As we know an increasing number of people think of debate as though it were a competitive sport with winners and losers, where the objective is to ‘beat’ the ‘opponent’ at all costs. This leads them to employ a range of underhand, manipulative and ultimately futile strategies to ‘advance their cause’. Unfortunately however the result is precisely the opposite. Here’s why…
‘Checkmating’ the opposition
To ‘win’ a debate is to beat the other person into submission, to expose them as a fool (or worse) and to rise victorious as the other person lays bloodied at your feet (metaphorically speaking, of course).
For some people that’s all they wanted to achieve and so they consider the humiliation of their opponent to be a job well done and move on. They’re the lucky ones. They have achieved their desired result and can now forget all about it. But their hapless opponent won’t.
When we humiliate the other person (or worse, when we grind them down with the deceitful tactics described earlier) we create a sense of injustice and resentment that is hard for them to let go. Sometimes it festers and smoulders within them for years, decades even before returning to bite us and our cause just when we are at our most vulnerable.
Checkmating tactics create enemies
Never insist that the other person acknowledge your position or apologise unless you already believe that the situation is irredeemable and need others to understand the reality. I did this myself recently by repeatedly demanding an apology that I clearly was never going to get from a group of radicals on the social media site, Twitter.
The reason for asking was not to get the apology – that would have been meaningless even if it had been forthcoming. The reason was to goad them into showing their hand in front of all my followers who had seen me accused of sexism and bigotry. By insisting that they either ‘put up or shut up’ I ensured that they eventually felt obliged to find some evidence – and what they produced was so transparently weak that their accusations were exposed as the nonsense they really were. That in no way helped my case in the ongoing argument but it did save my reputation from the worst effects of their collective slander. Sometimes – just occasionally checkmating the opposition might be worth it – but it’s never a good debating strategy – more a form of ‘damage limitation’.
Never pretend that one injustice justifies another
This tactic is also depressingly common (and equally futile). I remember that when I was involved in a campaign to push the American ‘charity’, Project Prevention out of UK, this tactic was extremely prevalent in their strategy to discredit the opposition.
This group had decided that women who used drugs were not fit to bear children and so, having failed to get enforced sterilisation passed into law in their native USA they had begun a campaign of coercion in which addicted women were bribed to undergo sterilisation ‘voluntarily’.
My perspective was that all women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies and to make their own reproductive choices without the interference of right wing ideological groups like this encouraging them to give up long-term rights for short-term benefits. Project Prevention is the group who also targeted Haitian women for being ‘too poor to breed’ and Kenyan women because of the prevalence of HIV.
Because I was one of the most vociferous critics of Project Prevention I came under a lot of personal ‘fire’ from the charity’s founder, Barbara Harris and her family who essentially claimed that…
1. Since some children are damaged by in-utero addiction then Project Prevention’s abuse of women by removing their right to bear children is justified.
2. Anyone who disagrees with them is a child abuser by default.
This is a clear attempt to pretend that ‘two wrongs make a right’ or that one injustice justifies another. Fortunately the people of UK saw right through the strategy and kicked them out (as did the people of Eire, South Africa, Haiti and a host of other nations). Nevertheless this is a perfect example of the fallacy that one injustice justifies another.
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