Opinion and argument populate the interwebs like fish populate the sea. Unfortunately, unlike the oceans the stronger argument doesn’t always eat the weaker one. More often, the argument that splashes around the most wins.
You may be a good person with a good heart and are firmly positioned on the side of a debate that you feel is just, but if your argument isn’t sound enough or your mettle isn’t strong enough, a more prepared opponent may gnash and bite your face off. As frustrating as this can be, it’s your own fault. You lost because you weren’t ready to play their game.
In a straight up fact war, a shootout where bits of information and propaganda are the bullets, the quicker draw wins. That’s the game these über aggressive internet types play. Now you’ve got three choices if you find someone opposite you in a dusty, tumbleweed laden comment section on (fill in the blank) website. You can try your luck, draw your facts, and start shooting. You can choose not to engage, leaving the stranger in the tobacco stained shirt and dirty black hat to wreak havoc. Your final option is more simple than you think. Change the game.
Why bother playing a game outlined by someone else if you aren’t forced to do so? Why get in an opinion war when you could instead wield the most powerful argument tools in existence? Facts are blunt instruments. Opinions are sticky swamps. Pick up the scalpels that are question and logic and change that shootout into brain surgery. You’re opponent becomes your patient and they’re going to operate on themselves.
Enter Socrates. Now, I’m not going to do a lesson for you recounting Socrates’ life. I’m not going to dissect his philosophical body of work (all of it written by others). I’m going to focus specifically on his method of inquiry known the world over as the Socratic Method or the Elenchus. From high school civics classes (where we all should have learned this) to law school lecture halls, the Socratic Method is a precision instrument used to guide the mind to think critically.
The basics of the Socratic Method are this:
- Ask your opponent to state their point as a concise thesis or do it yourself and check in with them to determine if your interpretation is accurate.
- Once a thesis is settled upon, start asking questions of your opponent to highlight inconsistencies, fallacies, and exceptions within their argument. Use their answers and ask more questions. Questions, questions, questions.
- Create a new thesis (with your opponent) that adjusts for the above issues.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the new thesis. Whittle down until you’ve gotten your opponent to prove themselves wrong.
A few great things happen when you use the Socratic Method. First, your opponent will often realize they’re wrong and back pedal fairly quickly into the conversation. They may get angry and dig themselves in deeper making their argument and themselves look silly. Finally, and best of all, you yourself may change your own mind. I lied a little before. Both you and your opponent end up operating on yourselves. You just get to have more control. Either way, you get closer to the truth or at least common ground. Can’t ask for much more than that.
If you want to know more about the Socratic Method and it’s use, here’s a great link on the subject from the University of Chicago.
One final note. This method does not work on trolls. They want nothing to do with the truth. They just want to piss you off. Don’t feed the trolls. Never feed the trolls.