What’s your biggest, best argument?

Sometimes a debate with a friend or acquaintance can go on way too long.

Now, that’s not to say that a discussion should be rushed. It’s good to take some time at the front end to try and get an accurate sense of what the other person is actually arguing for.

But once the two positions are staked out and the arguments for and against have been flying back and forth for a while, there quickly ceases to be much of a point.

At that point, I think it should come down to a sudden death round.

One of the two parties is probably way more invested than the other in convincing the other person to switch sides. Figure out who that is. If both sides say they don’t really care, then probably someone is lying, but that’s okay—shake hands and depart amicably. And then see who ends up insisting on bringing it back up again later.

Whoever is trying really hard to convince the other person will have piles of evidence and rivers of argumentation, but the sudden death round says: pick your best and most compelling argument, your biggest piece of proof that holds the whole theory together. We will each do some research, dig deep, think it through, and then decide if it’s compelling.

If the person who needs to be convinced isn’t convinced by this, and all the other arguments that could be advanced are by definition less convincing, that should of course be the end of it.

I did this with my main conspiracy theory friend, to mixed results. After being subjected to an endless barrage of false, misleading, and irrelevant arguments, I asked him to show me his best shot, which turned out to be not only unimpressive even if it turned out to be true, but more, to have been famously and obviously based on a sheer falsification. Afterwards, of course, whenever I reminded him of it he would say, “that was just one example, why do you always go back to that one, all my other arguments are true though.”

Eventually he pulled me back into resuming the dispute, and so it felt as though the approach failed. But perhaps what I should have done instead of giving up on it was use it repeatedly. Would he at some point have had to admit that he couldn’t find a single valid scrap of truth in his entire pile of delusion? Probably not, but at least it would have been nice to watch the cognitive dissonance play itself out for him.

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