Debate: How We’re Doing It Wrong

Published: September 13, 2022

By Jim Lichtman
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Every time another mass shooting occurs, the debate begins again.

FOR GUN CONTROL –

Nineteen, the number of mass shootings that have occurred since January 1st of this year—68 dead; 69 wounded.

AGAINST –

“The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

FOR –

In 2021, Texas passed a gun law that allows those who legally own a gun to carry it openly in public without a license or training.

Gun Violence Archive reports that “The number of shootings in Texas, not including suicides, increased 14% this year with roughly 3,200 shootings compared to the same period in 2020, which recorded roughly 2,800 shootings.”

AGAINST –

In a one-sided debate on gun control with Piers Morgan, Alex Jones, the hyper-aggressive radio host shouted at Morgan: “The Second Amendment isn’t there for duck hunting, it’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs… 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!”

The arguments are always the same. The finger-point and frenzied emotionalism are always the same. And the complete lack of progress is always the same.

New York Times columnist Pamela Paul explains that “we’re terrible at arguing over things.”

Paul turns to two-time debate champion Bo Seo.

“First, know when to engage. Arguments, Seo reminds us, are ‘easy to start and hard to end.’ For a dispute to go well, it should be real, important and specific. You need to have a point to make, not just an emotional conflict or complaint to air. If someone has hurt you, figure out why; that becomes a real basis for argument.

“Next, pause to consider how important that point is and whether it’s worth arguing over. Finally, stick to the specific dispute at hand so that the argument doesn’t expand or spiral.

“Once you’ve decided to argue, Seo says, know what it is you’re arguing about. To begin, determine the fact, judgment or prescription that you would like someone else to accept. Let’s say it’s “Jen is a team player. In order to make that claim, add the word ‘because’ and give your reason (‘because she involves everyone in the department’). From there, you offer substantiation and evidence to back it up. (‘She always goes around the room.’ ‘She checks in with her crew weekly.’) That’s making your case.

“Finally, never let a bully dictate the terms of debate. If faced with a brawler — someone whose aim is, as Seo puts it, ‘not to persuade but to silence, marginalize and break the will of their opponents’ — your only hope is to restore the structure of the debate.”

If you watch the seven-minute clip of the gun debate between Piers Morgan and Alex Jones, it doesn’t take a master’s degree in speech to determine who the bully is. Jones’s words are delivered in loud, machine gun style, killing any chance for Morgan to respond.

However, one idea Seo offers may be the best for two contenders. Take the argument off the stage or off social media where there’s no audience looking for drama. Invite them for coffee. Begin a dialogue of commonality.

No matter which side of any debate you’re on, respect for one another should be paramount. Be responsible. A personal attack gains you nothing. Listening can encourage listening. Choose a specific point to argue and stick to it. Make your points with examples that support your position and allow rebuttal from others.

Will these steps work to eliminate the emotionalism and animus in a gun debate?

I don’t know. But shouldn’t we try.

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