06 December 2006
How to avoid rows

We (libertarians) have all been there.  Someone you know says something stupid, you pick them up and before you know it you’re in a shouting match.  Now, you could just keep your counsel but that lets the argument go by default.  And as Brian Micklethwait pointed out if you want to win the argument, first you have to have it.  So, how do you stick to your guns without losing all your friends?

Here are a couple of approaches I try to take. Ask:

1.  “What makes you think that?”
2.  “What would change your mind?”

Question 1 is a goody because if repeated often enough it quickly exposes the weaknesses in your opponent’s argument without exposing the weaknesses in your own (not, of course, that there are any).  Unfortunately, you don’t usually get that far - people have annoying habit of changing the subject but you can at least point this out to them.

Question 2 determines if they can change their mind.  Because if they say “Nothing” you know it’s a faith and you can have some fun pointing that out to them.  However, it is not without it’s dangers.  You do have to apply it to yourself from time to time which can be an uncomfortable discipline.

Of course, in all these arguments you have to bear in mind that political beliefs are strongly held and rarely changed.  And that people rarely change their minds unless they want to have them changed.  All you can really ever do is plant some seeds of doubt.

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  1. I changed my mind. I went from staunch Labour supporter to avid libertarian. I listened to the arguments and thought about my own position. The more I thought about it, the more untenable it became. So, when opinion and facts collided, I did what any rational person must do. I changed my mind.

    Posted by Longrider on 17 December 2006 at 04:11am

  2. When someone says something completly stupid, (say something they picked up from Michael Moore or Al Gore or someone of that ilk), I find that rather than saying something like “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, you blithering idiot”, try “That turns out not to be the case”, followed by a short exposition of the actual facts in the matter and where to find them.

    It’s an expression I picked up in my youth from an old Niven-Pournelle novel, and it’s helped me avoid some confrontations and, I believe, helped me persuade people to at least examine the facts.

    Of course, with some people it’s much more fun to get into a knock-down drag-out slanging match.

    Posted by Kevin B on 18 December 2006 at 11:12pm

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