The art and science of debate

Let me start by taking up a couple of issue as examples of the lack of reasoned debate in our society.

The first of these is global warming. There has been an across-the-world debate on whether the planet is in the midst of unsustainable warming due to increased greenhouse gases. Even though I have had my doubts from the start, what you do is examine the arguments others bring up to see what truth content there is and you look at the evidence that’s presented along with the theoretical explanations. And OK, for a while, the temperatures were going up, which was a correlation but not proof. I, like others, therefore kept an open mind and watching brief. But then, around fifteen years ago, temperatures stopped rising even while atmospheric carbon continued to increase. As a result, my scepticism has been maintained and I think of such scepticism as fully justified. Yet I do not know of a single person of the green persuasion who has come to the conclusion that perhaps they might have been wrong?

Or take another of my areas of interest, Keynesian economics. I have, for theoretical reasons, strong doubts about modern macroeconomics and its focus on aggregate demand. In my view, Say’s Law is valid while the whole of modern macro is built on a well known classical fallacy. And what is the the fallacy: that increases in public spending will increase aggregate demand and therefore return an economy to low unemployment and faster growth. OK, comes the stimulus, I set down in print my expectation that it would fail on a grand scale, that it would make economic conditions far worse than they were, and would not return our economies to strong growth and full employment. And had our economies, contrary to my expectation, recovered I would have had to give up my opinions, not least because everyone would have reminded me of what I had written. But instead, the world’s economies have unfolded almost exactly as I expected they would. But has any Keynesian actually said that, well, you know, perhaps modern macroeconomics is wrong after all. If there is, I have not heard of a single instance.

This brings me to a very high level and interesting discussion on why arguing with people on the left is not the same as debating, more like talking to a wall. Beyond that, as Captain Capitalism, the name he calls himself, points out, a proper debate is about advancing the truth, whereas dealing with the left merely ends up with abuse but little advance of knowledge. A long post on the art and science of debate but here is one part of which the whole is well worth the effort:

Aurini . . . delves into detail explaining the “debate” structure of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar basically meaning you all have to agree on the definitions and meanings of words. Logic meaning you have to be intellectually honest and adhere to associative rules and other logical concepts that ensure integrity. And rhetoric meaning you apply it in the real world or test one another’s arguments with anecdotes from reality. If both parties in a debate or even a discussion have these three things, then the conversation/debate is much more productive and progresses towards an inevitable “conclusion,” “reality” or agreement.

What’s funny though is for the longest time I never viewed debate as a cooperative effort, but rather an adversarial one. One of competition. One where you had an enemy that needed to be defeated. Of course, this was the sad consequence of growing up with the mentally deficient people that populated my generation. Parties I attended in my 20’s I was regularly attacked and berated for being a conservative. Debates in college (or even post college) were filled with emotion and vitriol. And in nearly 100% of the cases my opponents degraded into name calling, ad hominem attacks, accusations of “ism,” or being a nazi, etc.

And then a little later in his article there is this:

The majority of people are weak-minded. They are also lazy. However, they are also egotistical . . . and so their mind reaches for something that will not only allow them to claim some kind of intellectual “superiority” or “achievement,” but also allow them to do so with no work.

Going green
Claiming they’re a caring liberal
Joining a religion
Going vegan
Becoming a professor

This not only results in them living in a delusional, non-real world, but also makes them emotionally and egotistically invested in keeping up their ideological facade. Thus, when you make impassionate, logical, stoic arguments of fact, math, and statistics you (consciously or not) pierce their ego, expose their charade, and therefore trigger a visceral, emotional, and often hate-laden response from them.

The left tend to deal in feelings rather than facts and proof. It actually seems that facts and proof are no part of anything they propose. They believe what they wish to believe because it makes them feel better, not because it is actually valid or demonstrable to reason and common sense.

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