The Art of Arguing
Many people think that because I’m opinionated, I must love to argue. But the truth is that, I hate it. I hate arguing because I’m terrible at it. I start to shake or stutter. I feel like there’s an earthquake under my feet. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever won a single argument in my entire life.
I’m so bad at arguing that if I see two people debating about politics or religion, I usually try to run for the hills. They’ll look at me and say, “Joe, you’re political – what do you think?” That’s when I start pretending I have to go to the bathroom.
It really is a problem. At work, lots of teachers are threatening to strike. They wear their union t-shirts, and wave their signs. I totally disagree with them, but I am unable to articulate myself in the real world. They look at me – the only teacher not wearing their red union t-shirt, and I’m sure they’re puzzled.
If I ever get cornered into an argument, I freeze. My heart races, and I start to blush. I am usually the biggest pushover you’ve ever seen. “Well, I don’t know, I might be off-base, but – you know, I’m probably totally wrong about this, but I just think that . . .” It’s pathetic. By the time I’m done saying what I have to say, people just feel sorry for me.
So I’ve begun to master the art of ducking around corners when I sense someone about to question me. I’m like a ninja. I hide behind trees, dart behind bushes, and sneak under cardboard boxes, all in the name of escaping confrontation. And in all my years of being invisible, I’ve been listening. Listening intently. And I’ve noticed something. I think I stumbled onto the trick to winning arguments.
The trick is to abandon principle.
I know, one should never abandon principle. “If you abandon principle for passion, you lose both. – Ron Paul” That’s a good principle. So I’ve automatically lost this argument. But hear me out.
I’ve never known an argument that has been won by stating a principle. A principle is a code of life that is often right, but most people just don’t care about that theoretical stuff. We’re not floating in the clouds with Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson. We’re in the year 2013, and we’re on earth, and there are real problems in the world, and this is real life. So let’s forget about principles for a minute, even if you’re right.
Most people just care about making the world a better place.
And I know, you principled nuts will automatically say, “Better for whom?” But we’re abandoning principle, remember?
Most people want to feed starving children, and end poverty, and make us all safer, and help those who suffer. And that’s a good thing. It’s a noble goal to want to help others. Let’s not forget that.
So the way to argue against someone who is just trying to make the world a better place is not to start spouting off a bunch of principles. “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for life.” That’s all well and good, but what if he starves to death while you’re teaching him how to fish?
Most people don’t give a flying carp about principles, and there’s a very good reason for this. When most people argue, it’s about stuff in the real world. Can I borrow the car? Or, did you take the trash out? Or where are we going to eat tonight? And so if that person suddenly finds them-self in a principled argument over whether the government should create jobs, a theoretical quote from Bastiat just isn’t going to fly.
I can’t tell you how many libertarians I run into who argue only on principle. You start to talk about someone who lost their house, and the libertarian says, “The government always screws up!” But that’s not what the person who lost their house wants to hear. They just want their house back.
Or a school shooting happens, and the libertarian says, “More guns = less crime!” But I have a feeling that the victims aren’t impressed.
The way to win an argument is to show very plainly how the real world could be a better place if your ‘principle’ were implemented.
If someone were to show how teachers could be paid more under a free-market system (they could), then that would be a convincing argument. If someone could show that the environment would be much better off in a world with plastic shopping bags, then that would be convincing. If someone could show how the needy could get health care if the government got out of the way, then that would be more convincing. People are convinced when they see how a principle could work in the real world.
Yes, it takes a lot of time to show that kind of thing. It’s so much easier to just stick to the principles, especially if the principle is solid as a rock. But our strength as libertarians, or anyone with strong principles, is to take our principles, and show how they can work in the real world. To show that the world wouldn’t explode. In fact, it might even be a better world for everybody.
And it doesn’t hurt to be super nice when you disagree too.