How to have a debate

Published in Thoughts on Jan 7, 2021

One thing I noticed is that when most people are arguing, they often fight when they want the same end result. Yes, it's crazy.

For example, a liberal and a conservative might argue about regulations. The liberal will say things along the lines of "bro you can't let big companies do this, they're evil" and the conservative will say "bro it's my business you can't tell me what to do".

They'll both leave the conversation thinking "wow, that person is so evil".

And if you asked each one why they believe what they believe?

The liberal will say: I want to support small businesses, not large corporations.
The conservative will say: I want to support small businesses, not large corporations.

Wait, did they say the same thing?

Sure they did. Turns out, they were debating a very specific thing without establishing common ground first.

You absolutely need to establish some — any — common ground if you want to debate. How else do you want to convince the other person, or win, if you don't have any shared values? You may as well argue in two different languages.

It's also important to distinguish ends debates and means debates.

To discuss means (regulation yes/no), you need to have the same ends in mind. You really want to be discussing how you want to achieve the outcome that you already agreed is desirable.

If you're discusing ends (support free businesses yes/no), it's actually similar. You still need something in common. You need to convince the other person of why an outcome is desirable, and for that you need some pre-existing shared values.

To get back to the example, the liberal and conservative were discussing if the government should regulate the economy or not.

The left wing argument generally is that companies will do evil things and form monopolies if they're not regulated.

The right wing argument is that regulation is the government overstepping and actually hurts small businesses.

I bolded the contradictory statements. This is what they should be discussing with facts and proof.

The rest is kind of agreeable on both sides. Yes, companies will probably do some shitty things (cough environment) if they're not banned. And yes, it's definitely possible for the government to overstep — you just want to sell lemonades at your stand, why should you need 195 different certifications for the government.

However, the bolded stuff: do regulations prevent monopolies? Or do they hurt small businesses?

This is a specific point that can be discussed with facts. Subjective value systems have been established, and now each side can argue why their point is correct.

In this specific case, there's definitely truth in both statements. Without specific regulation, specific monopolies will form. And with specific regulations, specific monopolies will be helped — big companies can afford lawyers to deal with a massive amount of regulations, the small company can't so it won't start/will close business.

Argue about this, and at worst you'll be disappointed in the opposing party's ability to back their opinion. But you won't think that they're evil, because now you won't falsely feel like they have a fundamentally different value system. Which you would had you just argued about "regulate everything!!!" vs "omg dont tread on me".


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