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January 2, 2015 / compassioninpolitics

Thinking about using examples in debate

Generally no, but sometimes….if done with care & precision.

When it aid precision…yes. When its used as a crutch to avoid criticism no. Plus, you can use it in combination with alternative course of action strategically (and everybody “wins”)

Part I:
A. Context & Reason: Precision is Good
Typically people have arguments in a zero-sum fashion. This isn’t helpful in some respects, because it ignores a lot of middle ground. Also, important, because ideally the point of a debate is establishing some commmonality.

The world is complex. Trends are complex. We should approach complex trends with complex tools and analysis (perhaps a better word is precise–one with attention to detail).

As such, you carve out a distinction between when your opponent or collegue is correct and when they aren’t correct–rather than forcing the discussion to the level of generality. (This generally makes everybody happier). When debates only occur at the level of generality–its more possible for them to be two ships passing in the night. Examples can made debate more tangible–and if they are used representatively or for precision–they can aid the process of debate, discussion, or negotiation.

B. Example: Success in the War in Iraq Debate
If we were having a debate about our strategy in say Iraq in say 2008, one tactic would be to say “war good versus war bad.” or “war in Iraq effective versus ineffective” The better tactic in some respects–is to argue in a more nuanced–to deal with the facts as they are. To specify which examples or regions of Iraq are being effective….and which are being ineffective.

C. Bonus: Alternative Courses of Action
This tool also allows you to use an alternative to solve the challenges where there is a difference between you an your opponent–in a very targeted fashion. Plus–you avoid making the reform in policy–where the current policy is already working.

Part II:
As a general rule–debate should occur at the level of specificity and generality. Its probably more interesting that way. However, when generality becomes over-generalization–the tool of precision and of division can help rather than having overly simplistic zero sum debates which are grounded only partially in facts which correspond to reality.


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