Lesson 2.12

Dirty Debate, And How To Stop It

Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key concepts below:


Key Concepts:


Sometimes productive cognitive friction and debate gets derailed because we simply “debate dirty,” especially when we feel like we’re losing.

  • Mockery, name calling, theatrical behavior, and other dismissive behavior makes it hard for cognitive friction to be truly productive.

  • Sometimes we can’t help doing these things, but they’re important to eliminate.

  • A good primer on dirty debate is this section of this big article on Intellectual Dishonesty.

Even when we’re not “debating” per se, these behaviors can undermine the good points we make in discourse.

  • Labeling people or their ideas is one of the most subtle things that undermine legitimate arguments in some people’s minds. By labeling someone, you immediately associate them or their ideas with other things that carry baggage.

  • Interrupting, raising your voice, or emotional delivery of a message can completely change the way people take it in.

  • Anything you can do to make your points stand on their own, without distraction and without special help from theatrics or verbal tricks, will ultimately help your group push forward.

The first step to curbing “dirty debate” behaviors is to pay attention to every time you hear someone label someone else in the course of describing their point of view:

  • Look for labels: Practice by watching a couple of Cable TV news panels and notice when people refer to their intellectual opponents or their ideas with sweeping labels that reduce people to categories or to groups they’re associated with.

  • Look for insults: Listen in conversations for when people refer to others as “idiots” or “bossy” or other pejoratives, and ask yourself it these people’s points would come off more trustworthy to people who don’t agree with them if they cut these out.

  • Look for trump cards: Pay attention to when people try to prove a point or win an argument with trump cards like, “I have X years of experience” or “This is my ass on the line” or “I’m the one who cares the most about this” or anything that is meant to make their argument hold more weight without additional logic about the actual topic.

  • Look for theatrics: Pay attention to raised voices, dramatic body language, clever phrases, funny sayings, and anything else that amps up the drama or makes the speaker look impressive. Just because you do these things doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but these things shouldn’t count extra if your point can’t stand on its own.

The second step to curbing dirty debate is pointing out when something is beside the point. Be disciplined about bringing things back to the topic, back to the logic.