A friend recently posed:
“Can you win a debate against someone “smarter” than you”?
I have previously explained debate strategy from a scientific perspective. This strategy forms a complete solution, in my view, for settling debates which are objective in nature. The complex nature of this subject limits the field to what several have dismissed as “purity spiralling”, “too vague” and “impossible to prove”.
I’m proud to save my esteem almost exclusively for people who care about the same things I do. However, I also understand that most people learn by example so it is also my duty to model proper public behaviour and that sometimes involves debating things rooted in emotion slash an associated highly emotional sideshow.
What People Care About
The sorts of debates that pique interest are the ones concerning subjective interpretation of a complex set of events (“narratives”). Debates reduce essentially to this question: which narrative (cult) has had gained credibility following the exchange? Debaters become the avatars of their cult affiliation. Spectators become moved to identify more strongly with one debater over the other and experience the exchange vicariously.
Is it Possible To Win a Subjective Debate?
Winning suggests that someone has evaluated your debate performance according to some rubric and judged you more favourably than your competitor.
Can a Debate be Won Against Someone “Smarter”?
The way I look at intelligence is as a quartile distribution. The first quartile would be the 25% least intelligent folks all the way up to the fourth quartile which would be the 25% most intelligent folks. I think that, with training, it is possible to win a debate within your quartile, but not between quartiles. This is because the qualities of the sense experience vary too greatly for a significantly meaningful exchange to take place (i.e. it has the optics of beating up a five year old: you “won” but you also “lost” in a more significant way, i.e. you beat up a 5 year old).
Intraquartile (within one’s quartile) debate can most certainly be won against an opponent who is smarter (noting that not everyone defines intelligence the same way but also remembering that objective wisdom exists) so long as one takes the time to educate oneself regarding proper debate etiquette. I will next explain some debate strategy fallacies as well as possible solutions.
Logicucking is a common occurrence with inexperienced debaters. They have an emotional attachment to the idea that superior logic can always win a debate. Clearly this is not true because all debates involve some degree of aesthetic appeal. Even in my objective system, due to human subjectivity, I cannot objectively prove that my field model is objectively correct. I can only attempt to define what criteria I believe make a field model better and then subsequently try to establish that my field model meets these criteria better than any rival model.
Since most people aren’t even swayed by logic in the first place, it is illogical to presume that superior logic is sufficient to sway a crowd. It is a necessary condition that one understands the logic of one’s own position but it is not sufficient to win every debate. You must also understand the logic of your opponent’s position, the rhetorical weaknesses and strengths of both of your positions along with a host of other things that factor in to varying degrees, depending on the situation (prior experience of debater, social zeitgeist etc).
The Infinite Critic
This archetype is very common due to the belief that critical theory is a sufficient means of defeating and/or establishing a position. It isn’t. And it leads to dangerous results such as:
- Cultural destruction
Criticism can only refine an argument, it cannot create one. Knowledge is a combination of both imagination (creation of new microstates) and discernment (wilful reduction in microstates). Criticising a position without providing a viable counterposition is traditionally considered a bad form of debate.
This archetype is harder to discern at first, but after listening to someone for a while, you start to get a sense of their ideological affiliation. When one is vague or inconsistent about their position, it gives the impression that they fear the weak points of their ideology being exposed. One’s reactions to ideological weak points gives a sense of one’s character and so when one refuses to offer an honest representation of their views on a consistent basis, faith in their intention is undermined. It also gives the unfair advantage of being able to bestow criticism without giving any meaningful vehicle for counter-criticism.
The best example of this pathology are “tactical ancaps”. They invoke the “non-aggression” principle to undermine all of their opponent’s suggested applied governmental force strategies.
In the long term, this strategy is a loser because eventually you will have a reputation for deceitfulness and that never washes off. The best defence against ideological crypsis is the call-out.
Echo Chamber in the Platonic Cave
People spontaneously self-segregate into insular ideological affiliations and so some degree of “echo-chambering” is inevitable. This inevitability does not absolve one of the duty to understand the position of rival cave cults.
At the end of the day, ‘winning’ is always going to depend on your evaluation metric. And debate evaluation metrics are like butts. Everyone has one and most of them stink. No one cares about your pet debate evaluation metric where you’ve convinced yourself through circular logic that it is ‘impossible’ to lose against you.
Let’s define “winning” as a net consensus shift in your favour.
This definition immediately encounters what appears to be a brick wall in the application of logic to emotional actors: people lie (sometimes to others, but mostly to themselves).
Thus our metrics must be indirect. We must learn to profile the expected behaviour of a winner versus a loser.
Sargon of Akkad “meta-lost” his debate with Richard Spencer when he left the conversation because he “got sleepy” but then proceeded to have a one hour hugbox stream with his friends. Thus we say that Sargon copeposted and that generally, cope-posting correlates with losing.
Cope-posting is frequently comorbid with excess attention given to gossip (interpersonal drama). Loss evokes the desire to rebuild confidence and so we expect the copeposter to make many assertions and that many of these assertions will be underscored by near-imperceptible wavering in the voice betraying deep uncertainty.
In contrast, winners perform ‘victory lap’ type behaviour. Going over points again in slow motion. Oftentimes smug virtue signalling is observed, i.e.: a conciliatory “he did a good job too”). Winners sail on. Losers sometimes get a grudge.
Here is another example of cope-posting.
You will never cope-post this hard (& this isn’t even all the tweets)
Claire should have read this article before proceeding to cope-post about me for hours. This debacle begs the question: if someone really really upsets you, what should you do? I think it’s probably better to acknowledge what happened and then move on as quickly as possible.
I mostly engaged with Claire Khaw, a person of ill-repute, as a means of exploring theology. Inter-faith dialogue is challenging work, because either one person’s knowledge is usually a subset of the other’s (at which point it is more teaching than dialoguing) or because the speakers are using disparate axioms in their reasoning (at which point it usually ends in a stalemate).
I don’t like to walk away from a debate, but in this case it was warranted. The arguments had all been made ad nauseum, and the drawbacks of continued association (slander, stress from constantly having to defend against false allegations, waste of time) outweighed the benefits (explaining why her idea won’t work). Mostly it is because Claire cannot acknowledge when I have defeated her positions and instead resorts to apologia & post-hoc rationalisation. Moreover, her constant interruptions on stream are tiresome. The main reason I don’t want to engage with her anymore is because she misrepresents my ideas & attempts to tie me to unsavoury characters. The truth of the matter is: I’ll talk to anyone who wants to talk to me until I get the sense I am being paraded out to be mocked, demeaned and dismissed. Due to the large amount of spiritual and intellectual degeneracy of the modern day, this has sadly happened more than once. While I don’t mind teaching difficult students, I require a minimum standard of ethics and making me your dancing bear (abused circus animal paraded out for public humiliation) is a violation of said minimum ethical standard.
I know some people are sad that Claire and I won’t be streaming anymore together, but associating with people who do nothing but insult you makes you look like a masochist, and this causes a loss of cult prestige because people will invariably ask “what is wrong with this person? why do they continue to waste their time with people who have no respect for them or their ideas?” – bad optics.
What it Means to Win
People don’t all have the same standard for winning a debate. Some people consider getting you to engage at all to be “winning” (i.e.: trolls). This would suggest the only way to “win” is to not participate. You can’t change the fact that most people will continue to be small minded simpletons, you can only change your own mind as concerns the valuation you will accord to your inner life. It is this inner change that leads to greater sociological improvement. By and large logic cannot be taught, rather it can be improved and refined when it is present. However the desire for the capacity for logic can be easily evoked in the commoner, through cult prestige. Think of it as a public service in the interest of society as a whole. You must find some way to enjoy your work and the best way to do that is focus exclusively on personality development.
The most important lesson in debate is that personality is the most important factor in establishing credibility and success. While this may seem counterintuitive at first, consider that it is the personality that chooses what dialects one becomes versed in. It is the personality that chooses how to create and frame narratives. Finally it is the personality that endures the enemy’s arrows (ideally with grace) and manages victory (ideally with modesty).
Thus to win is to never lose the lesson.