Fear Of Whales

Archive for the ‘Debate Lingo’ Category

Dissagreement and Understanding

with 2 comments

I’ve found myself frustrated lately by a number of discussions that were more heated than they needed to be. If fact, they were more existent than they needed to be, they could have just as easily not happened at all! So even though you guys are not the problem I’m writing the blog in the hopes of making the world a slightly better place, by avoiding needless arguments with the help of a very simple distinction.

There is a difference between “I don’t understand” and “I disagree”

It seems simple, but I keep getting into these arguments with people I agree with who don’t understand something I say, so they argue with me until they do understand. Don’t do that!

And you can’t do both either. In order to disagree with a statement, you have to understand it. If I made the claim that “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” and you wanted to say “No they don’t” You would have to be able to affirm in your head that you know what it is I intended to mean by that statement, You know it is not correct, and you are prepared to tell me why not. If you don’t understand, you really have no choice bit to reserve judgment until you do.

Sometimes you understand partially. and the part you do understand is enough to disagree with. The statement “An echidna would make an excellent pet for you” might be something you disagree with, even without knowing what a echidna is, provided you don’t like pets for instance.

Sometimes you’ll be tempted to fill in the gaps in your own understanding. That’s okay, we all take shortcuts in colloquial speech, and nobody wants to be the dumb one who “doesn’t get it” But do yourself and the speaker a favor and assume you agree with them as your fill those gaps in. For some reason I see people who misunderstand that, so they assume their opponent is saying something wrong they’ve heard before and begins to argue with them on that basis. That’s really annoying, and really presumptuous. To assume you know what a person actually meant, and not only that, but you also know it’s wrong.

So really then. Debate is necessarily respectful. Because disagreement is an act of respect. In order to disagree with you I need to understand what your argument means, and think it sounds reasonable, if I didn’t think it sounded like something you would say on purpose I’d have to assume I misunderstood and withhold judgment until I had something to disagree with that made sense. So the phrase “I won’t even dignify that with a response” really means something, because responses do dignify ideas.

Meanwhile when some Hippi tells you something like “We are everything and in everything” there’s really not much to say other than “How interesting, and by ‘we’ you mean….’everything’…okay, go on”

Written by RyanGaffney

March 13th, 2011 at 4:08 am


with 4 comments

I spent a year in Collegiate Debate, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in school. I often lament that not everyone had the same experience. Debate is excellent for training one to think and communicate quickly and critically, It is an introduction to logic class on steroids, and it inbeds the information it teaches is a very permanent part of the brain.

To this day I can communicate with debaters more quickly and easily than almost any type of person. Both of us have been trained how to relate universal implications of intricate government decisions in 5 minutes or less, so when the topic of Nuclear disarmament comes up and they can say “Nuke Prolif increases MAD which reduces GTNW’s likleyhood” and I’ll know exactly what they mean. Then I can say “Martyrdom”  and they’ll know exactly what I mean. Debate over.

That means when we’re in a group arguing about whether to go to Panera or Carl’s for lunch she can say “CP Chipotle”  and I can say “No disads” and we can turn the car around and start heading there before anyone else has figured out what just happened.

It’s a beautiful thing.

One particularly powerful concept from debate is called “P-Con” it stands for Performative Contradiction. Here’s how it works:

Suppose you get the short end of the stick and are assigned to defend some terrible proposition. Maybe you are against a stimulus bill which, though expensive, is really the only choice we are to prevent the stock market from crashing. Well you know it, and you know the other team knows it and is preparing all sorts of arguments against any criticisms you can come up with for the bill because after all wasting money is better than everybody starving.

Suppose then that you get a brilliant idea, instead of opposing the bill on the grounds that it’s insufficient somehow, or to expensive, or full of pork, you oppose it on the grounds that it will save the terrible american capitalistic system, and in doing so, you render all of their preparation useless.

Suppose you speak passionately from the podium about the evils of capitalism and the free market society. You demonstrate that our rampant consumerism is destroying the planet and multiple third world countries, you enrapture the audience until they are eating out of your hand believing that if they continue to worship the almighty dollar they will never truly be free, and the only thing we can do to save ourself is crash the economy as soon as possible!

Then suppose your opposition asks as a POI “Say where did you get those sunglasses?”

“Oakley why?”


You just lost the debate.

The reason is because it’s now obvious to everyone that you don’t believe a word you are saying (and if anyone missed it. your opponent will be sure to make it clear to them in his next speech) His argument, which he offered simply by saying that half a word  “P-Con” is that by reviling yourself as a person who shops for designer eyewear you have betrayed a truth within your heart that you cannot possibly be the anti-capitalistic hippi you claim to be, so even if he doesn’t show your argument is false, you have proven it by persisting to live in contradiction to it.

And it really is that brutal, P-Con, you lose! This debate is now about your sunglasses.

This comes up in other ways also:

Suppose you are assigned to defend same-sex marraige and you happen to mention that “this is a way to ensure equality for the gays”

“The Gays?” did you mean “The GLBT Community?” P-Con, You Lose.

Suppose you have built yourself halfway into a Kritik about profanity, and the evils thereof, but you happen to stub your toe as you return to your seat, shouting an expletive.

“What do you just say?” P-Con, You Lose.

I can’t tell you mow many times I’ve wanted to explain this to non-debaters.

Say I’m arguing about theology with some friends of mine within earshot of a freshman girl from Point-Loma

“Ummmm… Excuse me, but like, Arguing is stupid! It’s like, not like, you’re going to convince one another”

“Oh Yeah, arguing is stupid huh? Would you like to argue about it?” P-Con! now leave me alone!

Here’s the point, and I know I took a long time to get to it, but I was having fun.

Most people do not have the vocabulary to describe what I just described, and if you are a Christian, and you try to tell people about Christ, and you try to counter their arguments You might very well win. Christianity is true which comes in really handy for winning arguments about it. But if you don’t live as if it’s true, If you are a nasty selfish argumentative person, they will not believe you.

Even if you’re just a little xenophobic, or just a little hypocritical, or you got drunk that one time and kissed that girl you shouldn’t have… They won’t believe you.

They might not be able to explain why not, They might not know why not, They might offer other objections that they do understand to what you’re saying, but if you do not get your life straight those objections will never run out, and the people you talk to about Jesus will never believe you, because your life and your words form a performative contradiction so they know that you don’t really believe what you are telling them to.

P-Con, You lose

Nuke Prolif: Nuclear Proliferation- The spread of nuclear weapons technology to new countries.
MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction- The concept that you won’t destroy me if you know destroying me would also destroy you
GNTW: Global Thermal Nuclear War-  WWIII which most debaters can show is likely to happen if the other team gets their way, regardless of what that team is arguing for
CP: Counter Plan- An option that had not yet been considered
Disad: Disadvantage- A negative result of the plan coming to fruition
POI: Point of Information- A question asked during the middle of a debate round by ones opponents
Kritik: a Critique- We debaters refuse to use the hegemonic male-dominated spelling of the word critique because it is just another tool the white man uses to keep us down!
Point Loma: Point Loma Nazarene University- A Christian College on the beach in San Diego, California.

Written by RyanGaffney

September 28th, 2010 at 7:00 am

The New Athiests

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Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Have made themselves famous with arguments against religion that center on the damage it does to society. For example:

“Christianity has been responsible for an untold number of travesties like the crusades and the inquisition, and even today it stands to hold up back from progression as a society. It must therefore be done away with.”

Usually these objections are answered by defending that Christianity is actually good for the world, or trying to convince the new atheist, that what matters is the evidence for an idea, not the morality of it’s adherents, both are arguments which are potentially good, but I want to try a new angle.

So I’m willing to grant for the sake of debate that Christians have, for many years used the message of the gospel to defend abhorrent acts before an ignorant population. and I’m even willing to grant that negative consequences for holding an idea can sometimes be an indicator of it’s falsehood (because no matter how demonstratibly convenient it is to keep the well and the outhouse next to one another, if people get sick we might want to try something else)

But what now?

The argument falls apart at implementation. Okay New Atheists, Good point, What do you want to do about it?

End Christianity?

That’s a horrible plan! It’ll never work! We just granted that Christians are horrible ignorant tenacious people What you think they’re just going to give up now?

Sam Harris seems to think Legislation would help, clearly he’s never been to China or read enough Christian history to know that the church always gets stronger and bolder under persecution.

So do we just whine about it and wish Christianity would go away?

I have a better plan.

The solution to Bad Christianity, Is Good Christianity.

Yes, Mr. Hitchens, It’s true that at one time the Bible was used to defend the practice of slavery. But the Bible was also used, to support abolition, and eventually the civil rights movement. Those same rednecks who would have renounced you as heathen if you suggested that it was civilly unjust to take an African as property, responded to the words of Paul in Galatians that in Christ there is no male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.

And Yes, Mr. Dawkins there are right now an embarrassing number of professing Christians who are attempting to hold back scientific advancement and science education. Won’t you help us to see science and scientists not as our enemy, but as an essential part of Christianity? Because that task, unlike ending Christianity, is achievable.

Written by RyanGaffney

August 15th, 2010 at 4:13 am