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Bully Tactics of Debaters
When a Dialog Is Actually a Monolog
Our individual differences naturally breed disagreements, and that's why we have those constructive discussions that aim at resolving "what" is the best solution. However, we are also known to have something like debates, which seem to exist for the sole purpose of establishing "who" is right, not "what" is right.
I often get puzzled about the extremes displayed in various tactics which are hijacking the sense of logicalness in so many debaters, actually to the point where it all becomes a game of outsmarting, rather than a discussion.
We certainly wouldn't have much problem recognizing such examples from many personal experiences and observation, when a dialog is technically a monolog, with one, or both participants taking a role of a lecturer or preacher, totally ignoring the arguments of the opponent.
In the paragraphs that follow, I would like to elaborate a little on tactics being used most frequently in such verbal duels. My purpose for that is bringing them out to our awareness, so that maybe some of us could recognize our own tendencies to resort to such forms of verbal exchange when we are in disagreement --- and maybe try to correct it.
My own most extreme experience of dialog-turned-monolog was about a Swiss dude at our family reunion who couldn't speak one word of English but kept talking to me in German, actually for some days, totally oblivious to the fact that I couldn't understand a word that he was saying. Well, he just had a need to talk, I guess, and his translator-wife was too busy having a good time to be bothered.
Of course, we could see this case as quite rare, although the United Nations representatives sometimes give us exactly that kind of impression of everyone yapping their own stuff while ignoring the need to find a common ground.
Nevertheless, let us see some of those announced bullying tactics of debaters.
Smirk of Belittling and Patronizing
Those tactics are easily recognizable to anyone looking from aside, but participants may not even be aware what they are doing - whether we are talking about pissed-off couples, smart-ass friends, politicians, or those engaging in religious debates.
The first that comes to mind is that "smirk of superiority" that some debaters put on their face; you know that expression of "knowing it all" and not really taking the opponent seriously. I won't give you any names, but you could easily spot at least two or three well known comedians-political commentators doing it all the time.
They don't make me laugh so much because of what they are saying, but "how" they are saying it. Like, some of them can't start their sentence without that superior smirk, as if that by itself is supposed to make them convincing to the audience and viewers.
It's like they are saying: "Look at me, I am so smart, and all this issue is far below my intelligence, too ridiculous and simple, so there is no other way to see it but my way." If they happen to have an opponent, that smirk is supposed to discourage and disarm him, and make his arguments insignificant in advance.
If you are watching closely the body language of that opponent, you may spot a momentary hidden urge to smash that mocking face. Speaking for myself, sometimes the dude really goes to an extreme, and then my finger gets itchy to change the channel.
Intrusive but Not Convincing
Probably even more often we may see the strategy of constant interrupting and outlouding an opponent --- as if that alone will make right everything they are saying. Then, if that doesn't seem to be enough, conversational bullies are bound to add some hand gesturing, or even profanities to make themselves more convincing.
We may be so used to seeing this kind of behavior that no one is really thinking how actually ridiculous it is, and how users of such tactics are embarrassing themselves. They sabotage your talking as if scared that your arguments might defeat theirs, since all of it is just a competition to them.
Indeed, people of all levels of intelligence are making perfect idiots of themselves by forgetting that anything other than sound logic and evidence is a sheer waste of words, and at the end of the day, whatever they are saying is not taken seriously.
Try to substitute that kind of "conversation" with two persons working on a project. Can you imagine them using improper tools all until the material is completely damaged or wasted --- just because they stubbornly insisted on their own way of doing it?
Insults to the Rescue of Face
It was that famous Roman orator Cicero who advised his disciples: "When you run out of sound arguments --- insult the opponent." Whether he really meant it or he was merely joking, we don't know, but the advice has certainly been applied often enough to raise the question of human capacity for peaceful solutions.
Interestingly, insults are viewed so differently from the legal perspective. For instance, "ordinary folks" may insult each other all they want, spread rumors, intrigues, and no judge will want to hear about it. But if you are a little more than "ordinary" and those insults threaten to affect your career - it changes insult into "defamation".
Moreover, your "freedom of speech" allows you to call your president any name from the ugliest vocabulary ever invented --- and that is not labeled as "defamation". One would expect that our leaders and their social status would be more protected by law.
In my somewhat satire-prone view, that shows how ignored is our opinion by our leaders, as it can't make a dent in their career no matter what we call them. What makes it particularly interesting is the fact that media are allowed to make those insults public; so it is legally about the same thing as two drunk friends calling each other names in a dispute over a football game.
More often than not, a bully-debater will readily sacrifice any logical sense in his arguments just to win. He may sidetrack the main issue to something insignificant or even completely irrelevant while "borrowing" the logicalness of it and trying to transfer it to his ailing arguments.
I still like that perfect example of non-sequiturs in the humorous anecdote which I used in another article dealing with logic and people's tendency to show a causality where none exists.
The story is about a lecturer who is about to demonstrate the harmful effect of alcohol on living tissue --- while targeting alcoholism. So he drops a wiggling worm into a glass container filled with alcohol, upon what the worm immediately stops wiggling, obviously dead, not drunk.
Now, the lecturer asks the audience what is evident from the experiment. Somebody from the back rows, obviously an alcoholic, manages to say through hick-ups: "Hick...to me...hick...it's obvious that...hick...if you drink, you won't have worms".
Similar, although not necessarily this humorous non-sequiturs are frequent phenomenon in debates, even at places where they shouldn't be, like in science. Namely, two equally qualified scholars may look at the same bunch of facts and interpret them in completely opposite ways, not because of a different mind, but a different heart, out of an academic vanity and insistence on "being" right.
Nothing but a Sign of Insecurity
It never stops amazing me whenever I see any such ridiculous form of people's unwillingness to bridge their differences in a rational manner. When we look a little deeper into it, this lack of goodwill can easily be traced back to a primordial "insecurity in the herd", where any personal difference feels like a potential threat.
It's in the nature of living beings, even plants, to develop defensive mechanisms, often meaning compensation of that insecurity with an assertive front. A bird will fluff its feathers to appear larger, and a cat will arch its back for the same purpose.
With us humans, an insecure short dude will walk with arms away from his body in a gunslinger style to increase his size; a baldy will grow a bushy beard; or a woman doubting her attractiveness will dress in flashy colors to be more noticeable.
Then, of course, insecurity in debating an issue is calling for a compensation by those mentioned tactics, which again, have no purpose to provide a rational exchange of opinions but keep in focus the intention to come out as a winner. When conversation becomes an outsmarting venture, then the whole interaction is merely a pathetic game of patching up some insecurity wounds.
I hope that you found the topic of the article as entertaining as it appears to me; and I wouldn't go ambitious to call it "educational" --- except if you may see in your own style of interacting some traces of the similar attitude. In that case, by recognizing its ridiculous and futile motivation in yourself or in those close to you, you may wish to correct it.