Debate Guide: Starting a debate
While Debate Guide maintains advice sections dealing with responses to arguments, the following advice page deals with starting debates. Although you will eventually have to respond to the flawed arguments of others, rebuttals are not the best way of starting a debate if you are either an established community member, or debating within a more intellectual forum. Here, we will explain how to go about proposing a debate on your own terms, and making your argument heard in high-brow debating venues.
Consider the impact of your advocacy before starting a debate. Your aim should be to make clear and striking facts available to curious and open minded readers, giving them the opportunity to undertake their own balanced research on the issues at hand before responding (if they decide to). So ask yourself how you will be contributing to public knowledge and the accuracy thereof.
Also remember that simply being "right" isn't good enough - and even among intellectuals, carefully disguised irrational devices can be persuasive.
With today's evolved internet, you have a veritable banquet of options open to you. While Debate Guide is aimed at a variety of discussion formats, the largest list of bulletin boards (our original focus) can be found on Wikipedia. There are still some other options that we will briefly run through:
- See also, Activist Interfaces
- Social Media - if you have a following. For most users, social media is more suited to a responsive/trolling/sealioning technique, detailed elsewhere on this guide.
- Question and answer sites. Quora or Yahoo! Answers.
- Subreddits. Chansites.
- Open dictionaries or phrase definition sites, for example Urban Dictionary.
- Open Wikis, some of which allow debate and creative writing.
- Video sharing sites such as YouTube, characterized by comment threads and ratings systems.
- Imageboards and Fediverse sites visited by adjacent communities, or disinterested allies.
- Blogging, Podcasting and various other individualistic methods of content management.
- News Disqus/Comment threads on network and local media sites (increasingly rare)
- Make-your-own-news sites such as Slashdot.
- Commercial review sites such as Amazon.
- Specialist groups such as academic fora (might be restricted by credentials) or politics.
Deciding whether or not any of these venues are viable is not a simple task. You must decide on a case-by-case basis, and sometimes entertain concerns about security (personal info, use of VPNs or Tor). You might like to discuss individual cases on our forum.
The web is a highly subdivided medium. Users tend to seek out communities that reinforce their pre-existing interests and beliefs, so the impact of certain arguments will differ, depending on the crowd. For example, "child sexuality" is a widely accepted concept among scientists and mental health professionals, but denied by most religious fundamentalists. At the same time, both of these groups oppose sex between adults and minors for similar reasons, deploying somewhat different arguments. You should understand these similarities and differences, considering whether you are better equipped to refute arguments with Rind-like (scientific) rebuttals to faux-objectivist victimology, or perhaps more accustomed to social/moral arguments against assertions of "Invalidity" (from Social Justice) or "Degeneracy" (from Moralism). You should also consider the ratio of participants to passive viewers in a debate, remembering that your "debate opponent" is not actually your primary audience. For example, a cleverly subverted Amazon book review with no replies might be more effective and more visible than a discussion thread that will be buried in days. Also take into account the age and philosophical flexibility of those viewing your arguments; after all, we are selling our vision of the future and not a funeral plan. We will multiply our gains when our targets have 5-7 decades of participation in society ahead of them.
After numerous experiences involving Debate Guide contributors, it can be tentatively concluded that the following factors contribute towards open, engaging and worthwhile debates:
- A skeptical or at least knowledge-oriented community.
While it is virtually worthless to argue against an already largely sympathetic audience, inquisitive and skeptical minds are always more likely to take on new ideas. The Atheist, Rationalist, Alternative Lifestyle, Libertarian, Anarchist, Science, Technology and Anime communities have all shown relatively high degrees of receptivity to our arguments - but each has their own reactive tendencies that must be addressed.
- A reasonable degree of formality.
Your discussion medium should have as its purpose, the discussion of serious issues in a formal and logical manner. When your audience have tuned in for the purpose of intellectual stimulation, they expect to see these arguments, and are less likely to see them as an imposition (trolling).
- An ethos of openness to newcomers.
Some communities are clique-y and self-referential. Assuming that you have no established identity on the website in question, you should generally avoid communities that are built around special interests and schisms within other communities. For example, one of our contributors was given death threats after signing up for what looked like a relatively innocuous freethought board. Sometimes admins may ban subversive accounts on sight. Do not waste time engaging with these people, take the loss and move on to a new target.
- A high turnover of contributors and viewers.
This makes selecting debate opponents, avoiding censorship, achieving visibility and completing debates on time a lot easier.
Don't set yourself up for a loss:
Drafting narrow parameters for debate, single issues and a "message oriented" approach will tend to moderate the discussion and keep it within manageable limits. This allows you to call out or ignore an opponent whenever they stray off topic. Even if you do decide to discuss fundamental issues such as concepts of sexuality, childhood and consent, the debate should be set within fixed parameters. State from the very beginning what your position is and what you are willing to debate and argue for. And if you are going for the broadest possible coverage of topics, make sure that you are equipped with the knowledge and ability to argue your way out of numerous situations and refute numerous misrepresentations of your argument.
Although any discussion of MAPs or related topics is likely to arouse a great deal of interest, an ideal opening post should start with a question, not the imposition of a preconceived opinion. Questions are less offensive, more open and make people challenge their deepest held beliefs. The question should reflect back to your interests, and strengths in knowledge. Then perhaps ascribe a pointed opinion to a friend/other person and ask your viewers to digest and challenge it.
Exert as much subtle control over the debate as you possibly can. For example, if you have first hand experience of a sexual relationship between an adult and a minor, do not phrase your question "Pedophilia - Right or Wrong?". Instead of damaging your argument from the outset, ask an open question that engages people's moral and ethical relationships with the real world, not concepts or stereotypes. For example, your question and thread title may read:
I wasn't abused. Can you convince me otherwise?
In this case, you would already be fairly well set-up to win any argument that followed, as long as you do not come across as a liar, mentally ill cult member or push undue conclusions, trashing other lived examples "becuz muh eksperence". Compare your experience to others, to give it credibility and reinforcement, or perhaps invoke the experiences of a friend, by opening with the topic "My friend refuses to accept he was abused" and expanding:
I often struggle to argue against my friend, who always refers to his early sexual experiences with his teacher in a positive light. What I struggle with most is conceiving of any mechanism that would have caused him trauma, given he was not forced and says he took part willingly!
Another question to really get people thinking might be:
Adult-minor "sex"? What is it even? When is it wrong?
Such a question should address what even constitutes "sex". Is it petting, caressing, fondling, kissing, oral or only penetration of the anus or vagina? What about nudity in the presence of a child - something that will probably divide mainstream Europeans from Americans? When confronted with the idea they may be "sexually abusing" their child according to other western cultures or their own, a parent's ability to reason and challenge ingrained dogmas may kick in.
You should take care not to cast yourself in too serious a light. Don't get angry with accusations, "try" too hard or come over as if you have a covert agenda. Arguments that sound overly apologetic are likely to lead others to believe that you are taking responsibility for child abusers, or are one yourself. Ideally, your agenda should be one of general intellectual curiosity and freethinking, unspoken because it shines through in an argument that is confident but not overly insistent and condemnatory of dissent. Respect the right to disagree, e.g. "I believe that voluntary sexual intimacy isn't inherently wrong and causes no damage to minors in and of itself. You don't. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it isn't supported by the facts." This confirms that you are the reasonable one, while the person arguing against you is the deranged bigot.
Prioritize philosophy over morality - unless you are defending yourself as a non-offending or upstanding "virtuous pedophile" for example. It is also conceivable that ridicule (of arguments, not opponents) could form an important and tension-easing part of your argument. There really is a lot to ridicule in the world of misguided "protect the children" slogans, but the validity of this as a tactic obviously depends on your audience.
Another tip is to pre - empt the arguments of others, when proposing a debate. This shows that you are seasoned in refuting common arguments, and immediately puts the proponents of irrational dogma where they should be, on the "back foot". To further demonstrate your knowledge and wisdom, the pre-empted arguments should be accompanied with a counter argument. You can find these counterarguments elsewhere in the guide, and hopefully in the spontaneous thoughts that it inspires.
Noncommittal can be a very powerful debating tool, if used correctly. The idea is to cast doubt upon an opponent's argument by taking the inquisitive position of "undecided" as opposed to advocating your own hypothesis. A fundamental principle of arguing from a noncommittal standpoint is that you should not be expected to provide proof for simply failing to accept a hypothesis. The tactic can - in this sense, be used to put an opponent on the back-foot, as the burden of proof is on the advocate of any definite hypothesis that is subsequently postulated. This tactic is largely pointless if you do not suggest or point to known examples of contrarian arguments in a direct and pertinent style, and can not cast doubt on counterarguments without sounding like an apologist.
Responding to others
Defending your point of view and using faulty arguments as a basis for counter-attacks is an art in its own right. For more information on this, please proceed to the advice sections on responding.