It's exceedingly rare to encounter a liberal who actually knows what he is talking about or the philosophical foundations of his positions, but it does happen from time to time. On those unique occasions, it helps to be able to take on such a person and his ideas in a constructive way. Not only does it provide a chance to flex one's rhetorical muscles, but it also affords an opportunity to change someone's mind. Think about it: if a liberal is intellectually honest and rigorous enough to understand his positions, he may have the cognitive fortitude to be persuaded by well-reasoned arguments, facts, and civil discourse. In such times, we do conservatism, libertarianism, and sanity a disservice if all we are capable of is shouting past one another.
In a recent post I took a controversial position and attempted to defend it with logic and reason. Some people gladly played my reindeer games, but others seemed to have taken offense at the exercise. This saddened me a little. I've come to expect a higher level of discourse here, even when the ideas under consideration are controversial or emotional. Unmet expectations being the source of all displeasure, I must either adjust my expectations of Ricochet, or I must do whatever I can to help those expectations be met. This post is a shot at the latter proposal since the former is disheartening.
Here are some things I rely on as much as possible when differing with another person on any idea:
- Ask questions. It's far too easy to mis-characterize the position another holds for lack of understanding or explanation. Bonus: when a lefty destroys his own argument it provides abundant entertainment.
- Find a consensus starting point. Abortion (the most contentious debate of all) provides a perfect example of where this comes in handy. The debate is not really about whether or not to abort a fetus; rather, the debate is whether or not a fetus is a human being. Very few lefties think killing human beings is a right. The real debate is the humanity of the unborn. This is a much less emotional topic that lends itself better to philosophical, logical, and even scientific arguments. This debate can be had cognitively rather than emotionally.
- It's ok to concede a well-reasoned point. Even those on the left can be right from time to time. It normally happens with points of fact rather than conclusions, so concede the fact, then argue for the right understanding of the fact's impact on reality. Accepting a well-stated fact from an opponent also provides a consensus point from which to baby-step the opponent down the right path.
- When all else fails, kindness and civility are more persuasive than angry rhetoric and shouted talking points. If you can't harvest, then tend the crop. If there is nothing to tend, then plant seeds. Leave your opponent with something to ruminate about; something that tests or challenges his convictions. If he is honest, a point made in kindness will germinate, sprout, and one day bear fruit.
I am not, of course, a master at these techniques. Some people are simply infuriating in spite of our best efforts to engage them civilly. However, being able to effectively make the case for conservatism (classical liberalism) is of paramount importance if we are to save not only this nation but humanity from the ever encroaching forces of tyranny. Christians like to remind each other to watch how they live because one's life may be the only proclamation of the gospel some ever hear. Conservatism casts a similar charge to its adherents. Simply knowing the truth is rarely ever enough. It must be transmitted, but it must be done in such a way as to not destroy the recipient. How we argue is (arguably, heh) just as important as what we argue for.
What say you, Ricochet? How do you engage the opposition and win the battle without salting the earth?