The Voluntaryist Art of Not Debating


Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

That’s right: Not debating.

There seems to be a penchant, if not almost insatiable urge among those in our movement to constantly confront and debate those who adhere to one statist philosophy or another. Voluntaryists/Libertarian Anarchists burn up thousands of hours on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and such arguing our case, constantly trying to break through the mental barriers of those who do not or will not accept the tenets of the Non-Aggression Principle. The incentive isn’t difficult to decipher. We want to live in a better world. We do not want to exist in chains. We want to be truly free.

But there’s a reason why we find this course of action such a daunting and frustrating task. And it lies in understanding the latest findings in psychology. Without citing chapter and verse, it boils down to this: Whenever someone who holds a perceptual belief is challenged by a different or opposing view, the result is almost invariably that the affronted person becomes even more resistant to change – regardless of how cogent, rational, or objective the case being made might be. Emotionally, they dig in their heels and will go to almost any length from that point forward to defend their self-constructed system, no matter how much cognitive dissonance they must engage in to rationalize it. Very quickly, we find that the old adage, “The man convinced against his will, holds to his opinion still,” holds true. Debating such individuals – and it must be noted this represents the vast majority of society – is not only for the most part fruitless, but worse, it is actively counterproductive.

There is another reason why I believe it to be undesirable for Voluntaryists to argue our philosophy and debate with the uninitiated or those who stand in active opposition to our beliefs – and this stands outside of the fact that we can tend to make enemies, engender animosities, and escalate blood pressures.

When statists debate one another – as they do so often on various TV and radio programs for the benefit of public spectacle, to reinforce the psychological conditioning they have so successfully subjected the mainstream masses to – it is of little moral consequence. Both Left and Right advocate the initiation of force against others to mold the world according to their respective and inherently related social and economic goals. Hence, debating is just one more example of this overall philosophy. To wit, it is indicative of a desire to control. “It upsets me that you don’t think like I do. Thus, I aim to change that no matter what,” is the unspoken intent behind such endeavors.

It doesn’t take much insight to determine that such a mindset is utterly antithetical to Voluntaryist goals.

Now, debating someone from a differing or oppositional standpoint in front of or for an audience – be it live, or via some type of media broadcast – differs substantially, insofar as participating is with the intent of allowing the viewers/listeners to evaluate the merits of the arguments from without . . . and not with the intention of changing the challenger’s views. Every movement must attempt to reach as many potential adherents as possible if success is to be seriously contemplated. The point, however, is to work smarter, not harder – and to be philosophically consistent, of course.

This is why outreach beachheads like STR are so vitally important. We can never predict when any person unawares, as we once were, may be exposed to or stumble across a piece of literature or website like this one, and have that all-important life-changing “A-ha!” moment. Again, it happened to us at one point or another, by one means or another. It can and will happen to others. And I believe that the more nonconfrontationally we put our ideas and philosophy out into public view, the less “threatening” we seem to the public – and the sooner we will reach our goal of a free society, one open mind at a time.

But there’s more still: Life is precious. It is finite. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend however much of it I may have left trying to make my case to those to whom it cannot be made. I have better and more important things to do with my remaining time. I expect you do too, whatever those things might be. Realizing this in itself is another big and indispensable part of being free. Don’t let it pass you by.

The next time a socialist, or a Republican (but I digress), or a constitutionalist, or any kind of statist wants to argue with you, maybe point them in the direction of an essay like this one, and then go back to whatever you were doing. Don’t argue. Don’t debate. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by others like that. I hope I’ve made my case. And if you find I haven’t to your satisfaction, that’s fine. I have other things to do right now.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.


wkmac's picture

I've been pondering this idea more and more of late and to read this now I guess was destiny. I asked myself why spend the time (and frustration) talking with people who either are not or just will not see it to begin with when I could better use that time making my own life and situation much better. Doing that and if they then see me in real practice to which they then ask why and how, that itself changes the dynamic as they have seen a working model different from what they are doing and they are now doing the inquiring. Thanks for the good food for thought.

Scott Lazarowitz's picture

I never talk to people anymore about politics, etc. Not even my immediate family members.

And if I ever get into a conversation with someone I don't know -- which rarely happens, okay it never happens now -- like at the laundromat, I will avoid any political discussion like the plague.

More recently, the reason to avoid is, if you don't know someone, given the increasing number of sheeple among the population, if you say anything about "central banking," the U.S. government's role in provoking foreigners, or "government police should follow the rule of law like everyone else," etc., you might become a victim of the "If You See Something, Say Something" brownshirt campaign, and your "neighbor" might call the police on you, etc.

However, the idea to point a person to specific articles one can easily find on the Internet is a great idea.

tzo's picture

I agree that being confrontational creates resistance. That being said, you can plant some ideas that may sprout years later. That doesn't mean you have to spend days forcing someone to agree with you. If you communicate your position and the person refuses to budge, it's not unreasonable to move along. You still may have created a little beachhead in their brain that one day may be able to spread.
And if you really, really want to convince a person, then perhaps consider the strategy one might use in attempting to convince a battered spouse to get out of her situation. Do you think confrontation will work? Ridicule? Logical argument? No, you connect with the person and find out why they believe destructive behavior is necessary and suggest that perhaps there are better methods of achieving goals than to hurt yourself or others. Human connection wherein people attempt to *cooperatively* solve problems in the context of respecting themselves and others is how things get done. Especially if one of the parties has been damaged and needs help getting back to health.

Mark Davis's picture

Word, Alex.
The typical statist mind-set is one of denial when it comes to state violence, which is a tough nut to crack.  Violence is the essence of the state, certainly its modus operandi.  The most common excuse is that this is just "the way it is" or "everybody does it", so "What's your problem buddy?" is a typical response.  Invoking "reality" and/or the common acceptance of an obvious wrong seems to be enough for a majority of the population to support the state. 
I used to think that the near universal support for a monopoly on violence wielded by lying psychopaths was due to ignorance and/or stupidity, but I now believe it is largely due to the lack of self-reflection concerning core beliefs; beliefs that statists have been brainwashed into accepting as self-evident truths.  What started out as being duped by others thus evolves into a powerful case of self-delusion in order to cope with profound cognitive dissonance.  Arguing with people who see you as the enemy of all they hold dear will lead to a bunker mentality as opposed to enlightenment.  A closed mind can not be opened by truth and fact, much less logic.  And you are correct, Alex; life is too short to waste time on close-minded, self-deluded statists.

Jim Davies's picture

Well reasoned, Alex.  This is very compatible with the idea of the Freedom Academy; invite a friend to join, but if he declines break no sweat but just move on to the next friend and ask the first again next year. Eventually, attitudes change and a No turns into a Yes.

John deLaubenfels's picture

Right on target!  I watch for moments when a comment can be inserted, supportive of the goals of the other(s) present, gently suggesting that a liberty-oriented strategy might better achieve those goals.  There are still times when a brief confrontational denunciation is the most appropriate response, just to try to create a small crack in the cluless one's armor which might grow over time, but for the most part I find non-confrontation best.
Everyone has moments when they're susceptible to changes in their thinking.  When this happens, it's often clear, or at least hinted, to those they converse with.  We can't force those moments to happen, but when we become more adept at recognizing them, our persuasive time is better spent.
It's almost like wooing a member of the opposite gender (insert other options here): it does no good to cajole, or to throw up charts of numerical benefits.  The other must largely be left to stew, given just a hint of what the benefits might be.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

I'm naturally an argumentative sumbitch, so it should come as no surprise that I disagree with the post.

Firstly, it's possible to be persuasive in argument without simply browbeating or cajoling (although a good browbeating never hurt anyone);

Secondly, permitting ignorance to go uncorrected is a moral wrong (I do seriously believe this, for reasons that I might expand on later); and

Thirdly, there is the possibility (nay, likelihood) that even if your interlocutor is not convinced, someone else involved in the conversation is at least prompted to examine THEIR beliefs. "Collateral damage", but in a good way.

This last has happened more times than I can count (and I'm a pretty good counter) - including, but not limited to, members of my own family.

My view of the role of educated voluntaryists/anarchists/kratoclasts is similar to Dawkins' view of educated atheists: we are meme-spreaders, and we should feel no obligation to respect the 'right to comfort' of people who are absolutely and palpably wrong about something as important as the (falsely-claimed) right of the mob (and/or the State) to interfere with free men's lives.

In short, I favour *militant* 'anarcho-evangelism'; simply sitting by and permitting some dill to babble about how "people must be taxed so that the bins can be collected" or "we have to have .gov or marauders will rape us at the shops" is not an option.

Besides, the choice of starting point is always important: begin with the fact that the State represents a vast pot of unearned power and privilege, and that such vast pots tend to attract precisely the wrong sorts of people... you will get nodding heads almost irrespective of the ideology of your counterparty - and if you don't, then you're dealing with someone who is most likely an actual or would-be political apparatchik.

There is scarce man alive who has not felt the prickly end of the policy pineapple at some point in his life; furthermore, every man alive knows of some political scumbag who is the rightful object of scorn.

Oh, and fourthly (to deal with the point Jim Davies made)... I make it a point to try *not* to have any friends who are not anarchists (and atheists - the 'rationalist twofer'). I permit non-vegetarians to be my friends only as a result of 'legacy' considerations.

People who can blithely participate in needless suffering of any form, have no place asking me for money ('friend' has a narrow definition, to me: it is someone who has a 'call' on my free resources equivalent to a member of my own family - everybody else is just an *acquaintance* despite what Facebook calls them). I have nine friends, and that's plenty for anybody who takes their friendships seriously.

Glock27's picture

Generally I do not like you because of your abrasiveness, but what you have said here I believe is damned near perfect. Having 9 friends is quiet an accomplishment as most people, anecdotally, only have 3 at the most (true friends). I have no friends, only associates, that mostly because I choose it to be so.

KenK's picture

Sounds like a great plan if you're goal is to sink into utter irrelevance and marginalization. Pathetic. You can't convince anyone or gather any support at all, so your "plan" is to just stop trying? Really? I'm sure your snarky internet posted Open Letters to Phil Baruth is what caused him to withdraw the proposed AWB bill right Alex? You can always tell a libertarian, but you can't tell him much.

tzo's picture

+5: Attempts to engage author in debate about voluntaryism in response to an article about not engaging people in debate about voluntaryism.

Jim Davies's picture

Alex can answer for himself, Ken, but I didn't perceive that he suggested "stop trying." Rather, "stop confronting." Don't aggravate the prospect. This is basic salesmanship.
T-shirts, b-stickers, articles, letters to editors, posting on social media... all are good to stimulate thought, to disturb unexamined prejudices. Then at some point someone may connect, and a conversation begins. Marvelous! Run with it, as far as he wants to go. Provide info. Invite further study.
This year for example I've started posting "comments" on the on-line versions of a couple of major newspapers. A news item arises, and large numbers of mostly idiotic comments sprout up, parotting the statist line. So I'm trying to inject a thought-provoker here and there, sometimes with a link to an STRticle that bears on the subject.
So far quite a few of these have drawn hostile responses, which I try to answer softly, and occasionally a "Hmm, see what you mean" type of reply. My audience is the very large gallery, and my aim is to break up the hard ground and sow a little seed, which may sprout later. This particular environment is fast moving; large numbers view a page but only for a short time. So pithy comments are best. This one for example is far too long.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Without addressing anyone specifically, I will say this has been undoubtedly the most widely shared and vigorously discussed essay I have published on STR to date.  Thank you all, both supporters and detractors!  :-)  The funny thing is, I was at work on a completely different, longer piece, and wrote this one spur of the moment on a whim.  Just goes to show, you never can tell when you have a hit.  :-)

Glock27's picture

I knew it...I knew it...I knew it. The piece felt like it was quickly composed so as not to loose the juices of the idea. I am growing to loose my contentiousness regarding the Constitution especially since having started reading some of the Anti-federalist papers. I am anxious to a forward dialogue soon.

Southern Wolf's picture

I myself feel no need to try to change the minds of those who disagree; they have the freedom of choice to think as they wish, but so do I. Those who believe in the force of the state, be they Marxists, Communists or Nazis, not that there is a difference, are free to attend meetings of Idiots Anonymous if they feel the need of self-remediation and they can there be assigned a Recovering Idiot who will endeavor to prevent a resumption of idioholism in the Idiot In Remission.