In written debates between progressives and conservatives, one can often find accusations of ad hominem attacks. Merriam-Webster defines an “ad hominem” as “an attack on an opponent's character rather than … an answer to the contentions made.”
An ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy employed when one cannot or will not discuss the issue at hand; they can be seen in a majority of social media debates regarding politics or religion.
When asked about these tactics, most people will decry them, and claim that sticking to facts and reason is the way in which they engage in debate. However, the evidence seems to counter that assertion.
Right-wing social media is loaded with words like cuckservative, DemoRAT, libtard, and snowflake. On the other end, it's Repugnican, tRumpian, Republitard, and teabaggers. Not to mention all of the non-partisan insult words like wacko, lemming, loon, hack, idiot, radical, zealot, fascist, nazi, etc.
Read any comments section or social media post concerning politics and you'll see these words with alarming frequency. The problem with ad hominem attacks like these is that they make the user appear childish, unrestrained, and unintelligent. This impedes political discourse.
If one wants to persuade another that their political belief is unsubstantiated by the facts, or that it defies reason, calling them a libtard isn’t going to help. In fact, it's going to cause them to shut down, and go into defense mode.
There are those who will argue that because many progressives employ ad hominem attacks, conservatives have no choice but to engage in the same way; that we have to fight dirty if we want to “win.” But what is winning? If winning means making your opponent angry or upset, then insults are the way to go. However, if winning is showing people that what you believe is right, and persuading them to open their mind and think differently, then insults are the exact opposite of a good tactic.
We’ve been conditioned to see the world around us in terms of wins and losses, friends and enemies, but that mentality (of which I am frequently guilty) does not elucidate, nor does it persuade.
If we are to gain allies, we need to be better than those with whom we disagree. We need to reach out rather than slap down. There are several ways to facilitate dialogue rather than adversarial sniping.
One of the most frustrating things people do during political debates is interrupt. Cable news segments have become verbal turf wars, with people constantly interrupting their opponents, getting louder and louder. By the end of any given segment, no one has offered a persuasive argument because they didn't have the time to speak.
Listen to what your opponent is saying; allow them to express their entire thought. Then, calmly respond to their argument. This not only allows for a proper exchange of ideas, but it shows respect, which helps to create a mutual trust.
Rather than simply tell someone that their ideas are incorrect, ask them why they believe what they do. Generally speaking, progressives have only a surface-level understanding of their belief systems. As a result, they will often sputter when asked to unpack their dogmas.
Asking questions of someone with whom you disagree allows them the freedom to dismantle their own ideology. While it’s important to offer reasoned and factual arguments to back up your own perspective, it's equally important to ask questions because doing so forces your opponent to think critically about what they believe.
Stay Calm & Keep It Civil
Staying calm and keeping things civil are perhaps the most important tactics in political debates in which you want to persuade your opponent.
Becoming visibly irritated or upset can make it appear as though you are unsure of your position. Moreover, it can cause the individuals with whom you're speaking to shut down, or close themselves off to your ideas.
No one enjoys being called names or being told their ideas are “insane” or “stupid.” When debating someone, don't forget that they, like you, are a human being worthy of respect. This may seem obvious, but in the heat of battle, many people forget that their enemy isn't a monster to be slayed, but another human being who simply holds differing opinions.
Not everyone is on the same level when it comes to reasoned discourse; certain individuals are going to be less advanced than others. This lack of analytical skills is often a byproduct of the environment in which a person developed as a child and teenager. Some people are taught from a young age to think critically, while others are not. Don't allow this to act as a roadblock in a persuasive debate. Be patient and humane.
There are exceptions to most rules, and sometimes, arguments just devolve. However, if we want to gain allies rather than just piss people off, we need to adhere to certain patterns of behavior. It is possible to persuade progressives that their beliefs are not based in fact and reason, but we must be willing to set egos and ad hominem attacks aside.