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Is it possible to win a debate?

Discussion in 'Speaker's Corner' started by cleanbluesky, 17 Jan 2006.

  1. cleanbluesky


    Joined: 2 Nov 2004

    Posts: 24,654

    What strikes me a lot in SC is that many of the regulars are motivated by winning arguments...

    There are obviously a lot of tactics to do this, not all of them are within the bounds of addressing the question, some involve personal insults and often go beyond what would be said face to face...

    But the most interesting aspect of this is that I dont think a single argument has been won despite the amount of effort poured into attempting to do so... if indeed anything can be won in this medium, by anyone.

    1) As a poster, is this something that you do?

    2) Is anyone comfortable with being proved wrong? If not, why not?

    3) Does this attitude scare off people from the rest of the forums?

    4) Is it posssible to win an argument, if so how? By which standards can we judge whether an argument has been won?

    5) Has anyone ever won an argument in SC?
  2. anarchist


    Joined: 2 Dec 2004

    Posts: 9,702

    Location: Midlands

    I don't see any of the threads as arguments. I see them as people just airing their views and hoping that others will read their views and possibly take them into consideration. I admit I do get personal pleasure if I post something and somebody says "hey, I didn't know that", and similarly I like being told things that I didn't previously know, or having my views challenged so much that I change them. That is a very positive thing I think, because I don't think anybody should hold a view if they don't have enough evidence for that view to be able to overcome any challenges to it. And "I read it in the Sun" in my mind doesn't count as evidence ;)

    So I've answered 1 and 2 I think.

    Yes, some people do treat debates as arguments and yes, it does scare people away I'm sure.

    If one poster starts with "iraq wasn't anything to do with oil" and other posters supply enough evidence in the course of the debate to prove beyond doubt that oil was a factor, then I would say that the argument has been won. I see that as a very positive thing too because previously un-enlightened people have been enlightened, which can only be a good thing. The oil thing is just an example by the way, although it is a true example ;)
  3. Ukadder

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 3 Aug 2004

    Posts: 1,752

    Location: Essex

    1) I always try to add my own opinion, hardly ever actually "take Sides" though I will defend my point of view if questioned sensibly, If I’m wrong (which is hard with so many posts being about what you think/feel) then at least I’ve learnt something new, which is always good.

    2) Don’t mind being proved wrong, happy to admit if I am. DO MIND people not respecting my opinion on things. People are different, not everything wants/thinks the same, this does not make it wrong.

    3) Would think it does scare people off, I’m a fluffy bunny when you get to know me though.

    4) IMHO (humble!) you can win or loose an argument if it’s based upon evidence and fact where the out come has been proven, also if your thinking or “view of mind” is changed by things other people have talked about and you end up agreeing then I guess you were wrong.

    5) Not me personally.
  4. theleg


    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 13,417

    Location: UK

    That cliched internet pic tells the truth...Arguing politics on the interner is like running in the special olympics :o

    Nobody ever wins or loses...nobody ever listens to what people are saying, they just read it and think of ways to disprove it, regardless of whether its right or wrong.

    I have had my mind changed on certain issues but personally I dont class that as losing anything :dunno:
  5. PlacidCasual


    Joined: 13 May 2003

    Posts: 6,463

    By and large I don’t think you will change the opinions of the main posters in a thread as they generally have a rationale for their position if they have made the point to post it. I guess the unspeaking part of the forum may be swayed one way or the other if they read the thread though.
    I agree there is an aspect of using OT tactics to “win” arguments but it is not widespread and not a great problem.
    I do think the forum scares some people off particularly if they enter into a thread with strong divided opinions.
    I am not sure it is possible to win an argument on a forum because posters lack the empathy necessary to tailor arguments to win the emotional aspects. In face to face discussions you can tailor your comments and assertions based on feedback of what works, a difficult task without those visual cues.

    Personally I take part to elicit debate and gain some understanding of other viewpoints. I find it an excellent way of adding direction to my studies (not formal just for the interest of knowing stuff). It is also an excellent tool for practising my writing and debating style. I have noticed that when I care to make the effort my standard has improved over the last few years, which is not to say I always take the time to craft a response I am happy with every time as some threads move too quickly.
  6. Mr Joshua


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 4,087

    I don't usually post because I can't be bothered to be drawn into a long, drawn out fruitless debate and end up hunting through the net to find information to back up any discussions.

    I do, however, enjoy reading some of the threads in here.
  7. anarchist


    Joined: 2 Dec 2004

    Posts: 9,702

    Location: Midlands

    Yes that's an important point. I often forget about the unspeaking majority.

    Shame they don't speak - even if it's just "yes I agree" or whatever - so we can guage whether the threads are having any effect on them at all.
  8. Dolph

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 17 Oct 2002

    Posts: 47,845

    Location: Plymouth

    Depends how you define winning. Many of the regulars (yourself included) have strong views on various issues, and will defend them or put them across vigorously.

    It could be said that trying to convince other people, either posters or readers, of your view, is the essence of winning a debate, and with that, there have been some successful cases in SC.

    The other question is, what is the alternative? A gentlemen's club where people can voice whatever they like, without being expected to justify the view in the face of challenge, without having to prove that the view has any grounding in fact or reality? That's not a debate, that's a back slapping club.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if people want a serious crackdown on this kind of thing, I'm happy to do it. However, lots of people on both sides have crossed the line in the past between acceptable debate and personal attacks or trolling posts, although both sides consider themselves innocent. I remember last time we had a serious crackdown. Among the people to get suspended first were those who were demanding a tighter line, because they seemed to believe that although they were always involved in the same arguments, they couldn't possibly be at fault. When I started suspending everyone involved, they didn't like it much.

    I'd disagree with that. Some of my views have certainly been altered by debates in here, and I know I'm not the only one who has said that. Some posters do not even contemplate that their ideas could be wrong though, and cannot fathom why others don't believe them when they aren't presenting a good case. Perhaps that's the problem?

    I go out to make a coherant, logical and fact based argument, frequently backed up by evidence to support my view. I'll also challenge people to justify theirs in the same way. There are plenty of people who, even though we differ in views, can do just that. (Phykell, Anarchist and Dirtydog spring to mind).

    You can interpret that how you want.

    Certainly. If I'm wrong I'm wrong. If evidence is open to interpretation, then we can both be right or wrong. Where it falls down is when people simply claim you're wrong without providing reasons why, or by falling onto emotive or irrelevant statements rather than dealing with the facts (eg the "You're a racist/prejudiced" argument)

    If the attitude exists, possibly, although there are other things that also 'scare' people off SC, including the depth of posts, the feeling that people can't keep up (which is usually wrong) and so on. Long, long ago before SC existed, I used to start weekly debate threads in GD that had the same issues, they would rapidly become in depth and intellectual, and some people get scared off by that. Other people simply don't come here for that kind of discussion.

    That depends on several things, including what you class as the winning, and the subject matter of the topic in question. Threads about science, for example, can have a distinct right and wrong answer, threads about social issues less so.

    It also depends on what you class as winning. I don't debate to win, but to further my knowledge. If that happens, then I consider myself a winner. If other people can't find flaws in my argument, or we're differing solely on differing views (for example, economics where you have posters debating from the right and left) and we accept that certain things would work either way, but we'd personally prefer one over the other, again I'd consider myself a winner. Lastly, if I manage to get someone to acknowledge my viewpoint (for example, banning guns is not a liberal idea) then again I consider debate successful.

    Using the outline given above, I'd have said several have.

    The long thread where myself and Anarchist discussed right wing vs left wing economics and how they relate to social ideals ended with us both agreeing that although we'd prefer our own system, the other's system would still work a lot better than the current system. We also agreed that both systems would be limited by human nature.

    There have been gun and hunting threads where things have come across that way as well. Dirtydog reconsidered his position on outright banning of handguns following a thread a while back, as did I. Myself and Phykell have spent many hours debating hunting where it usually came down to the same issue (that I didn't agree with the hunt ban because it wasn't based on fact, but on opinon, and he didn't care why it was banned as long as it was) that could be considered a win for both of us, we didn't agree, but we determined why we didn't agree and I did agree that if (and when) there were clear proven benefits to a hunting ban, I'd happily support it.

    Over recent months, the big problem in SC has been people who cannot accept that others hold a different view, and haven't taken well to having their view challenged or being expected to justify it. This applies to all sides, I'm not singling anyone out here.

    If you present opinion, and someone disagrees and asks you to justify it, they aren't doing it to be awkward (or I'm certainly not), but to try and understand. It could be they know something you don't, or see things in a way that you hadn't considered before, something that could change your own view. It could also be that their view is flawed, it's hard to tell.
  9. Mr Joshua


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 4,087

    Good point, I have changed my opinions on the likes of the fur trade through reading the hunting threads (my opinion on hunting with hounds still hasn't changed though).
    Last edited: 17 Jan 2006
  10. anarchist


    Joined: 2 Dec 2004

    Posts: 9,702

    Location: Midlands

    I don't think it matters really so long as you say, like I sometimes do, "I read this somewhere but can't remember where", rather than stating it as cold hard fact. It is just an opinion after all, like most posts on here. Not many of us have concrete evidence for anything really, especially the political and religious discussions, and discussions which are entirely opinion based anyway.
  11. cleanbluesky


    Joined: 2 Nov 2004

    Posts: 24,654

    For future reference, I am no longer an "SC regular" and all that entails, although I do do as you suggest.

    I think the idea of changing the opinion of another is an important factor in the question of winning a debate, yet in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King... so while this may be considered winning, it doesn't neccessarily make the idea Right.

    I have had my mind changed, yet only by people I have 'respect' for (not sure what I mean by that yet)... is my respect founded by the idea that these people agree with me on other topics? If so, would my willingness to conceed an argument or adopt the belief of another merely be another technique of safely questioning what I already believe?
    Also, post depth is another issue. Simple posts will not change my mind. Complex posts need to be contextually complex (making appropriate contextual analysis of all factors involved) rather than just verbally complex or long posts...

    If a person is proven right by accurate prediction, yet still nobody believed them - did they win the debate or is the only way to win for people to agree with the poster, whether immediately or eventually?
    Last edited: 17 Jan 2006
  12. nero120


    Joined: 12 Jan 2004

    Posts: 6,824

    Location: Londinium

    What is the point of a debate? Is it an ego trip, social game or an attempt to try and align ones opinions as closely as possible with the real world, by arguing it out with other people.

    When I read or post here I am not interested in my social statue, peoples opinions about me, or even whether I change others minds - I am mostly concerned with peoples criticism of my argument, so that I can try and temper it to reality.

    My reason for this is I do not see any value in a mind that is far removed from reality - it serves no practical purpose and cannot help you accomplish anything in your life. However, a mind that is tempered closely to reality is a powerful mind that can effectively wield strategy and can make a difference, in your own life or others. Debate helps to do this. Though we may never have a mind that is truely based in reality, we can form a model that is as close as we can get it and that is effective enough.

    I have had my opinions changed on here, just as others have been unable to make me question my opinion on another matter. Anyone looking for truth will of course had their minds changed, but people coming here with a sack full of emotion will not be moved, and will probably be far removed from reality too.
  13. Dingo


    Joined: 6 Jun 2004

    Posts: 1,500

    Location: Sandy, Beds

    "It's not the winning but the taking part that counts" to qoute that time honoured tradition :).

    The religious and East v West debates are the most lively and for my part when someone posts a link I will always go away and read it first to try and understand where they are coming from. As you rightly point out the lack of real face to face interaction is an inhibiter, with some people taking offence where none is meant, but overall the debates are informative and the posted links do give you alternative sources upon which to ponder your original stance.

    Apart from the occasional sniping and locking of horns between two individuals, for the most part I find the debates entertaining and informative, and a refreshing change from some of the "what should I buy" or "I've just found a stick" threads in the GD forum!.
  14. semi-pro waster

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 27 Sep 2004

    Posts: 25,829

    Location: Glasgow

    I can't say that winning motivates me in terms of the debates on here, right now I don't have regular enough internet access and therefore enough time to follow most debates closely enough to debate properly(assuming I ever do debate properly ;)) so I'll tend to post my opinions backed up with facts if I know them and then often just leave it at that.

    I can't say I am enthusiastic about being proven wrong but if I am in the wrong then I'll acknowledge my error (even if it is just silently) and hopefully count myself lucky that I have found something new out.

    Rightly or wrongly SC does appear to have a certain reputation within the wider forum, particularly in GD that some posters are intransigent and rather vociferous or even aggressive which I think puts some people off.

    Debates are difficult to win on an emotive subject but where facts and figures are concerned can be more legitimately be said to be won or lost. I think it is more important for people to question ideas, as someone once said "The mark of a civilised man is to question ones first principles" or words to that effect.
  15. Loki

    Asus Rep

    Joined: 17 Nov 2004

    Posts: 9,778

    Location: The Republic

    I wouldnt agree entirely that regulars use SC to win an argument. I believe that people use SC as a way to understand issues that are prevelant in todays world. Challenging their understanding of what they think is sound logic. The problem that arises is when people use their own subjectivity as a sound basis to an objective debate. Ultimately who defines who wins when a lot of the debates are not a case of black and white, right or wrong. Issues are clouded when one person's Right is another persons Wrong

    1) As a poster in here I would hope that I don't display that behaviour. Maybe an old cliche but for me its the taking part that counts and not the winning. I get more from it.

    2) I don't think anyone likes to be proved wrong. I suspect it is in the way it is delivered that determines if it is taken in offence. It challenges your understanding and beleifs of the world

    3) As for why other people don't post in here from the collective of the enitre forum ? Maybe not one single factor. Why do people post on forums ? a 5 minute break from their work and are simply not interested in current issues that they feel they cannot influence.

    One observation I would make on this particular question is that when you join a forum, you get a feel for the mentality of the board and what is considered to be the accepted position on certain subjects. A political-social climate if you will and I dont think SC is any different. When I first started posting in here I noticed that people who had ideas that strayed from the conservative and very traditional way of life were sometimes dismissed as tree hugging liberals. Maybe that scares a few people off as they are intimidates

    4) Yes only if there is a consensus on an answer

    5) Is only relevant if the OP's agenda was to open a debate in which they were confident they would win

    Out of interest how come you do not consider yourself a regular in SC cbs ?
  16. robmiller


    Joined: 26 Dec 2003

    Posts: 16,522

    Location: London

    1. Sort of - I would consider convincing the other (wrong ;)) person to come round to your way of thinking the main goal in a debate.
    2. Yes, definitely. As Dawkins put it on The Root of All Evil:

    3. Probably. There are a lot of posters who are (rightly or wrongly) vehement in their beliefs and will defend them at any opportunity, which I guess can be disconcerting to new users who hold different beliefs and dare to question them - especially if it's a commonly held belief among regulars, and dozens of other posters jump on the attack. There should be a balance between formal debate and attacks like this, but I don't think any such solution exists - every forum suffers from it.
    4. Yes, but it happens so rarely because of the aforementioned point. Most users are firmly entrenched in their points of view, and the back and forth attacks discourage those who might be persuaded from participating.
  17. Jumpingmedic

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 6 Oct 2004

    Posts: 1,509

    Location: Behind you!

    When I make an argument it is due to a genuine interest and firm opinion on the subject. I love arguing... and obviously it's a big old ego boost to be told I'm right, of course that's a rather rare outcome to any big debate. Me losing is equally rare, because chances are, if I have formed enough of an opinion on a subject you will never change my mind. It's not that I can't have my mind changed, but it takes a damn good reason. Being wrong is also extremely annoying. So no I don't like it, but I will accept it if it is convincing enough.

    I imagine some people are afraid to put forward their opinions here. I know I'm scared to do that in real life, but on forums I can at least escape at the click of the X button. Perhaps that isn't enough for some people.

    Some arguments can be won on a higher level. If I argue "2+2 = 5" then you can easily prove me wrong with simple maths. But if I then pull out all the stops and start going into religion/philosophy etc I could claim just about anything I like to "prove my case". Proof typically refers to maths and science. Everything else usually falls into the faith category. So certain logic based aruments can be proved.

    Ethical/religious/political debates.... no way, can't be won.. ever.