Dare to Say No to ‘Rational’ Argument

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An argument is not a way to change anyone’s opinion.

It is a way to cement opinions — to make them more extreme, more passionate, and more firmly entrenched.

When you argue, it becomes your job to find the best evidence you can to support your opinion.

It does not suddenly become the other person’s job to hear your evidence and become convinced. It is their job to find the flaws in your evidence, and present their own.

You want to do a good job — you want to find the best, most convincing evidence to show them. This will be, almost always, the evidence you find the most convincing. It will convince you.

Soon, you will find yourself among friends; on a team of people with similar beliefs. They will help you to find good reasons to dismiss all counterarguments. Then changing your mind will not only mean reassessing all the data you’ve rejected, but also face being ostracised by your tribe.

Eventually, the defense of a mild, momentary preference will become a frenzied fight for a precious core belief.

Think, carefully and honestly, about the last argument you saw (or participated in). Did someone’s mind change? Did both parties walk away in amiable agreement?

Or did they walk away each vehemently declaring the other’s obtuseness?

Once you have seen this pattern once, you will see it in every disagreement — in the smallest, in the grandest and most dignified. Is it inescapable?

Is there a way to disagree with someone but not turn both parties into zealots?

The key? Plan to lose the argument from the beginning. Don’t score yourself based on how many telling points you can score against your ‘opponent’. Instead, do your absolute best to move your beliefs as close as you can to matching theirs. Imagine someone is watching, and judging you based on your openness to new information, and you evenhanded scrutiny of all evidence. Aim to prove them right and yourself wrong as often as possible. Decide to discount a given piece of evidence only with the greatest regret.

Lose the argument. Lose it fast, and lose it early, because resisting the urge to win takes a level of skill, effort, and energy that no one can sustain for long.

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