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I participated in a formal debate once. Moderation, time, a judge, everything. A friend invited me to debate club. He warned me to not expect to win, but we did.

We were arguing for something I don’t agree with in real life, and that probably helped as I was trying my best to “steel-doll”, to take the other part’s arguments seriously, and try to predict their arguments and preempt them (that ended up being super effective—when they went to present their case, they had already been refuted), and avoid using our own worst arguments and preemptively refute those too, “but,” and then use some unusual ones.

Our refutations of our own bad arguments were rock solid (maybe better than what they were coming up with), and our “refutations” of their arguments weren’t soundest or particularly complete, but preemptive and I guess convincing enough. I can’t read the mind of the judge, what made him side with us, and maybe it wasn’t the clearest of calls.

It was all meaningless sophistry, word-dazzly tricks, manipulative and dishonest. Covering our “seams” with 99% truth making them really hard to spot. (If I remember correctly, but I’m not sure (this was years ago), I think my friend was surprised when I told him afterwards that I kinda disagreed with the position we were taking in the debate.)

A conversation isn’t a debate and if you approach them as if they were, we’re gonna have a bad time. If you think I’m trying to “win”, and if you try to “win”. Instead, I wanna teach you something I think you might’ve missed (if not the entire concept then maybe a new aspect of it, or a way to think of it) while holding my own ideas loosely and ready to change my mind. If you’re in “I must win”–mode, it becomes about face-keeping, face-saving for you, and you’ll not only close your heart, it’ll also become more difficult for me to understand you and learn from you.

It’s frustrating when people misread me as trying to be manipulative or passive-aggressive or “trying to win”.

That’s the difference between philosophy (probably better known as “curiosity”) and sophistry, which cares only about who seemed to come out on top.

Some of my articles here, I do try to argue for a position. I care about what I write, and I sometimes feel frustrated that our politicians aren’t reading or listening or changing their minds.

Being a politian is to be in permanent face-saving mode. You’re not representing yourself, you’re representing your party and its platform. If, as a politician, you’re like “huh, I never knew that”, you’re weak, your party looks sloppy and clueless. That’s why it’s actually kind of messed up that we have politicians making the decisions. They represent the opposite of wisdom, humility, humanity. (Politicians in the “slick, face, sophistic” sense of the word, not talking about policy wonks because them, I love.)