Argument and Debate Technique

Having the right knowledge is a large part of good argument and debate. But without a strong understanding of the principles of argumentation and debate one will never present their case in the most effective way possible, or be able to find weaknesses in the opposing position as well as they could. Here is a treatise on how to argue in general, no matter the subject.

Regarding Policies – Defensive 

Most political debate will revolve around policies in place or proposed. The Liberal will be in the position to defend his policy against attack from the Conservative. The back of the napkin version is quite simple. Most policies we have advocated, such as spending on a particular program like Social Security, Infrastructure, the Affordable Care Act, issues regarding taxation, and policies like the minimum wage, are not created from thing air. They are solutions to an existing and pervasive problem. There is something happening, a market failure, a social issue, some true, existing problem that is hurting people and is not being fixed by the “magic of the market” and simply leaving it alone.  Social Security wasn’t enacted because we were bored. Elderly people, no longer able to work, were starving to death, and living in abject poverty and suffering after a lifetime of work. Some people see this as a problem. So we made an attempt to fix it.

Regarding Policies – Offensive 

The job here is to argue that the proposed solution to the “problem” being offered by the Conservative is not economically feasible, desirable, or results in more net suffering than gain. Donald Trumps wall between the US and Mexico is an example. Is immigration such a problem that a wall is 1) worth it 2) cost effective 3) solve the problem and not be easily defeated. Such a piece of infrastructure is likely to cost billions, and we would need reason to believe that we would recoup this economically, or if this is a desirable solution from a foreign policy standpoint.

Symmetric or Asymmetric Debate

Symmetric Debate involves two people in equal standing with an equivalent burden of proof. Each person must provide evidence for their position and refute the opponent. Success is largely determined by marshaling more evidence for your side than the opponent can for his, while successfully defending your evidence from refutation and undermining his evidence with attack. This usually involves new or proposed policies which are yet to be implemented but have different prescriptions for either side. One does not have a safe foundation of status quo from which to defend as in the case in Asymmetric Debate.

Asymmetric Debate involves two people, one making a claim and one rejecting it. The person rejecting the claim is not conscripted into defending the opposite claim. He only rejects the positive affirmation of the opponents claim. He carries no burden of proof and only needs to show the evidence does not meet the burden of proof. Success is largely determined by demonstrating that the opponent has not sufficiently proven his claim as true. This is usually involving policies or claims against the already existing status quo. The attacker must show why the state of affairs as we have it now must be changed.


Burden of Proof 

Presenting you with arguments is offering you reasons for doing something – reasons for accepting a certain proposition as true, or reasons for trusting a particular source I intend to cite, or reasons for voting for a particular candidate in an election

Burden of Rejoinder. 

When someone provides evidence, the opponent cannot just say it’s wrong and leave it at that. Saying Nuh uh, sticking your fingers in your ear, or simply saying it’s wrong isn’t a pathway to truth. Evidence gives us a reason to move forward. The opponent must meet the burden of rejoinder. They must point out errors in structure and reasoning, (formal fallacies) errors in content and soundness (informal fallacies) and thus refute the evidence, or they must demonstrate the contrary position as true, stalemating or overriding. Otherwise the argument and evidence continues unimpeded and unopposed. This doesn’t “prove” you right, but it gets you a hell of a lot closer than doing nothing – which is what failing to meet the burden of rejoinder does.

For example, where a reason for accepting the proposition that p has been laid out and has not been challenged, participants will be – or at least will appear to be – justified in appealing to the “fact” that p in their attempts to argue for further conclusions.

Simply saying “You’re wrong” or “I don’t believe you,” “Your evidence or statistics is wrong” or “Nuh uh” does absolutely nothing but make a declaration with no evidence. When evidence is presented, if unchallenged that evidence gives us supposition to move forward. Notice we have never claimed absolute truth. Only that we have the best knowledge we currently have available in order to make an informed decision. Humans never operate on perfect information. Ergo we must do the best we can.

Epistemology and Knowledge 

Finding Common Ground

Debates, especially online safe behind the veil of anonymity often if not usually devolve into passive aggressive insults and denigration instead of exploring truth. But people love those who agree with them. You can keep the argument afloat longer, and present a less adversarial framing if instead of coming at the opponent headlong, but finding kernals of agreement to build upon then working with this. A discussion on welfare could devolve into one side calling the other lazy while the other side calls the other an asshole sociopath. The underlying assumption was that one side wanted no help for the poor while the other wanted only heavy taxes and direct transfers. In reality, both side might well have supported assistence for the poor, only via different methods. Culling out major premises and working toward details can speed up truth seeking and move past a great deal of misunderstanding that might have otherwise occurred.

Are you against any form of poor relief or assistance? 

Few people when faced with this framing will answer with an outright “yes.” Even most Libertarians and ardent Tea Partiers will admit to some form of assistance, possibly through a public treasury. For those that do no, you’ve created a demarcation line, a sorting technique at least so that you know what sort of arguments will be necessary and like a chess game, you can now know what moves are viable, and which trees much be foreclosed upon, greatly reducing the amount of mindshare necessaryy. In argument, one of the most overwhelming things is often having a lot of knowledge but faced with the heat of the moment, people watching, adrenaline, and nerves, little or no idea how to access it or what tools to use. Paring down from a massive pool of ideas those necessary for the job can greatly enhance speed and effectiveness in finding the right solution.


Their answer will be private charities. The next question: “How do you address increase in crime and harassment through the desperation of the poor? How do you address the negative externalities imposed on the most severely hopeless and indigent on the rest of society?”

“More jobs.” Okay, but more jobs, especially low paying ones are outsourced, often 12,000 miles away. This will do little to help these people. And how are these jobs to be created?

More money for the rich, creating more jobs. (Tax Breaks, lower tax brackets, less public spending, etc) Okay. But how do you explain investment in speculative bubbles, shoring the money away overseas, and a growing economy that creates wealth for the top but does almost nothing for those at the bottom, keeping us right where we currently are?

Common Arguments and quick rejoinders. 

The following are a host of common arguments by Conservatives met in standard combat. The responses given serve as a platform to begin a counterattack. They may not be argument ending knockouts, but they are helpful starting points to get the counter arguments up and running.

We argue that worker productivity has gone up profoundly in recent years, growing 161 between 1973 and 2013, but compensation rose only 19%. This is one of the biggest contributors to inequality and a harder pathway to prosperity. Workers are making their employers more money but not seeing the returns.

Conservative: This is because of better machines and capital. Workers have better tools to work with, and are often merely operating very large complex machines that are doing the extra work. Talented engineers built the machines and investors bought them. The worker isn’t doing anything else to deserve the return, it’s the machine.

Fine. But that is the problem. Maybe that is even entirely correct. But you keep telling the middle class to “work harder” if they want to make more and get ahead. If the productivity is going to machines it’s not the workers fault. They are doing what they can do.


Social Conservative: Marijuana is a gateway drug.

Good Guy: The argument never made sense to me. What if it was a gateway drug? So what. Weed should be legal as well as all of the drugs that it would “gateway” to.

Social Conservative: I will not support the legalization of highly addictive substances unless public funds cease supporting the casualties.

Good Guy: I will support the legalization of highly addictive substances until public funds cease supporting people thrown in cages against their will.

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