December 23, 2013 by Liberty
Just about every libertarian I run into has the bad habit of starting political debates every chance they get. They might be going to get a meal at a fast food restaurant when the person they’re eating with mentions minimum wage. I imagine it like an ooze that grows on the inside of every libertarian (including myself.) It might start to show itself when the libertarian throws out a single statistic in an attempt to change the other persons mind. The other person then throws a point on their side of the argument. Next thing you know, the libertarian is tossing quotes, statistics, and emotional pleas from every orifice of their body.
Libertarians tend to start debates like pyromaniacs start fires, and, yes, the productivity of those two activities are usually about the same. Why do libertarians debate so much?
We Can Change Their Mind!
The libertarian insistence on starting debates is usually to change peoples minds. We see a statist and think that with the proper back and forth, it is possible to change the persons mind. With the right combination of charisma, statistics, and voodo magic, we will be able to change their mind. Unfortunately, in just about every case, that is not true.
The number of people that can be swayed using facts, or even emotions, is a tiny minority of the population. Study after study has found that the presentation of facts opposing someones opinion is more likely to strengthen their opinion than to change it. That means, instead of actually changing the other persons mind, the political debate probably just strengthens their opinion. You’re not offering an alternative, you’re helping them sharpen their arguments.
At the first sign of resistance to your argument, you can be sure that they are not going to be changing their mind in this debate (other than under a rare circumstance that I’ll discuss later.)
As a libertarian, you probably take pride in your ability to follow the evidence (I sure do.) The evidence says that trying to change a persons mind through debate doesn’t really work.
For the libertarians looking to “change the world.” There is an alternative to randomly debating. Instead of actively seeking people to debate with, live your life in a way that attracts people interested in your philosophy and, if they are genuinely curious, you can discuss it without debating and more times than not, they will agree.
So, is their any purpose to a good debate? I believe there is a time for debating.
How To Change Minds Through Debate
I have a number of rules about debating. One of those rules is, what I consider to be, the golden rule of productive debates. This golden rule has actually been my secret to turning statists into libertarians without even expressly discussing the change. The golden rule is this:
Never Debate Without An Audience
Debates with an individual are virtually never worthwhile. They’re throwing their pride on the line and they need to be willing to admit their wrong for you to win the debate. When you’re debating with an audience, the whole dynamic of the debate changes.
You don’t need to have a whole crowd of people to see the difference. Even having one non-participating party watching the debate is enough of an audience. You might never be able to change the opinion of the person you’re sparring with but the person watching the debate can still be converted from watching your debate.
The person watching the debate has no pride in the fight. As long as they don’t directly involve themselves in the debate, you can still change their mind.
Toss The Statistics and Hit That Audience Hard
Limit how often you’re using statistics in your arguments. They won’t help anyone change their mind. Even the audiences to debates are hardly affected by statistical arguments. 95% of libertarians will hear that statement and completely ignore it (not that I think you care. And, yes, that’s a made up statistics.)
The secret to changing peoples minds watching a debate is using emotional arguments. If you make it clear that you’re the one talking about non-violence, the vast majority of people watching the debate will instantly cling to protecting your side.
Your goal is not to prove that libertarian principle work from evidence. Anyone can look up evidence and they have actively avoided looking up the evidence. People don’t want to hear it. When they want the evidence, they’ll go look for it themselves.
You want to show the violence inherent in their ideas.
You want to prove that the libertarian principle is the only ethical solution to the problem.
This is a Stefan Molyneux video that makes the point well:
Don’t Be Afraid To Bite
One of the biggest problems with most libertarian debates is how friendly they end up being. If you’ve been arguing your side of the debate appropriately then there is no reason that you should be friendly with the person you’re debating. By the end of your argument, you should have shown their willingness to use violence to support their “opinions.”
(Don’t go debating your boss or anything stupid like that. If you can’t feel comfortable going all out then you shouldn’t be going into it at all.)
You want to work with a very aggressive form of debating. That means the person you’re debating will have one of two choices. They will most likely, dig themselves deeper into their violent position. That makes everyone in the audience start to respect your side of the argument more relative to your opponents. The other choice they have is to change their mind.
In almost every situation you’ll be able to get the person you’re debating to trap themselves in a violent or embarrassing argument. No, this doesn’t sound pleasant but this is the basic premise behind all statist thinking. Once you’re able to show this to an audience, the audience wants to change their mind.
The courage it takes for someone to change their mind after a biting debate is unbelievable, especially when there is an audience. If, after a biting attack, the person you’re debating gives you an inch then be sure to respect them for it. Sometimes you might even want to make a joke about it being another few days before they agree to the rest of it and end the debate with a smile. This will make the next debate go a whole lot smoother. (Don’t think that the inch they gave you can go any farther. Usually they’re just tossing their worst argument to become more hard line on the rest of them.)
Take what you can get from the person you’re debating. In either situation, you will be the one winning the majority of the audience.
But Really… Do Better Things
Debating and trying to change the world one person at a time can be fun but you need to keep it in perspective. You’re not going to be able to change enough opinions through debating. Even if every libertarian debated every chance they got, it wouldn’t make a difference for a number of reasons.
First of all, no matter how hard you try, their will always be someone that stumps you for a moment in your debate. You will lose some debates. Even if you argued pure science, someone would someday throw an argument that you’re not ready for at you. That will knock you off guard and you will lose.
Second, when someone changes their mind through debate, it’s usually temporary. The way that people make long term change is through their daily life. It’s much better to help people change their life in a way that supports libertarian principles.
If you have the choice between teaching a person on welfare about the principles of liberty, or teaching them how to live better than welfare, then teach them to live better. This idea can be expanded to every realm. Want to teach a businessman about the value of bitcoin? Don’t throw arguments at him. Instead show him how he could save a ton of money using bitcoin to transfer money (even if he sells it out instantly after.)
Most importantly, live the principles of liberty in your own life. Take ownership of your own life and do something amazing. Libertarian principles are based around the idea that most men are capable of amazing things. Are you really living up to your potential? Do you have enough money to support positive causes in liberty? Are you a positive example of a successful libertarian?
These are all ways that you can indirectly be fighting for liberty while just living your life.
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