Good Afternoon Gentleman,
A rather amusing exchange a little while back on social media got me thinking about the subjects of social interactions, politics, debating tactics, and Machiavelliasm. The topic of the discourse is irrelevant for this discussion. What I want to discuss today is the subject of Verbal Aikido.
A Little Background
I have a long, varied background in martial arts and have been studying Aikido for about a year and a half now. Aikido is a very stark contrast to harder martial arts like Taekwondo or Karate. Whereas Taekwondo is very aggressive and often clashes directly with an opposing force, Aikido is a gentler style that adapts to the kind of energy that your opponent is exerting towards you.
If the opponent doesn’t fully commit to an attack, you maneuver around to expose his weak point.
If your opponent commits all his force into his attack, you blend with the force and redirect it.
My instructor often refers to Aikido as a conversation with the other person. You can have a discussion, a debate, or a full-blown argument, depending on the goals of each person involved.
So what does this have to do with everyday social interactions? Well…everything.
I am known in some online social circles as a bit of a troll. Well, to be more accurate, a counter-troll. I don’t go out looking to stir up problems, but if someone comes into a group that I frequent and begins causing a ruckus, I tend to step in. Over time, I’ve become quite adept at reading the intentions of the intruders and formulating my responses accordingly.
The particular encounter that inspired this post was what I would call a highly committed attack. The person was very emotional and slinging insults and ad hominems at the group. Instead of meeting force for force, which would have fueled the fires, I began prodding; asking questions.
Questions put you in the proactive position and forces the other person to either answer your questions (react) or bail out of the conversation. What I’ve found is if you keep asking questions that force the other person to further detail their position, you’ll either come to understand where they’re coming from or expose their foolishness. This is a very gentle approach to countering aggressive people because you’re not openly opposing them. You’re not reciprocating their hostility so they don’t have anything to springboard off of.
Another approach I like to use is dissecting their argument into bite-sized chunks and debunking it, piece by piece. I save this for longer rants where there are many points to cover. This tactic primarily works on message boards or forums. Trying to do this in-person would be too cumbersome to manage.
This is saved for the moderately emotional people that interject in a discussion. They’re not raving lunatics, but their lengthy messages are full of strawmen, ad hominems, and the cherry picking of data. My approach is to put the section I’m addressing in quotes, and then debunking that point before moving onto the next so it will look something like this:
“You all are a bunch of racists that just want to squish minorities under their thumb….”
On the contrary, we largely believe the best thing we can do for minorities….
“Furthermore, welfare has helped so many people…..”
Welfare has caused…….
“If you would just accept the fact that….”
That is quantifiably NOT a fact but merely speculation of your part…
The final tactic I’ll discuss today is the full submission. Now before you get your boxers in a twist, I am not advocating rolling over and claiming defeat. Rather, I am advocating that you accept whatever accusations thrown against you and continue to hammer your point to your opposition:
“You’re a sexist!”
So what if I am? Address the points I’ve made and cite studies that refute mine.
“You sexist people are scum that want to put women back in the 50’s.”
Are you going to refute original claim or just keep ranting?
With these kind of people you never, NEVER get into a “no I’m not/yes you are” argument with them. If you do, you are adopting their frame and reacting to them instead of forcing them to react to you. By simply saying “so what?” you are taking away their primary weapon from them. Their momentum is gone and you are now in control of the situation.
The biggest thing to remember when engaging in any kind of discourse is to push your emotions to the side. Now this doesn’t mean not to use emotions when it furthers your purpose, but don’t let yourself be controlled by them. This is all very Machiavelli in nature. If you haven’t read the 48 Laws of Power, I highly suggest you do so if you are interested in improving your debating skills. I would also recommend you find a good Aikido instructor who not only teaches the techniques, but also the philosophies behind the martial art.
Take on the mindset of Amused Mastery and you will be surprised how quickly your opposition will become flustered.
Good hunting, gentlemen.