We will try here to find techniques to help us win any disagreement we may find ourselves in and get out of a tight spot when we lack the knowledge or the ability to support our views, or to save face when we realize that our opponent is superior in rhetorical aptitude and is about to overcome us. What’s important, then, is not whether we’re right or wrong. What’s important is the elimination of the opponent and the predominance of our own opinions -no matter what. Beware, however: most of the following trickeries (if not all) will not have any effect in the alteration of our opponent’s views, but only in disorienting our audience and convince them that, since we have ridiculed our opponent, it is us who must hold the correct opinion on the issue.
- We bombard our opponent with a plethora of questions that cover a vast field of claims, so that we conceal the final point we want to propose. Our questions are targeted on the conclusion we desire to illustrate, without it becoming obvious in advance, and so general and self-evident that the answers to the individual questions should be obvious to anyone (such as a lawyer would do). We go ahead and expand our opponent’s answers and direct the dialogue to the conclusion we want it to reach, without our opponent being able by now to take a different position than the desirable one, as this would mean for him to contradict his own words. This is the method the Sophists used in antiquity and, partly, Socrates through his birthing method.
- We identify our opponent’s claims with philosophies and world-views that are considered old fashioned or have failed in practice and we give the impression that the subject of disagreement has already been solved before the argumentation has even begun. For example, “What did you say you want? Free healthcare for everyone? But this is socialism! It is this kind of practices that led so many countries of the eastern bloc to financial disaster. Is this what you want for our country?” and so on. We use words highly charged with negative connotations when we refer to our opponent’s positions, like “prejudiced” instead of “rationalist”, “infidel” or “heretic” instead of “non-religious”, “fanatic” instead of “willful”, “close-minded” instead of “skeptic” etc.
- We rebut the opponent’s false claims using other, obviously false, ones that he should consider to be true if he wants to remain consistent. Confronted with a certain interlocutor we can use his own way of thinking. He says: “Homosexuality is wrong because this is what the Bible says and we should consider homosexuals to be abominations”. We might reply: “Of course you are correct, and actually, since we follow the biblical teachings, we should then stone to death the adulterers, the idolaters, the blasphemers etc”. In this way, we identify his position with another, an obviously preposterous one, following the methodology that led him to his claim. Now he must argue against himself.
- We over-exaggerate his claim; we analyze it in a very general manner, reaching the limits of hyperbole and ridiculousness. Does someone present the theory of evolution? We reply offended “I was not born of baboons!” Is someone trying to rebut the gender wage gap? We might reply “Well you must hate women then!” Accusations of racism and islamophobia seem to do the trick most of the times.
- In a similar manner, we try to present the opposing view as too absolute to be necessarily correct. In this way, we open the road to the admittance of our own viewpoint, at least as a possibility that should not be discarded. For example, if we want to defend the homeopathic method opposed to “traditional medicine” and we find ourselves against rational thinking, scientific evidence and research (that do not favor us), we appeal to the general uncertainty of human knowledge and the limits of science. We thus show that our claim is at least “possible” and that, therefore, to completely dismiss it does not make our opponent rational, but absolute, backward, reactionary, close-minded etc. 9/11 truthers do this all the time.
- We use vulgarity, derision and hilarity to ridicule the interlocutor. For example, if he defends the right to suicide we immediately reply: “Why don’t you then go and hang yourself?” Some in the audience might laugh, and laughter is always an ally of the one who causes it (Hitchens realized this); through laughter we can win over any ignoramus who observes silently and is incapable of having his own opinion.
- Especially on issues that are complex and demand specialized knowledge, we can easily disorient our audience by giving one-sided or even plainly wrong information. For example, if the opponent presents the dangers of global warming, we refer generally to research that supposedly refutes it and claim that the scientific community is seemingly divided on the issue. We can also present “evidence”, saying that it is not possible for the planet to be heating up, since we experience winters colder than ever. “I am cold!” we can easily profess. The opponent would have to make the trouble of explaining the difference between “climate” and “weather conditions” and illustrate how global warming is initially experienced as producing locally a cooling effect, something that takes time and necessitates a presentation of complex ideas that the audience will probably not be willing or able to follow in the moment. Thus, we appear victorious. This tactic is a favorite among anti-vaxxers.
- We generally try and evoke anger because, when the opponent is angry, he loses the ability to judge correctly and accurately locate the advantages and disadvantages of our views and those of his own. He also shows an unflattering image of himself and we can, therefore, win the audience’s sympathy. We can cause anger with accusations (even unfair ones) or even with personal insults. If we cannot counter his arguments, and even if we realize we are wrong, we can always attack the person instead of his ideas.
These, and more, techniques can be found in Schopenhauer’s The art of always being right. One can also watch Thank You For Smoking or the British TV series Yes Minister, to see how they can be used successfully. Or one might listen to Trump shouting ‘Isis’ every time he cannot make an argument.