The State Of Debate




From top: New Yorker cartoon; Dan Boyle

Debates no longer seem to about content. It’s the stylistic difference that now determines whether an argument is being won or lost.

Dan Boyle writes:

The Argument would be one of my favourite Monty Python sketches. Michael Palin having paid for his argument session enters a room to find John Cleese sitting behind a desk.
Apropos of nothing Cleese says “I’ve told you once,”. Palin somewhat taken aback responds “No you didn’t,”.

There then follows a ping pong of Yes I did/No you didn’t, until Palin stops the dialogue to express his annoyance. “This isn’t an argument,” he says. “It’s just contradiction. Contradiction isn’t argument,”.

Cleese pauses, having been countered, he then says “It can be,” after which volleys of No it can’t/Yes it can follow.

I now see this sketch as something of a harbinger of how debased debate would become.
Inconsistency isn’t hypocrisy. Correlation isn’t causation. Dúirt bean liom doesn’t constitute an authoritative source. The only rule on debates that now applies is that there are no rules. We have been Games of Thronesified.

Debates no longer seem to about content. It’s the stylistic difference that now determines whether an argument is being won.

By way of illustration let me identify some of the sparring types I come across. First there is The Anal Retentive. This person only ever has one point which is repeated again and again and again. Even when that point has been proven wrong the first time.

Then we have The College Debater. This person don’t really hold any opinion, but is nostalgic at having almost gotten into King’s Inn, looks for alternative arguments to be made.

A near relation is The Hypothesis Buster. This person detests any statement that is confidently asserted. Their intent is then not only to undermine the confidence in the argument, but the confidence of the argument maker.

These catagories at least continue with the point/counterpoint structure given to us by Aristotle. Much more prevalent these days are those for whom a debate is something of a distraction.

Take The You’re History Buff. This person ignores any point being made in an argument because you are the person making the argument. Each counterpoint has nothing to do with any salient point being made, but is rather a statement of their opinion of you, who you are, or what it is you have been.

A variant of this would be The You’re A Langer Boy. This is a Cork version that has several more offensive counterparts. With this approach each counterpoint again ignores the argument, and instead inserts any and every offensive comment possible.

There is a myriad of other types who would need a book to properly explain. There’s the My God Is Better Than Your God Believer. These people can expound in a theological detailed way on politics or on sports, as much as they do with religion.

I keep getting sucked in by these types. I’ve even been accused of exhibiting many of these traits myself. Of course I would say that is arguable.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

46 thoughts on “The State Of Debate

        1. Nigel

          This was a demonstration of a debating category Dan omitted – the YouTuber, who can’t effectively formulate arguments of their own, so they post video links that may or may not be related to the topic at hand, and then demand that any response address the content of the video, calling for a far greater investment of time and energy than they were willing to expend in writing out an argument of their own.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            “Touché” LOL ! Well and proper guffawed, thanks lads :)

            I already explained what I was doing with… “What about the link dropper…” but Nigel ignores that and goes on his ranty rant about me, not the content of the post.

            And then other lad jumps in with…. “Touché”
            * slow clap lads *

            Anyway, I don’t expect either of you to watch anything outside of your echo chamber…. so sad…

            Hail the collective, long live the collective identity… or something, I really don’t care lads.

          2. Nigel

            ‘I already explained what I was doing with… “What about the link dropper’

            That’s not an ‘explanation’ of anything. But off you go and have a ranty rant about me and not the content of my post.

            It is funny that you assume I’m not familiar with the oeuvre of Nick Cohen, though. But you really don’t care, which really tends to come across in the incoherent sloppiness of your arguments and opinions, so well done.

          3. Clampers Outside!

            LOL Nigel… proper LOLs !

            Your assumptions that I assumed anything is a laughable position to take. It’s a bedrock of left thought these days…. you assuming one thing about the presumed assumptions of anothers thoughts…. again, more LOLs!

            Go away and read your tarot cards, tea-leaves or something… :)

          4. Nigel

            That’s not even a proper retort to what I said. It should be ‘No, you did.’ Hang on, even that doesn’t make sense. Are you employing William S Burrough’s cut-up technique in your comments, by any chance? Dallying with dadaism, perhaps?

  1. nellyb

    Diversity is good, it’s a good brain teaser. But if one doesn’t like debates and news from particular outlet – change the damn channel, stop torturing yourself :-) I recently got into France24 english speaking channel on freesat. What a breath of fresh air. Guests are ACTUALLY listening to each other, show interest in opposing view points and even seem grateful for a good thinking challenge. It’s less US/Engish speaking world centric. They cover hot spots like Baltic EU states and current standoff with Russia, better analysis of continental affairs. So, again – diversify! It’s the key to evolushan :-)

  2. No more mr nice guy

    Another handy article from Dan. Maith thu!
    Not being argumentative but it does look a bit like the format of that guide to the alt-right that caused all the troubles there a few weeks back.

    You’re still a fupping Langer though boy.

  3. Harry Molloy

    Yeah, the history buff one really annoys me and hugely prevalent, lots of folk unwilling to look at the point being made over who is actually making it.


    Then we have The Ex TD Debater. This person don’t really hold any opinion, but is nostalgic at having almost gotten into power, looks for alternative arguments to be made.

      1. Ray O'Connor

        Sadly I wish you and your party were history unfortunately you’re not yet and it is my fear that people with your mentality will get elected

        Some of your tweets in relatively recent online debates

        “they can decide what they want. I can decide whether it’s democratic or not”

        “using 25% of the worlds energy. More lazy than great”

        “Participated in collective decision making most of which i would repeat tomorrow. In good conscience”

        if Trump was to make statements like this regarding democracy, a nation or the transfer of wealth from the working poor to the super rich the Green Party would be up in arms.

        I’m just saying i can see you in the descriptions of individuals you refer to by your online contributions.

          1. Ray O'Connor

            why would i be vindictive and what possible reason would any sane individual have for making such idiotic comments you post on twitter

          2. Dan Boyle

            I don’t know maybe in being selective, quoting out of context, quoting mid-sentence.Fairly malevolent behaviour on your part.

          3. Dan Boyle

            Every single one out of context. Not one single complete quotation. Words obviously mean what you choose them to mean.

          4. Ray O'Connor

            in what context is it appropriate to describe a nationality as lazy? despite the fact its wrong, they work the longest hours, have the least paid holidays per year and probably have the lowest welfare in the developed world

            your inner Hypothesis Buster is coming through

          5. Dan Boyle

            Oh dear. It’s called waste. It makes them significant contributors to climate change. Criticising their failure indicates no attitude towards working people, certainly no negative one. That attitude is yours.

          6. Ray O'Connor

            So it’s not energy consumption that’s the issue it’s energy waste?

            and your logic is if you consume energy you must be wasting energy and therefore you are lazy?

            so a farmer using a milking machine is lazy because it could be done by hand?
            A builder using a cement mixer or electric drill is lazy?
            A surgeon using an operating theatre rather than a field hospital?
            A child using light to do their homework?
            These big data centres the Greens need for the smart economy use tons of energy for cooling?

            The average irish person is the same as the average American.

            The Green party leadership is perfectly happy to gorge on the bounty of the productivity but then denounce the population as lazy, and considering that vast majority of the population would be workers or workers dependents i don’t see how you can exclude workers from the slight you made against a whole country and by extension to the irish population

        1. Dan Boyle

          I haven’t the time to be indulging your pettiness but that tweet starts by saying the US has 5% of the World’s population with 5% of its land mass yet uses 25% of its energy. I’d describe that as lazy.

          1. Ray O'Connor

            I’m not sure if that’s a history buff or a langers response

            it’s a developed country that uses energy for productivity purposes, and per capita wouldn’t be far off our own, with our rural spread.

            working parents that work for ten hours a day, commute for two hours in cars, buy their kids tablets for educational purposes, use labour saving devices like washing machines and dishwashers, so they can spend a little time with their children

            we can see the attitude of the green party leadership towards the general working population

  5. wearnicehats

    Hey Dan – I’ve no real interest in this article generally – I’m interested in your stance on the use of the word “myriad” – Personally I would never use “a myriad of” even though convention allows it. What is your reasoning?

  6. Deluded

    Have you seen the film “Thank You For Smoking”? It’s about lobbyists, very entertaining.
    According to the protagonist:
    “…That’s the beauty of argument, if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong…”

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