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The vast majority of people on earth argue in a destructive fashion. Debates, especially in online spaces, are viewed as a battle of the wits in which egos are put on display and there can be only one "winner".
Instead, we should be arguing in a constructive fashion: treating arguments as an opportunity to expand knowledge, finding points of disagreement, and collaborating towards a common truth.
"An argument should be a collaboration between two people to find the truth."
If I had to distill this guide down to one sentence, it would be the above.
Arguing more effectively requires detaching yourself from the idea of "winning" in the traditional sense. Instead, you should declare victory when you have argued in good faith and kept an open mind.
True collaboration requires that both parties open an investigation into why they may be wrong and consider changing their beliefs. Which brings us to the three core tenets of a constructive debate mindset:
Acknowledge You May Be Wrong, and Be Willing to Change Your Mind
Go into every debate with the mindset that you may not know everything about the topic at hand, and in fact may be wrong.
Arguments Are Not Soldiers
In a war, all soldiers take an oath to fight for their own side, no matter what amount they agree with its principles.
Because most people go into debate with a war-like mentality, they feel they must fly the flag for all points that their side supports, regardless of how much they actually agree with them.
The red state gun-owner must be pro-religion, anti-abortion, anti-drugs, anti-tax, and skeptical of gender issues.
The blue state Subaru-owner must be anti-religion, pro-abortion, pro-drugs, pro-tax(ing-the-rich), and concerned about gender issues.
Most annoying is that given the societal expectations for this divide, being for or against one issue immediately assigns you to a "side" in the views of everyone involved. Breaking out of this Arguments as Soldiers mindset involves two steps:
1. Do not be afraid to agree with the arguments of the other side when they strike you as reasonable, and critique the arguments of your own side when they strike you as unreasonable (better yet, try not to have a side).
2. On the flip side, avoid stereotyping your debate partner based on one opinion. If you are engaging with someone in debate for the first time, assume that they agree with you on every other position than the one they are defending, until proven otherwise.
There's Always Someone Who Thinks the Jedi Are Evil
Brace yourself, Star Wars references incoming:
In a given debate, almost everyone thinks they are a member of the Jedi order, fighting for all that is virtuous and good in the universe. Yet for every Jedi, there's a Sith out there who thinks that the Jedi are evil and wrong and that they are actually the ones fighting for virtue and good. Remember that this person might even be you.
Of course, you are not a full agent of good, and your debate partner is not an agent of evil, or vice versa. You are simply citizens of the galaxy who happen to be operating with different sets of information. Look at the situation from a different perspective: if you were raised with Sith beliefs from childhood, don't you think you might believe the exact same things a Sith would?
In debate, your goal should not be to strike down the side of evil with all your hatred, but rather work together with them to uncover the true facts about the universe, and in doing so perhaps change both your perspectives.
if you wish to improve the constructiveness of the debates you engage in, you must first spend time re-inventing your entire mind.
Recognize and Avoid Logical Fallacies
In part caused by cognitive biases, logical fallacies are errors in argument that give off an air of decisiveness, despite making points that don't hold up to logical scrutiny.
Recognize and Avoid Cognitive Biases
Cognitive biases are limits and mistakes in human judgement that prevent someone from acting rationally. They are present in every aspect of human life, and in tense situations like arguments, they tend to appear more often as emotions are heightened and the brain gets overloaded.
Think of a debate as a pyramid:
In general, the lower on the pyramid you are, the worse debate you're having. The goal should be to start as high as possible and continue to work your way towards the top.
The blue side represents the discussion surrounding facts and the red side represents the discussion surrounding the philosophy behind them: how the arguments must fit together before one side is right or wrong.