Saturday, June 09, 2007


Over the years I've watched many debates. Every debate by politicians to activists to average everyday over zealous (and over educated) college grad-students all have one thing in common: They think they are right. Of course when you are in a debate, you simply know that you are right. However, often in debates objective truth seldom manners. What matters is whether you win the debate or not. In political debates, the after-action commentary always centers on who won and very marginally, who got facts correct. If you are ever in a debate with anyone over anything, the following are quick and easy solutions/techniques to disarming them that I have come up with through my many years in the study of human behavior.

1. Evoke an Emotional Reaction that is in Counter-flow to your opponents oration.
This is the most powerful method and is always your number one choice. Emotion always over rides reason or logic. For example, your opponent is debating you on why gas prices are too high. Begin to ask asinine questions like, "Then why aren't you driving an electric car?" or "Then why don't you walk." or "If you really cared about the environment you would live in a yurt and only eat local produce. It's obvious that you're just a enviro-poser." Making your opponent angry and displaying an emotional reaction that is in counter to his speech makes them expend precious energy. If you can evoke an emotional reaction, you're 90% on your way to winning. Further, emotions that are in counter flow to a desired emotion, blocks the energy behind an argument and blunts it's persuasion effects on others. Emotions can have a powerful effect on an audience, so you always want to minimize your opponents emotional impact and maximize your own.

Other counter-flow methods include:
a. Get childish if your opponent is too serious or stuffy. Acting the fool can make them seem very rigid and closed minded by comparison. Think of any Bill Murry comedy. He is the master at taking on the stuff-shirt and defanging them with just a look sometime.
b. If your opponent gets childish first, then get very parental and condescending.
c. If they get teary-eyed, then laugh; if they mock and laugh, then get teary. Again, this will counter-flow their emotional stream.
d. Tell them, "I know what kind of family you came from and this is not what your family stands for." This causes counter-flow by evoking old complexes in them tied to their family of origin. Further, it implies that you know something about them that they weren't aware that you knew.
e. Evoke a religious complex by saying, "Well, I'll tell you this, when I stand before God someday and have to give an account of my life, I'd hate to have to justify it with your beliefs." This causes counter-flow because there is viritually no comeback. Also try, "Well God told me that this is not right." or say "That's not what the Bible says!" or try a more intellectual/philosophical take by stating, "Every great religious teacher and philosopher from Jesus to Kant have stated otherwise."
f. In the face of indisputable logic, make an outrageous statement and have an extreme emotional reaction, "WHAT! THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HITLER WROTE IN MEIN KOMF" or "THAT SOUNDS LIKE THE SOVIET MODEL OF (whatever)."

2. Memorize quotes from at least 3 or 4 very obscure intellectuals or philosophers then throw them at your opponent.
No one likes to think they are stupid. But the fact that you might know something that no one else does really spins your opponent for a loop. Worst yet, if you can frame it in such a way that you imply that your opponent, should know who are are talking about, will freak them out further. For example, say you are debating big government vs. small government. Say to your opponent, "Yes that is interesting. Hearing your argument reminds me of Wilhelm von Humboldt who stated in his classic work 'On the limits of State Action'...blah, blah, blah." You don't even have to be exactly correct in your quote. Wait for a reaction of your opponent. If they say, "Who?" Then over exaggerate your shock and dismay at their ignorance, "What! Sir I'm shocked that a supposed learned man (or woman) of your alleged caliber would not know the work of von Humboldt! And I thought I was debating with an equal." Then storm off and grab yourself a beer.

This process also works by throwing out obscure statistics or data that supports your argument. Again, the truth or fact of the stats is irrelevant. By the time they check you data, you'll be long gone or can just laugh it off.

3. Create hetero-erotic or homo-erotic tension.
It's a well known fact that men can't think about anything sexual and reason properly at the same time. Women are similar but to a lessor degree. In the middle of the debate or speech by your opponent make a suggestive look at them by licking your lips or winking or repeatedly placing your right index finger into a circle formed by your left index finger and thumb. Then suddenly deny that you are trying to do anything remotely sexual and return to the debate. They'll be so put off by the thought of your "actual" intentions that you'll win by default.

4. Create strange images or thoughts in others by negative inference.
Humans have this ability that is beyond the ability of the machine (at this stage) to grasp. To know things indirectly through negative inference. For example, the statement, "It is certainly good to see my opponent sober today." While directly this statement is the truth, your opponent is indeed sober, it leads to a negative inference assumption. It implies that there are days in which he is not sober. In fact, one might conclude that there may be many days in which he is a raging alcoholic. Further, it is not a statement that can be flatly denied. If your opponent says, "No I am not!" You can say, "I see. So you are not sober?" Of if they agree, then they've simply further strengthened the negative inference. Instead, they have to counter the argument with an awkward, circuitous argument that will leave the audience scratching their heads. Here are some other examples: "It's nice to see that mental illness is not a problem on your mother's side" or "I'm glad my opponent is on time today and actually drove himself to this debate" or "I'm happily surprised to see my opponent eating healthy." etc. etc.

Other ways to create strange thoughts in others:
a. Make a motion with your finger such as the "come here" finger wiggle that is just out of sight of the audience but can be seen by your opponent. If they walk over say, "What are you doing?" if they stay put just smile.
b. Make eye contact then look just past them and over the shoulder, then furrow your brow or look surprised. When the look back quickly switch drinks with them or put a peanut in their drink.
c. Subtly place your hand over your crotch and every time they start talking, you start scratching. When they stop then you stop. This will unconsciously reward them for keeping quite.
d. In the middle of the debate ask them if they were spanked or harshly toilet trained as a child. If they say yes, then you say, "I thought so!", If they say no, then you say, "Yeah, I can tell", If they ask why you are asking this question say, "I think it would really help to explain a lot of tonight's behavior."
e. In the middle of the debate, motion for someone else to come over, keep eye contact with your opponent and whisper something funny to the other person. When they laugh, wink at your opponent.
f. After they make their initial argument, simply sigh long & loud, then roll your eyes. Put on some sunglasses and pretend to go to sleep.
g. Make an flattering comment about their hair.
h. Pretend to speak a few words in a foreign language. Ask them if they are familiar with that quote.
i. If you know their political persuasion, use it against them. For example, if they are (D) them tell them, "WOW! Newt Gingrich published an article on the Heritage foundation website on that very topic agreeing with your argument. Amazing! You must be a republician at heart."
j. Ask them, "What kind of medication are you taking? Is it prescription?"
k. Hold your ear as if you have a "hidden" ear piece, look down and slump down slightly and turn slightly to one side, nod your head while saying, "yes, yes, ok, no not now, no he's not ready, ok, yes, ok." Then continue your conversation. Deny that anything at all just took place.

5. Create Cognitive Dissonance in your opponent.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become "open" to them. For example, people who smoke know smoking is a bad habit. Some rationalize their behavior by looking on the bright side: They tell themselves that smoking helps keep the weight down and that there is a greater threat to health from being overweight than from smoking. Or they relieve their Dissonance by telling themselves "Oh well, we all have to die someday." Others quit smoking.

The key to using this strategy is to create cognitive dissonance and therefore psychological discomfort then at the moment of their peak discomfort, offer a way out of their discomfort that brings them to your side. Televangelists are experts at this. The above mentioned #4 is a subset of creating cognitive dissonance. Black and White thinkers have no cognitive dissonance because they usually reject arguments that are opposed to their beliefs by simply disbelieving or rationalizing the argument.

Way's to create cognitive dissonance:
a. Sit up on the edge of your seat. Crouch toward them with your elbows on your knees, look as serious as you can, widen your eyes, make a fist with your left hand and point at them with your right, say, "As sure as Moses crossed the Red Sea, everything I am saying tonight is correct."
b. Say with equal conviction, "Every fiber in me, every molecule of my essence, every thing I know about (your chosen profession or field of expertise) tells me you are flat wrong."
c. Say the opposite of what they say no matter what it is. State your statements as a fact.
d. Say, "Well I don't expect you of all people to understand any of this, but....." Then report some obscure fact.
e. Start beating your head and say, "How many times do I have to have this debate with you people."
f. Agree with them but disagree with one small facet of their argument then conclude this is why the entire argument is wrong.
f. Whatever they say, sing it back to them word for word then say, "That sounds like musical theatre to me."

g. True Cognitive Dissonance is created when you use Statistics and the individualized personal story. Clinton was a master of the personal story. It would go something like this. Bush1 would say, "Only12% are actually in the poverty level and of those only 2% have families." Then Clinton would say (without ever addressing the statistic or it's impact on public policy, "I was in Mississippi the other day on the campaign trail when a young mother and her 3 month old child came up to me. They were wearing rags and the child was starving to death. I gave him a fry from my McDonald's super sized meal and his mama said maybe he'd now survive another day..." Again, emotion always trumps logic. The best way to handle this is the counter a stat with a personal story that emphasizes the statistical argument. Republicans did a great job of this on capital hill when they paraded dozens of small business and family run businesses before congress to testify against the horrific practices of the IRS. They told us about the stats and the abuses of the IRS enforcement models but then also let us know about how this impacted a single person. It makes it more real. They should do more of this with property tax reform here in Florida.

That's my take. What do you say Junto Boys? What are your methods for winning debates? What are the core assumptions people have about who wins in debates and why? What makes someone a good orator vs. a lousy one? Would a debate in the style of Lincoln work today? Would any of my techiques above work for a nationally televised debate?


Dude said...

These are all great methods and I've used them all but in my experience, nothing works so well as iocane powder. I have spent the past several years working up an immunity to a lethal dose which I simply slip into a glass of Kool-Aid beforehand. If at some point during the debate I feel my opponent is garnering audience sympathy then I roll my eyes and declare "Well, if that's true then we all may as well drink the Kool-Aid now." After doing so, I sometimes fall down as if the drink has killed me. This always gets a big laugh from the audience who is now more willing to empathize with my polical position. I will then offer the beverage to my opponent and smirk to the audience that they do not want to "drink my opponent's Kool-
Aid" if he is not even willing to drink it himself. My opponent invariably drinks the Kool-
Aid at this point and in the moments before he falls down dead, I will offer the audience some semblance of a metaphor like "I half expect my opponent to drop dead because he is dead wrong." When he does drop dead, the audience has no alternative but to fall in line behind my campaign. This technique has never failed and frankly I am surprised it was not included in your brilliant dissertation.

E said...

That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

Debate trivia: The guy who lived across the hall from me in freshman dorm ( and his roommate used to compete against each other in high school debates. He was from Chicago, his roommate from Houston. I did not know there was such a thing as touring high school debaters. I thought it an odd thing. He went on to graduate valedictorian of my class and successfully prosecuted Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, even saving an expensive appeal when Lay dropped dead of a heart attack. Then he cashed in by joining a prestigious national law firm as a partner. Anyway, he used to sit on an overturned milk crate in his dark dorm room and share the winning tips you just described, and there was nothing the packed crowd could do to foil his concentration because he knew every trick.

Sir Saunders said...

Genius! Thanks fellows. I do appreciate the iocane powder reference and will certianly include it in my future book on this subject. I am impressed by E's dorm roommate, sounds like he went into the right profession.

Tom said...

Well done, Sir Saunders. There is a book here either straightforward or in the vein of that book I gave you years ago.

In an informal setting with no audience, I think Socrates knew best. Most people decide what they believe and then try to frame a story around it. Socrates could always ask enough questions to get to the weak parts in their construction.

I read once that Dr. Samuel Johnson said that being around Edmund Burke was a tiring because Burke was so expert at that.

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