I've recently come across an article titled How to argue like Stalin (...and why you shouldn't). Its central thesis was that, if you don't engage with the exact formulation of the argument as it was outlaid, you are literally Stalin. Because he invented politics, and that ruined everything. So, let's see what daddy Stalin's infinite wisdom can teach us about debating, as presented by the author, quoting Hitchens, quoting Hannah Arendt:
I think Hannah Arendt said that one of the great achievements of Stalinism was to replace all discussion involving arguments and evidence with the question of motive.
~ Christopher Hitchens
The problem with this idea is that, as most products of liberal trashcan ideology, it assumes a fantasy world: a world where power doesn't exist, where conflicting interests don't matter, and where rationality precedes struggle.
Properly understanding discourse is important, because it not only means we can make more persuading arguments, but also that we are actually better at discerning the reality of the situation, and the politics involved in it. The dominant capitalist ideology functions not only on the level of concrete values such as (faux) democracy or pacifism, but also on a more abstract level: on which it legitimizes only certain forms of discourse.
Instead of merely pointing out factual inaccuracies in someone's argument, we should illuminate the wider social context in which they are made, and the political motivations behind them.
An example are discussions on racism in the U.S. Often, white people will claim: racism can hurt white people too! They will point out examples where someone made a sweeping generalization of all white people, and often accompany it with a clearly forced amount of indignation. This is embodied by the phrase all lives matter. On the factual level, all of this is 'true': it is indeed in the realm of possibility to be prejudiced against white people, and yes, all lives do "matter". The problem here, however, is that these arguments are actually made in favor of positions that diminish the struggles of minorities.
Another example are climate change debates. We know the facts. We're destroying ourselves. Repeating that won't change shit. If you want to help, you have a lot more work to do examining the ideological base you are fighting. And no science (other than diamat) will help you there.
Here, it becomes strikingly obvious that, in arguments, political motivation is primary, while their facticity, or what they claim to support, is secondary. But this observation can be generalized: it is almost always more persuasive to analyze the context and motivations behind someone's arguments:
- People lie about their motivation in order to make their positions seem more appealing.
- People's political temperaments are something we ought to seek to change, not just win arguments, and understanding the underlying motivation behind them is important.
- Fuck arguing with communists forever.
Don't look at the surface-level, self-congratulatory, or hate-filled first-order claims of a person, group, or movement. Examine their interests. Examine their ideology. Examine their mechanisms. Critique that.