Ian Danskin, (Danskin 2017)

This is an entry in the Alt-right Playbook.

Summary

Broadly, controlling the conversation is about making people talk about what you want them to talk about. More specifically, it’s about what you make them talk about. Structure debate, conversation, etc, based on the idea that the goal is to win. Move the goalposts while also redefining the rules by which you win the underlying game.

Notes

[…] every one of these bad arguments is a subtle attempt to change the subject.

What is the purpose of debate? The liberal conception of debate is usually along the lines of Joseph Joubert’s adage, “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” You’re thinking Plato and Glaucon, or, maybe, debate club: two sides debate until one side wins or until a third conclusion is reached together; either way, the goal of debate is to arrive at the truth.

That’s not what debate means on the Right. There, debate is a chance to perform strength, integrity, and certainty. There, you don’t debate until a victor is declared, you debate as long as you can keep eyeballs on you, forever if possible. There, the truth doesn’t win, because nobody wins, not in any formal way. You may scoff at that, but let’s think about it: this is how political debates are structured in the US, where two candidates come in already knowing everything they’re going to say, where it’s political suicide to concede any point or find any compromise, and where who “won” is up to the voters. In such a framework, truth and falsity don’t exist; all that matters is how much of the audience agrees with you. And, if that’s your framework, then what’s in your best interest is to steer the conversation swiftly and efficiently to something you and your opponent will never agree on, because that gives you the most opportunities to look firm in front of an adversary.

[…] the Left’s understanding of systemic issues does not jive with the Right’s views on personal responsibility. Yes, of course, if the President spoke this way in the White House it might be alienating to any woman who works there, but the Right sees this as a personal failing on the part of the woman, not a systemic failing on the part of men. And all the articles, all the data, all the reports that say that’s now how things work in practice, they are useless in the framework of a performative Twitter argument or a one-hour TV debate. A proper understanding of institutional sexism just takes longer than that.

Why would anyone use this framework? Well, if your opposition has facts on their side, then you need a framework where facts aren’t important. But, more broadly, if the goal is to win over the public, well, the public does respond to honesty, but they also respond to moral certainty, and the Right tends to sell certainty better than the Left sells truth. This is what they’re good at; this suits their worldview. They speak of a universe where opposing sides never agree, because agreement is impossible. And, since agreement is impossible, you never have to compromise. And, since politics isn’t about compromise, it’s just about outnumbering your competition by any means necessary and obstructing them at every turn when they outnumber you. There is comfort in the idea that people are just fundamentally different, and that they owe each other nothing.

[…] the Democrats' desire for compromise is a weakness that can be exploited. On a gut level, the Right knows what debate means on the Left, knows that the Left wants to meet in the middle. So all they have to do is bait the Left into having the discussion on their terms and then keep insisting they should find common ground. “You could work with us if you’d only try a little harder.” Because the rules of that debate, where you concede points and look for compromise, in their world, make the Left look weak. As long as the Right controls the terms of debate, conciliatory loses.

That’s how they control the conversation: move the entire debate to their framework using a bad argument as the worm on the hook.

References

Danskin, Ian. 2017. “Control the Conversation.” Tumblr. Innuendo Studios. https://innuendostudios.tumblr.com/post/166293739407/the-first-proper-video-in-my-ongoing-series-on-the.