Rhetorical Aikido

I recently found myself in a series of conversations about politics, religion and metaphysics. These topics are notoriously difficult to change people's minds about. And yet, I found myself changing other people's minds over and over again.

What's extra bizarre about this is I wasn't even trying to win. I was trying to lose.

The technique I used has many limitations.

Here's an example.

Him: "I'm a socialist."

Lsusr: "'Socialist' is abstract. What's a specific socialist policy you support?"

Him: "I support Bernie Sander's policy for debt amnesty for college loans."

Lsusr: "Why?"

Him: "College is necessary to succeed in this economy, wealth inequality is unjust, and college is too expensive."

Lsusr: "Do you propose cancelling the debts? Or for the government to repay them?"

Him: "Repayment."

Lsusr: "Why repayment? Why not a cash transfer? A cash transfer would put recipients in a better position since they could use the money to pay off their loans or use it for something else, depending on what's best for their individual situation."

Him: "Good point. A cash transfer is superior to debt cancellation."

Lsusr: "Where would the money for this cash transfer come from?"

Him: "Taxes."

Lsusr: "You claimed that college is necessary to succeed in this economy. Would you agree that college graduates are better off than non-college graduates?"

Him: "Of course."

Lsusr: "Taxes are paid by everybody. You propose that we tax everybody and redistribute the wealth to a rich demographic. If our goal is to reduce inequality, then we should tax college graduates and redistribute the money to non-college graduates, instead."

Him: "Oops."

Lsusr: "Furthermore, subsidizing college loans increases demand (as measured in dollars) for college. If you increase demand without modifying supply, then prices go up."

Him: "I can't really argue with that."

Lsusr: "You propose that we decrease wealth inequality by redistributing money to the rich, and that we lower the price of college by increasing the price of college."

Him: "I was wrong. Clearly I have no idea what I'm talking about."

I don't expect many people reading this post to be convinced by the argument above. My side of the argument contains multiple logical fallacies. But that's not the point. My point is that the Sanders supporter recognized that his argument was logically contradictory.

If I had just said "You're wrong", then he would say "You're wrong" back and we would get nowhere. Instead of trying to tear his argument down, I improved it.

A good argument is a logical chain that starts at observable reality, follows common sense, and arrives at a conclusion. Good arguments are easy to understand. Good arguments are true, coherent, and grounded in reality. If an argument is wrong then either it contradicts reality, contradicts itself, or is disconnected from reality entirely. Suppose you're right and your opponent is wrong. Then your opponent either contradicts reality, contradicts him/herself, or is disconnected from reality entirely.

If an argument is wrong, then all you have to do is clarify what the argument is saying, and then the argument will selfdestruct.

[1] Otherwise, your opponent will get bored.