’t harm my credibility, because I have so much patience with people (before I finally tire of them and cut them off wholesale) that if you evoke my wrath, you damned well deserve it, and everyone knows it. This strategy is considered higher risk, and not to be attempted unless you are a seasoned debater. An overly defence-centred approach is more complicated and will be explored next.
Some people have ethical apprehensions about going on the offensive. While I understand such concerns, one must be able to land (at least occasional) savage burns. The burn is best delivered consequent to at least two/three ad hominem attacks. This is the instant where the audience will be most sympathetic. You don’t want to appear overly aggressive any more than you want to seem masochistic and unwilling to defend yourself. You want to make sure the insult is tailored towards the person as best as possible because those are the most salient. If you are unwilling to attack, your followers (who’d be on your side regardless) will not enjoy watching you get insulted over and over and may lead to resenting what they perceive to be your cowardice. They will cheer for you if you attack your opponent in a defensive manner.
Losing Your Shit Online
This is to be avoided at all costs. If we take my terrible debate with Norvin as an example, we can see that I didn’t bother to make particularly good arguments to defend my position (exchange starts at about 3h20).
I did that to make a point: I don’t owe you shit and you’re a scumbag. If you make an ad hominem of the caliber of “you believe a crazy Hindu nationalist theory” right off the bat, then I am not going to bother making any detailed arguments because quite frankly, you don’t deserve them. It’s honestly just too easy to disprove the Aryan Invasion Theory to bother making reasoned arguments with aggressive, condescending assholes on the losing end of the Dunning Krueger effect. I don’t recommend this route unless you are so certain of your position that you don’t mind doing poorly in a debate for the purpose of laying a trap (by lulling your opponent into a false sense of security) slash painting the opposition into a corner.
I don’t start fights, but I have no problem ending them and as you can see with Norvin, who is now afraid to even talk to me and has requested to all of his followers that they never again engage with anyone who denies the Aryan Invasion Theory, attacking me with ad homs is a mistake. He has also called me crazy upwards of 50 times. I hope he realises that his unilateral fixation on me as the embodiment of his worst enemy caused him to make several serious strategic blunders as well as he got clipped into yet another unflattering troll video.
Calling Your Opponent Crazy
This ad hom almost always backfires. The only time it is acceptable to suggest someone might have some degree of mental derangement when they are hyperactively focusing on minutia or having an emotional reaction vastly disproportionate to the cause of the upset. The fact is that mental illness is a very serious issue. When you call people crazy simply because you disagree with them, you are diluting the label. This is insulting to your target but it is more insulting to people who actually do suffer from mental illness, whose experience you are cheapening by lobbing the insult at people you disagree with.
Thank you and happy debating!