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Monday, July 01, 2019

There is no point in debate

I keep being asked if I'm willing to debate X or interested in talking to Y. The answer is no. What point is there in debate when most of the people watching are totally incapable of having their minds changed by the information exchanged and those who don't even bother watching or listening to it are nevertheless willing to lie about it. Consider these two recent YouTube comments concerning what passed for my "debate" with Andrew Anglin:
honkyness
Didn’t know about the Andrew Anglin interview.  You did some serious dodging Vox - damn disappointing.  I have no idea where you stand on the only thing that matters - the onslaught on Western Civilization and its people.

Hunter of Witches, Orcs and Goblins
I saw that debate recently and I'll admit I was secretly rooting for Anglin because I instinctively tend to root for people who are brave enough to fight unwinnable battles. That said you absolutely brutalised him. Even to call it a debate is a misnomer. It was an hour long history lesson with a whiny little pupil who ended up learning nothing. He couldn't even improvise, he was reading everything from a piece of paper and didn't even respond to anything you said. He was so intellectually inept and puny that it actually hurt my opinion of Anglin, he did nothing but whine and cry about "muh censorship". Seriously, get in line. Who isn't being censored?
In my both debates with Andrew Anglin and Bob Murphy, my opponent was totally - 100 percent - unable to even begin addressing the points I made. Neither of them raised a single point that was in any way new to me or that I did not address - if not refute entirely - with ease. And yet, there were still a sizable minority of viewers who claimed that Anglin or Murphy somehow won the debate.

So, when people ask me why I turn down debate invitations these days, that is why. As usual, it comes down to MPAI. I have always preferred written debates, and at this point, that is the only format that even potentially interests me anymore.

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40 Comments:

Blogger Dave Dave July 01, 2019 12:19 PM  

Debates are a way to legitimise bad ideas with fancy rhetoric. There's no point to a debate. Those most willing to debate are those who will not change their minds. They want to show off their big boy knowledge by reciting talking points and winning imaginary debate points. If debates were supposed to challenge ideas, we'd be talking about how Stalin was justified in his executions of academia and that journalism should be banned.

Blogger Chikondi July 01, 2019 12:22 PM  

RUBBLE BOUNCED

Blogger Fargoth July 01, 2019 12:24 PM  

Yeah, I've found debating people in my personal life to be masturbatory at best for both parties. As far as recorded debates online, they're just another way to kill boredom with the telephone.

Blogger Nation-Deprived July 01, 2019 12:40 PM  

I noticed this way back when I embraced Christianity. I started watching those debates between WLC and Sam Harris, Hitchens, etc. Nothing’s changed, there was no clear winner or loser as far as the audience was concerned.

Now it’s more clear than ever. Shapiro, Crowder, even Michael Knowles and Matt Walsh, all seem to use sly rhetoric and Power of the Gatekeeper to squirm their way through arguments.

FWIW my dream is to see Vox written-debate Ben, and Owen orally debate Crowder.

Blogger doctrev July 01, 2019 12:46 PM  

Vox would crush Ben in any format. I'm sure anyone who could force their way into a confrontation with Ben Shapiro, say at a public debate, would get the better of him if they were even slightly prepared. He does not do well with improv. And after the "Anglin Style Guide" was exposed, it became clear most Anglin drones can't debate either.

But it doesn't matter. People stick with their identity.

Blogger OGRE July 01, 2019 12:52 PM  

Expecting to win over listeners to a debate from the other side is about as reasonable as expecting Eagles fans to jump ship to Dallas because the Cowboys swept the head to heads. Hardly matters who wins or loses, people aren't there to CHANGE MY MIND, they are there to witness their side's victory in competition.

If anything the more decisive the victory, the more likely they will leave hating you even more.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash July 01, 2019 1:00 PM  

Since the vast majority are never trained in dialectic any more, only rhetoric can win debates.

Blogger Durandel July 01, 2019 1:02 PM  

Perhaps it’s the age we live in? How are people forming their opinions today if they are rhetorically oriented and still can’t process a debate?

Blogger Winston Smith July 01, 2019 1:18 PM  

It's too bad that you never got a chance to debate Zippy Catholic. That would have been the precise opposite of the Anglin debate in terms of giving Vox a run for his money.

Blogger VD July 01, 2019 1:21 PM  

It's too bad that you never got a chance to debate Zippy Catholic. That would have been the precise opposite of the Anglin debate in terms of giving Vox a run for his money.

Never heard that one before....

Blogger Azimus July 01, 2019 1:45 PM  

I enjoyed the dueling essay debates you've had over the years, and it makes the rhetorical retreats far more obvious than a live audience would notice.

Blogger APL July 01, 2019 1:47 PM  

honkyness: "I have no idea where you stand on the only thing that matters - the onslaught on Western Civilization and its people."

Doesn't hang around here much then.

Dave Dave: "There's no point to a debate."

Some 'debates' have a point, if its only the lols.

Blogger Mark Stoval July 01, 2019 2:02 PM  

"I have always preferred written debates, and at this point, that is the only format that even potentially interests me anymore." -- VD

I have always felt that way. But I also like "debates" where two people exchange views and go back and forth seeking truth, not "gotcha" points.

I would love for you to have an email exchange with Hans-Hermann Hoppe where the two of you could see where you agree and where you disagree. I wager that the two of you are close in a lot of ways.

It would be great to start out with a gentleman's agreement that no part of the exchange could be made public without both parties consent. That would lead to honest give and take without worry of one party pulling a "gothcha".

I hope you do that Vox, and he agrees too, but if you do I probably will never know unless both agree to make it public in the end. (a book perhaps???)


Blogger binks webelf July 01, 2019 2:15 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Justin Bailey July 01, 2019 2:20 PM  

Echoing other's sentiment in saying, debates these days are just longer versions of "Ben Shapiro DESTROYS the left with ONE SIMPLE TWEET" wherein upon reading the tweet he does no such thing.

Blogger billo July 01, 2019 2:29 PM  

OGRE wrote:Expecting to win over listeners to a debate from the other side is about as reasonable as expecting Eagles fans to jump ship to Dallas because the Cowboys swept the head to heads. Hardly matters who wins or loses, people aren't there to CHANGE MY MIND, they are there to witness their side's victory in competition.


The key to these debates is that they maintain the Overton window. If a position is amenable to formal debate, then that means that it's not a position that is forbidden to speak. And if that's the case, and it's a position one cares about, then one needs to talk about it in these kinds of formal situations.

Similarly, formal debates are built to show that it is possible to discuss these issues without engaging in personal attacks and caricature. Sure, some folk break those rules, and you don't want to debate someone who will just get up and scream that you want to kill babies and eat their meat raw. But if you can manage to find someone who won't to that, then you get to demonstrate that your position, if not right, is *reasonable.*

People who bother to watch debates are motivated -- apathetic people will not go to a debate unless dragged there by their partners. There are active advocates wanting to see a victory. There are seekers who have not formed an opinion. There are advocates of one side or another who have doubts -- often subconscious. The last two are a very small minority, but they are there. And if one enjoys these kinds of things, then they may be worth reaching out to.

It has to be done right. Formal debates that are not "real" are a waste of time. But real ones can change a *few* minds, and can reassure (or create) doubters among those who care. The problem I've seen is that the wrong people are debating for the wrong reason, and it devolves into little more than blog posts read out loud.

Blogger Thomas Bateman July 01, 2019 2:40 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger doctrev July 01, 2019 2:42 PM  

binks webelf wrote:@ 5. DoctRev-- "Vox would crush Ben in any format"

Sheer & utter nonsense. Ben talks veryveryveryquickly, also he went to college when he was in diapers (or something like that), has a little hat


Ah dammit, I forgot about the hat. Pack it in, lads, the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, but to the dude with the most original hat.

Blogger BalancedTryteOperators July 01, 2019 3:04 PM  

You don't win a debate until you get your opponent putting his fingers in his ears. Why? Because then you know if he comprehends what your saying, he is forced to change his mind. You broke his will.

Blogger sammibandit July 01, 2019 3:10 PM  

I really miss reading debates in op-ed sections. They would go on for months, sometimes years. The last big one that I remember breaking into the mainstream was about The English Patient film.

Blogger Bobbicus July 01, 2019 3:22 PM  

Rubble Bounced

Blogger Scott July 01, 2019 3:25 PM  

So debate me, then. You can pick any topic that is mutually agreeable. I agree with you most of the time. However, I enjoy a challenge. As one Christian libertarian to another, I would honestly like to find out who is smarter. I never took the old 200 point scale IQ test, but when I was 13 I scored in the top 1% in an IQ test administered by the lady who taught gifted students at my middle school. Whaddaya say, Vox? Can I have a shot at the title? 😎

Blogger Ora Tevzre July 01, 2019 3:30 PM  

I am reminded of the scene in C.S.Lewis Perelandra where Ransom is trying to argue with un-man and is trying to use dialectic and the un-man is basically using every underhand trick in the book to defeat him. Every time he falls asleep the un-man wakes him and he gradually realises that he will lose due to lack of sleep.

And so he fights ... I love that bit (or to use my vernacular "he beats the shit out if him")

“My name also is Ransom,” said the Voice.

"It was some time before the purport of this saying dawned upon him. He whom the other worlds call Maleldil, was the world’s ransom, his own ransom, well he knew. But to what purpose was it said now?"
- Clive Staples Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 11, 1943

I love your blog Vox. I read it every day. Thank for fighting the good fight.

Blogger Jack Ward July 01, 2019 3:32 PM  

My two cents worth concerning the written debate format:
I like the idea. Here is what would work for me.
Each party pre-composes his/her ideas. A list lets say. It could be pages long for each person. And, add comprehensive and numerous links [internet] footnotes referencing each persons points. All this before any swords are crossed. Someone reading can then do an in-depth research of each point of view. If they are serious about learning something. Then, there can follow back and forth debate. I think it would be something like that extensive debate Vox had with the Christian versus Atheist/agnostic position. Can't remember the guys name. Have it all somewhere. Dominic Salvatori? I may have even purchased the book. If not, then need to do so. That was respectful, detailed and a delight to review, as I remember. More similar efforts would be great. If Vox could find worthy opponents rather than over the top screech owls.
I'm saying 'civilized debate' perhaps minus much clever rhetoric.

Blogger InformationMerchant July 01, 2019 3:43 PM  

The Anglin and Johnson debates were disappointments because they both gave up rather than respond to your opening statements. The JFG thing wasn't a debate and was a disappointment for that reason.

At least when someone at least acknowledges what you've said it and fails to deal with it, I can have some respect for the debate, but that's a losing move. Miller's response to the free movement of peoples made the debate better but lost him it massively. Bob Murphy wanted to ignore the movement of people altogether, but I've listened to him theorycraft borders in an AnCap society and one helicopter wrecks it. He knew from your previous debate that there was nothing he could do because unlike Miller, he is for borders. He was lucky he had so little time to respond to your opening statement, he got to dodge quite a few things.

On the other hand, the debates with Louise Mensch worked out ok because she wrote them up afterwards. She was a weak opponent, but unlike Anglin and Johnson, she didn't give up right off the bat.

Debates in general have gone downhill. Mainstream TV debates aren't even debates, internet debates are terrible. Even in person debates have been pretty bad lately. Gene Epstein's Soho Forum debates have had quite a few trainwrecks.

The actual format is still good for certain things, they rarely get used though. There's an ideological balkanization and a habit of lukewarm agreement rather than disagreement even when someone thinks the other guy is wrong. Many of the benefits of using debates as an interview style are gone.

It's a shame because writing a book as an argument is a very good way to convince people of ideas, but how many people buy books advocating the opposite of what they believe? Those books don't come with a subject expert to call out incorrect information either.

Blogger Primus Pilus July 01, 2019 4:02 PM  

I think the Vox/Anglin debate paid more subtle dividends in the long run, beyond whose followers claimed victory over who in the aftermath. In a recent article, Anglin put forth that the most important thing we can do for the West at the moment is to get right with Christ, a statement which was met with approval in his comments. It was definitely a shift from pre-2018 Anglin and his audience.

Blogger OGRE July 01, 2019 4:05 PM  

@16 billo

if that's the case, and it's a position one cares about, then one needs to talk about it in these kinds of formal situations.

They don't need to talk about it in such a format, or are you implying there is some moral imperative that applies? Most spoken debates are a colossal waste of time and energy by all involved. If you have something to say, then say it. You don't need to rely on the participation of others to state your claim effectively; if you do then its a good indication you aren't really interested in convincing others but are in it for the thrill of the fight or at least the extra exposure...i.e. the "DEBATE ME!!1!" types. I understand your argument as 'getting your foot in the door' re Overton window, but just as when dealing with the media, the potential for getting DESTROYED on grounds other than meritorious argument is so great that very few have the necessary attributes to even attempt to do such.

Debates involve format and structure that often significantly limit ones ability to present one's case properly, even beyond just rhetorical tricks. A one sentence statement can require a lengthy lecture to counter, exhausting ones time to simply not lose ground. Skilled debaters know this and use it to their advantage. Further, the efficacy of ones presentation can depend on many factors unrelated to either dialectical or rhetorical skill. Base physical attractiveness alone can determine who has the most influence, as well as voice pitch and tone, vocal and body mannerisms, and even choice of clothing. Hence why there is the preference for written debates, as this removes so many of these irrelevant but inescapable factors.

And even when everything works out just perfectly, the 'return on investment' is so often so small as to be negligible. Few people alter their strongly held opinions by watching one of their favorite thinkers get embarrassed. Its far easier to rationalize away the defeat and simply harden ones position in the process. How many atheists have found Christ by watching a Dawkins v Lennox debate? Far far fewer than those who made the turn due to the positive witness of their loved ones and those they admired.

Blogger swiftfoxmark2 July 01, 2019 4:25 PM  

Andrew Anglin is a damn fool. He complains about how there are only 2% white women of child-bearing age across the world.

His solution? Genocide.

Keep in mind too, that this guy also had his sycophants troll Vox on Gab in horrendous ways before the debate for no real discernible reason. Or he did it himself with various sock puppet accounts. I've heard most of the writers on his websites are just him under a different name.

Blogger tweell July 01, 2019 4:48 PM  

A debate should be an attempt to get closer to the truth, IMHO. 'Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.' Done right, everyone wins, but I haven't seen a debate like that in decades. Anglin just read his prepared statement, Murphy might just as well have done the same. No back and forth, no defense of viewpoints, no knowledge to be gained. I have to agree, Vox, waste of time.

Blogger Winston Smith July 01, 2019 5:05 PM  

Never heard that one before....

*Mind blown*...

Blogger EMP July 01, 2019 5:06 PM  

I was entertained by Murphy v VD on Wood's show. Murphy never addressed VD's best argument IIRC, which went something like (paraphrasing)

Murphy: "You can't argue that being given 10 cars, free of cost, makes you materially poorer..."

VD: "Materials aren't the only consideration, given what we know of opportunity cost..."

Murphy: "But materially..."

(Watch me be completely incorrect in my recollection of that debate.)

I'm sympathetic to Murphy, Woods and most of the Mises folks, s/a/e those (((so-called purists who reject AT natural law, e.g. Block))). I'd like to see more crossover between VD and Woods, Deist, and, ideally, Hoppe. Perhaps I'm off-base, but it seems us yeoman could expect to learn a lot by listening to or reading dialogues between VD and those gentlemen.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash July 01, 2019 5:19 PM  

The vast majority, 99% or more, of internet "debates" are nothing else than exercises in marketing for at least one of the participants

Blogger Garuna July 01, 2019 6:10 PM  

Debates are pro-wrestling promos. It is for showing off your mic skills and nothing else.

Blogger rcocean July 01, 2019 8:48 PM  

I agree with this completely. Years ago, Chris Hitchens debated an author on "was Dresden a war crime?" It could be on You-tube, I watched it on C-span. Anyway, "Hitch" showed up half-drunk and never answered any of the authors points and just kept repeating that those dirty Nazi babies, young girls, and old men DESERVED to be burnt to death because of..Hitler and the Jews. Later, "Hitch" got praised for his brilliant debating. So, I don't blame you.

Blogger James Fox Higgins July 01, 2019 10:29 PM  

While I got some perverse pleasure out of hearing the flailing losses of Murphy and Anglin in both of those debates which I listened to recently, it did largely frustrate me that they considered what they were doing to be "debating". They were defending a position (largely with rhetoric), and when you successfully introduced new facts which logically contradicted their positions, they had nothing. Debate is almost a lost art.

Conversely, I hold your written debate with Dominic Saltarelli to be the gold standard as far as form and manner, and both of you admirably explored your own and each other's positions. Thoroughly educational for both involved parties, and for me as a reader.

I think Vox is right to reserve his talents for the written form when it comes to debating, because most eager youtube debaters simply can't think on their feet enough to do it properly, and ultimately they try to make it a pissing contest or a mind-reading venture, which always falls flat on its proverbial face.

Blogger Paul M July 02, 2019 5:28 AM  

Debate works ok when both parties agree on matters of fact and then talk about what those facts mean, what should be done about them. Each party brings facts to the table, and then the debaters discuss them.

But debate is a completely unsuitable method for settling matters of fact between people who disagree on what the facts are. Because in a debate, matters of fact are entirely he said/she said. The only way to settle matters of fact is with concrete evidence.

Debate is fine for discussing things like "is it right for people to keep money to themslves", and useless for discussing things like "did life on earth actually evolve".

More tellingly: debate is impossible when either party tells lies. As a method, it does not and can not work.

Blogger SSgt Snafui July 02, 2019 7:12 AM  

"Cast not your pearls before swine."

This is what occurs to me when encountering cognitive dissonance or the stunning reminder that some people cannot--nor will they ever--grasp certain concepts due to mental limits.

Blogger Thomas Howard July 02, 2019 9:23 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Thomas Howard July 02, 2019 9:29 AM  

I sympathize completely. Interacted with a fellow over a variety of topics: selection bias, age related cognitive decline, even the commandments of Christ. Observing his reaction was like observing something akin to the stages of grief. First was confusion, then mental struggle. Much later came understanding and acceptance. Unfortunately, the end result was bitterness and attempts to erase all record of the encounters negating their value to any possible future audience. Only a true optimist would believe it wasn't a waste of time if it not for his subconscious incorporation of the points moving forward. Funny how that works.

Blogger billo July 02, 2019 6:55 PM  

OGRE wrote:

They don't need to talk about it in such a format, or are you implying there is some moral imperative that applies? Most spoken debates are a colossal waste of time and energy by all involved.


No, what I mean by that is that if you want to have that kind of conversation then you need to have it in a controlled situation so it doesn't devolve into namecalling and cheap theatrics, not that you must have that conversation. The key with Progressives and Postmodernists is that they run out of "real" ammunition quickly, and then have to appeal to emotion and namecalling. In an uncontrolled environment, you (or at least I) have a hard time not responding at that level. A more formal environment allow *differen* rhetorical tools, and allows you to keep bludgeoning them with facts. In a formal environment, when someone says "You are a Nazi," you can replay "Well, let's assume for the moment that you are right and that I am a Nazi. That doesn't change the following facts... ... and if you want to solve the problem, you must do this, whether you are a Nazi or not." A formal setting allows that response. A more informal setting ends with the mic drop.

With respect to yield, the bottom line is that for any topic, there are those who take on the evangelism role. And those people will use whatever means they can to get the word out, regardless of the yield. The argument that it is a low yield activity isn't persuasive because missionaries and evangelists exist to enter such low yield environments and make converts. It's a low yield activity to go to China and establish house churches -- until it isn't. I know a person who has gone to a Moslem country and preached the gospel while providing health care. He had to be very careful about who he approached because it was (and is) illegal for him to argue for Christianity there, and he would have been punished with much more than mere deportation. So, he only talked to a small minority of people he helped, and a small minority of that small minority turned to Jesus the Christ. That's the definition of "low yield."

However, that very small nucleus was used to create house churches, and now there is a reasonable underground Christian house church movement in that area.

The same is true with respect to these debates. It is low yield, and it is a waste of time -- unless it's your calling. The key to these debates is not really the debate itself. It's the conversations with potential converts that invariably occurs *after* the debate. You don't change a mind with the debate. You plant the seeds that later become conversations that later become change. The real success comes with cocktails after the talk.

It's not a quick thing. I've been working a position in my professional sphere for 12 years. It began with me being literally being laughed off the stage; this year I'm helping write national standards implementing my position. Those standards will be rejected this year. And next year. And the year after that. And then they will be implemented. And all because I bothered to take the time to talk in formal settings where I was ridiculed and *nobody* agreed with me.

It feels good to say "You're stupid" and "They're not worth the effort." And there's a place for people who do that -- they provide emotional support for a cohort that needs that kind of stroking. But if you are going into the fields and planting seeds, that's not the way it works.

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