- In order to inform ourselves, we humans resort to several different strategies.
- We discuss controversial issues with friends (and sometimes ‘enemies’).
- We read newspaper columns and magazine articles.
- We read whole books or sections thereof.
- Sometimes, we catch juxtaposed pro and con articles in the op-ed sections of the Sunday newspaper.
- We listen to those who agree with us (and sometimes to those who do not) on podcasts and radio talk shows.
- We watch debates on TV.
- And, if we’re especially brave, or foolhardy, we argue on the Internet.
- But, all the above strategies are seriously flawed and problematic.
- In large part we listen to and read only those pundits with whom we tend to agree already.
- If we read or listen to those with whom we disagree, we get ulcers (we can’t effectively respond to all their lies and general foolishness).
- The juxtaposed articles may be a good start, but these tend to leave numerous and critical loose ends.
- Oral debates on radio and TV are usually side-shows, with lots of name-calling and little headway.
- And, even if we do somehow “get somewhere” in oral debate, the direction we get may be based upon the relative speed of the
speakers — and ultimately, we may end up wishing that we had not made the headway in the first place.
- As it turns out, written debate on the Internet is hardly any better than oral debate – we still end up calling each other names and going around in circles
- .IOW, our strategies for informing ourselves tend to be significantly incomplete and basically dishonest (biased) and leave a great deal to be desired. And consequently, our opinions and decisions re these different issues are very often seriously misguided and problematic…I contend, moreover, that some of our more recent decisions (past 100 years?) have placed our very survival in jeopardy.
– Even though our ability to inform ourselves these days is incredible as
compared to what it used to be, the results are still highly incomplete and biased.
– And the thing is, the misguided conclusions fostered by this faulty data
gathering are much more likely to be acted upon these days than were similar
conclusions in past centuries.
– And then, they are also much more likely to be spread.
– In other words, what used to be a nuisance has become a serious problem —
and, requires our serious attention…
– If, for instance, “global warming” is the fact and the horror it appears to be, we
owe our predicament to incomplete and biased information gathering –
industrialization has its serious side effects and pitfalls, of which we, “the
people,” were never properly informed. And now, saving the world may
absolutely depend upon setting this record straight – providing complete and
unbiased information to the masses.
– These days, we are much more likely to experiment than we used to be, and our
faulty conclusions are much more likely to be acted upon.
– And then, communication-wise the world has ‘shrunk’ incredibly and our
misguided ‘forays’ are much more likely to spread and spread further.
– These are two serious ingredients with which past soothsayers didn’t need to
– We all know what happens in our own personal arguments – it isn’t pretty.
– But, this is also true for debate between our best and brightest. Look at the
somewhat formalized debate in our legislatures and in the media – between our
most intelligent and prominent figures, and over our most important issues. If
anyone has developed actually effective debate, it isn’t being used in the most
important and likely places.
– And then, look at the different formalized methods we’ve developed for the
different situations that call for some sort of negotiation, and you’ll see that they
only skirt this kind of situation. There are relevant “disciplines” we’ve tried to
develop, and some of them work to one extent or another – they’re just not
– There is formal debate, “Fair Fighting,” arbitration, mediation, “Roberts Rules of
Order,” parliamentary procedure, “pilpul” and courtroom procedure, for instance.
But none of these are on the mark in regard to effective sociopolitical discourse.
– Formal debate is formally concerned with winning, which is exactly what we’re
trying to avoid.
– “Fair fighting” does involve dialog in good faith, but it’s really only aimed at very
personal arguments, and focuses very narrowly on the emotional messages
going back and forth.
– We could learn a lot by studying arbitration and mediation, but these also have a
narrow, albeit complicated, focus and also do not address the critical issues of
effective evidence presentation.
– Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure are simply structures for
– Somehow, we seem to have never tackled the problem head on in regard to day-
to-day, sociopolitical controversy — the kind that occurs on TV, in the
newspapers, in election campaigns, in congress, in court, at town hall meetings,
over coffee, whatever.
– I found lots of references to “effective debate” on Google, but checking the first
few pages, these were all about good guidelines for oral debate and had little to
do with effectively seeking the truth. We have scientized the game of debate, but
again, the game of debate is explicitly about winning.
– I also found lots of references to “written debate” on Google — but these were
simply examples (interestingly enough, most examples on the first few pages
were religious in nature).
– I couldn’t find any reference to “effective written debate.”
– This is where the old couple comes in — we humans seem to have accepted
ineffective debate as a fact of life. We’ve been caught napping – for 5,000 (or
– Now, I didn’t address courtroom procedure because while it has never been
formally applied to sociopolitical controversy, it does apply, and it does provide a
real jumping off point for developing an “argument friendly” environment – which
is what this is about.
– The basic problem is that once we humans slip into debate, our reflexes are all
wrong for trying to find the truth. That’s how we humans are. Once into a debate,
we automatically slip into a fight/flight mode and become oblivious to any truth-
seeking urge we might previously have had, and seek only to win – or at least, to
– But note that two things happen here. We slip into a fight/flight mode; but also,
we lose all sight of our seek-the-truth mode. It isn’t’ like the two objectives both
have our attention, just that one of them is stronger — it’s like one of them slips
entirely below our radar… We “zone out.”
– It’s like we have two ‘background objectives’ possible here: “Seek the truth,” or
“Win.” But, importantly, these do not occupy the same space, they cannot share
control. Once the ‘winning’ objective rears its ugly head, we simply become
oblivious to our previous desire to seek the truth. We zone out. We may ‘wake up’
every once in awhile — only to zone out again, the next time we’re challenged…
– It’s like falling asleep in class when we’re especially sleepy. We wake up and
think, “Wow, I’d better not do that again.” But, the next thing we know, we’re
waking up again…
– It’s like the picture they showed us in Psychology 101 – according to how you
look at it, it was either an ugly old witch, or a beautiful young woman. But the
main point was that you couldn’t see it both ways at the same time – it was
either one way or the other. The same dynamic seems to be working in regards to
these two objectives. It’s like our ‘wheelhouse’ has only enough room for one
– I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but “zoning out” is an
important aspect of human nature that, as far as I can tell, has never been
addressed by science. Since we’re oblivious to what we’re doing while we’re
doing it, we never correct ourselves. We might “wake up” and start to correct
ourselves, but quickly “fall asleep” again and start doing it all over again —
oblivious to what we just did…
– For 50,000 years now, we’ve had the theoretical “ability” to argue in good faith –
to argue honestly, objectively and fairly — but, our reflexes still won’t let us. Talk
about your Rip Van Winkles!
– That, I claim, is our general problem.
– But then, I suggest that what we need do in order to begin correcting our
problem is to identify our specific problematic behaviors.
– So, once into a debate, we humans revert to animalistic form, slip into a
fight/flight mode and start doing everything we can to win.
– More specifically, we
1. Start doing everything we can to undermine effective presentation of evidence
by the other side, and to overstate our own case. And,
2. Start placing a supreme premium upon quick answers.
– More specifically yet, in regard to #1, we
1.1. Insult our opponents (We have numerous ways of doing this – both overtly
1.2. Refuse to yield the floor.
1.3. Refuse to answer our opponents questions
1.4. Pretend to answer their questions while ‘dancing’ instead.
1.5. State opinion as fact.
1.6. Raise our voices.
1.7. Grasp at straws (while pretending they’re hawsers). And,
– More specifically yet, in regard to #2. Because of this new set, we don’t have
2.1. Understand our opponent’s argument.
2.2. Really understand our own argument.
2.3. Think twice.
2.4. Step back from the canvas.
2.5. Look before we leap.
2.6. Say what we mean.
2.7. Keep from going off on tangents defending things we didn’t mean.
2.8. Realize we’re wrong.
2.9. Admit we’re wrong.
2.10. Cool off.
– So, how important would fixing this be?
– Well, you’ve gotta suspect that if we could actually stifle our bad reflexes while
enforcing our positive potentials, a lot of good things would happen.
– For one thing, our decisions – whether household or national — would be better
informed and, consequently, more likely to turn out well. Argument is potentially
the best way to get both (all) sides of the story.
– For another thing, these issues would quit dividing us so divisively. If the other
side has something to appreciate, we’d begin to appreciate it. If the other side
doesn’t really have anything to appreciate, we’d decrease their numbers.
Whereas, our current manner of debate keeps us highly polarized and angry at
the other side. And then, the media doesn’t try to get us any closer. They
emphasize the differences – they take advantage of, and promote, the polarity.
Currently, the way that the media deals with controversy just drives the populace
further and further apart, while making themselves more and more money.
– For another thing, argument adds mass, energy and momentum to thinking. We
don’t use it nearly as much as we should, because it is currently so ineffective.
But, if we could clear up argument’s problems, we could expect a whole lot more
of thinking going on.
– Senators would say, “I see what you’re talking about! Maybe we can find a
compromise. You guys gave us the benefit of the doubt last time. We should give
it to you this time.”
– Candidates for office would answer the questions put to them.
– If we could somehow force opponents to argue honestly, objectively and fairly –
for brevity, I’ll call that “Argue in good faith” – we might finally start improving the
human condition. We might begin to heal the world.
– Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a happy old couple
with just ONE problem – there was an axe stuck in their ceiling. In truth, the
couple wasn’t all THAT happy because they worried constantly that someday
that axe would fall out of the ceiling and kill somebody.
– One day a tired and hungry stranger came along and the old couple invited
him in for a rest and a meal. While eating, the couple told the stranger about
their life together, pointing out that the one sour note in all their happy existence
was that (damned) axe stuck in the ceiling. At which point, the stranger got up on
his chair, and with a quick tug, dislodged the axe from the ceiling…
– As an example of a particular human foible, the story above is rather far
fetched — but we probably all recognize it anyway. Often, the answer to some
problem we’re having is staring us right in the face, but we’re looking right
through it. But then actually, this particular story suggests something even more
fascinating – sometimes the reason the solution doesn’t occur to us is that we
sort of take the situation for granted as a fact-of-life to bemoan — rather than as a
problem to solve.
– And that’s my claim about human argument, or debate. We need to start looking
upon the state of human argument as a problem to solve…
– Argument: any discussion in which the discussants are emotionally invested in
opposing positions. “Debate” turns out to be the same thing — it just sounds
– Human argument is extremely ineffective. Everybody knows this. And, it isn’t
just that opponents hardly ever reach resolution; it’s that the evidence relevant to
the issue at hand is hardly ever presented effectively — which is the real problem.
Those following the argument won’t learn a whit, and will go away from the
argument madder than they were to begin with.
– Yet, once we stop and think about our experience with argument/debate,
specific problems seem obvious, and the underlying causes somewhat obvious
themselves. So, why haven’t we tried to fix it?
– It would appear that the idea of fixing debate just does not tend to occur to the
– We are like the dog only 5 feet from his dinner, blocked by a partially opened
door that happens to open towards him. A cat would know exactly what to do in
this situation, but most dogs don’t have a clue. Using his paw to open the door
further is simply not a part of the dog’s behavioral repertoire, and the thought
simply does not occur to him. We humans have been sitting outside our own
partially opened door for 5,000 (or 50,000) years, waiting for our dinner…
– There seems to be no other answer. There must be types of insights to which
we humans are basically oblivious — as there are types of insight unavailable to
– At this point, our “glitch” is a good thing – in order to fix this problem, all we
have to do is “wake up”! Potential solutions are staring us right in the face if we
just open our eyes…
– And, if you’re paying attention, you just opened yours!
– So, now that you’re awake, with eyes wide open, let’s zoom in and scrutinize
– The first thing to keep in mind is that our purpose in effective argument is to
properly inform the public. We are not concerned with getting everyone to agree
– we just want to make the best evidence available to everyone. Effective
argument occurs when the evidence and logic for both sides is presented
effectively. That way, everyone can make up their own minds based upon the
best evidence. That’s what a democracy is all about – and also, why we’re all here.
– Zooming in further, we can see that the obstacles to effective argument come in
two ‘flavors’ – or at least, we can usefully categorize them this way. Some of the
obstacles we encounter are essentially inherent to the argument — and to some
extent, we’re just stuck with them. But, most of the obstacles we encounter are
“created” (by us) and we are not stuck with them…
– Bringing about actually effective written debate should be easy, because
– So far we’ve subconsciously accepted ineffective debate as a fact of life and
simply haven’t tried — in any conscious and focused way — to fix it. It’s time to
wake up and start solving this problem.
– And best of all — each major issue is composed of numerous specific “sub-
issues” and “sub-sub-issues” — i.e., specific disagreements — and while we
cannot reasonably expect to resolve all specific disagreements, we can
reasonably expect to isolate, identify, clarify and classify all specific
disagreements. Theoretically, we can nail down every last nuance of every last
disagreement… It’s only agreement that we cannot, for any particular
disagreement, theoretically nail down. And, the thing is, for our purposes here,
we don’t need to nail down agreement. For our purposes here, all we have to do
is nail down the specific disagreement in front of us…
– What we haven’t understood is how “happy” we’ll be if we just do this latter. In
truth, it is our failure to nail down the specific disagreements that has left us so
confused and traumatized – and, has left us thinking of ineffective debate as an
unavoidable fact of life to bemoan rather than as a problem to solve.
– Here’s how effective debate might finally happen.
– Since the purpose of “actually effective debate” is to effectively inform the
public re the controversial issues of the day, these debates will be very public.
– Since the difficulties with written debate are significantly smaller and fewer
than are those with oral debate, the first effective debates will be written.
– Websites, or sections thereof, will be set up to provide these debates.
– Each side in a particular debate will have one spokesperson – a recognized
leader in the field.
– These leaders will participate for free as these are causes they are eager to
defend, and the website will attract a large audience — and if they don’t
participate, some lesser champion will end up representing their side.
– But then, the leaders won’t have to go it alone — they will be encouraged to
enlist all the help they need.
– A section of the website will be set aside for a thorough discussion of the
intricacies of human argument. This section will present a theoretical overview of
human argument and its specific problems (much as I have already attempted to
begin). It will provide a set of guidelines as to the dos and don’ts of effective
– The leaders selected will approve of the guidelines, and will be urged to stick
to them — and to politely point out infractions by their opponents.
– A separate forum will be provided for the audience. They will be urged to
study the guidelines and do their “scoring” accordingly. They, will also be urged
to point out infractions as well as unexpected adherence.
– The actual opponents will learn quickly how they are doing re the guidelines
and, hopefully, adjust their methods accordingly. Where they do not properly
adjust, they will be suspected of championing a house of cards.
– Clearly, the opponents cannot be made to follow the guidelines, but an alert
and “noisy” audience should keep them under control. And after all, it’s only
audience opinion that matters anyway; and, out of control debaters will not score
well with the audience – which is what this is all about.
– All along, the administration of the website will be learning more about debate.
Their understanding and guidelines will be rudimentary at first, but by paying
close attention to the debate as it progresses, they should find much to add.
– In some cases, the websites will deliberately recruit opponents who are more
interested in understanding and improving debate than they are in winning their
– The audience and opponents will be constantly reminded that the ultimate
objective here is not for the opponents to agree with each other, nor for the
members of the audience to agree with each other, nor for an impartial Judge to
make the final decision for everyone. The ultimate objective of this debate is for
the evidence and logic of both sides to be presented as effectively as possible —
so that members of the audience will be as well informed as possible when
making their own individual decisions.
– One general guideline constantly repeated to the opponents will be to “slow
down and zoom in.” The natural tendency for us humans is to speed up and
miss our turns. The opponents will keep zoning out and will need to be
constantly reminded of what they’re doing.
– One way to summarize the guidelines for opponents is to “argue in good
faith.” Opponents would be reminded to keep their efforts honest, objective, fair
and friendly. (Just think what the different legislatures could do if the different
legislators were able to keep their debates honest, objective, fair and friendly! We
could create a whole new world! Maybe, we could heal the world!)
– And perhaps the primary focus (‘target’?) of the opponents should be to make
sure that they understand the other side’s case before they start arguing their
own. In the beginning, we should see lots of questions. Instead of aiming for
agreement, the opponents should be aiming for ‘nailing down’ every last nuance
of every specific disagreement. If that remains their target, the audience will have
its best chance at really understanding the disagreement and the available
evidence, and for making the best decision possible (given the available
– And finally, the opponents would be urged to keep ‘stepping back from the
canvas’; keep summarizing; keep ‘regrouping.’ (More about this later.)
– Each side would provide an opening statement summarizing its own case.
– Side A would then present the evidence and logic for its first claim.
– Side B would then address A’s first claim.
– If B has any reason to believe that “he” does not fully understand A’s first claim,
he would try to clear that up.
– In that effort, he might try to paraphrase A’s claim – but, he would try to do that
in “the best possible light” (not the worst possible light, which is usually the
– Once that first claim is believed to be understood, B would provide his rejoinder
– A would then address B’s rejoinder.
– If B’s rejoinder includes more than one claim, A would address B’s first claim
– If A has any suspicion that he doesn’t fully understand B’s claim, A would try to
paraphrase B’s claim in the best possible light.
– Once A has confidence in his own understanding of B’s claim, A would provide
– If A’s rejoinder has multiple claims, B would address the first claim first.
– At some point, theoretically, one of the opponents would have no ready
rejoinder, and the debate would return to the next previous claim left
unaddressed. (Here, in trying to describe this process, a diagram would be worth
a thousand words.)
– Eventually, all the branches of A’s first claim would be addressed, and A would
then present the evidence and logic for his second claim. Etc.
– Eventually, all of A’s claims would be fully addressed and B would begin
presenting his claims.
– After B’s claims have been fully addressed, A would bring any additional claims
he might now have.
– Once A’s additional claims have been addressed, B would bring any additional
claims he might now have.
– Etc., until both sides have said all they want to say – which may never happen…
– All along, in a separate section, each side would be providing its abstraction of
the argument so far. With a little luck, the two sides would agree upon one
– This latter section should become the first and primary link for audience
edification on the subject. The “raw” arguments would be referred to only as
necessary for clarification and support — and for rating the sides on how well
they follow the guidelines..
– The basic claim here is that the best way to handle an argument as it tries to
branch out exponentially, is to follow only one branch at a time. Complete that
branch, then back up to the next “branching.”
– When opponents try to negotiate numerous branches at one time – as seductive
as that may be — their mental set is not sufficiently patient, they keep missing
critical turns (distinctions) and the debate goes nowhere but in circles.
– This focusing approach will be tedious — to say the least — but tedious and slow
is much better than exciting and circular. 10 times 1 is a lot better than 100 times 0.
– And then, teams could be developed — and each branch could be handled by a
– Being on the Internet, there would be no end of possible teammates.
– And, it isn’t that every specific disagreement would have to be addressed. We
could expose a pattern, or a smoking gun, very early on and save ourselves a
whole lot of tsuris. For these larger topics, that would be our expectation — or at
least, our sincere hope.
– So far, I’ve had to do all the thinking about design myself, and there could be a
lot of problems with what I’ve suggested so far, but hopefully, I’ve done enough
work so as to stimulate some help – to convince somebody else that the idea is
worth some effort
– Now, we need to try it out and see what happens — and, what we can learn.
– One important point at this point is that in our practice, we don’t need to start at
the beginning. We can take an open and running sub-sub-sub-issue and start
applying the above guidelines in the middle. In fact, that’s what I will try to do with
the current Ezekiel issue on the “Objections to Dr Brown” thread.
– Assuming that our administration finds no serious objections to this project, I’ll
try to open a new thread for that purpose – a “sequel,” if you will – where I’ll ask
participants (assuming that I get some) to follow the guidelines and try to help
develop actually effective debate.
– Perhaps, the real basic claim here is that if we can slow down enough, we can
indeed pinpoint the exact disagreements and by so doing, give our audience its
best chance at effectively evaluating the evidence.
– We do have some problems in implementing the above guidelines on the
MessiahTruth forum. There are ways that things are generally done here that I
probably shouldn’t try to buck — lest I lose all interest from existing members. For
instance, the one-spokesperson-per-side-rule should probably be ignored.
– In general, we should treat this as a typical debate for MessiahTruth, with the
various specifics added where appropriate.