A communist’s guide to debating with ideological opponents: reactionary, liberal, and anti-communist leftists
Recognize that debate is a form of ideological conditioning. Never think that what happens on twitter doesn’t matter. Every experience we have in life shapes who we are.
The average person does not spend much time debating ideas with those outside their own ideology; these conversations and debates are important and affect our thinking. The audience is always far greater than just the other person
Try not to label the other person, because labels like conservative, reactionary, liberal, etc., are all highly contested and don’t usually mean that much to the other person. Focus on what they are saying and where it leads
If a person is against universal healthcare, for example, point out that even in a rich nation like the US, lack of access to healthcare kills tens of thousands of people a year (pre-pandemic), and ask, what is your proposed solution to this problem?
“Letting people die doesn’t feel like an option to me” is usually better than “you callous murderer”
Remember that you represent Marxism / socialism / communism to some extent, so try to conduct yourself with honor. To me that means you try to seek common ground and avoid cheap shots
Don’t forget that every conflict -- from a debate on twitter to a physical fight -- causes the same activation of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) and this is stressful. Consider whether or not you have the emotional energy for it right now
Sometimes self-care means walking away from a fight
Try to de-escalate where possible
Refrain from insults if possible. If you are insulted, remind the opponent that insults don’t help, but actually weaken, their case
Use humor; sometimes a joke is the only response to the absurdity of a person’s ‘argument’
Sometimes you get further by asking questions than by demolishing a person’s points. People have to figure things out themselves, and asking questions can be disarming
Do not take it as your responsibility to provide the person with links to articles, videos, peer-reviewed journals, etc. These will inevitably fail to be read / understood. However, if you have them handy, post them, because others observe and might be helped by them
You will, in general, not change someone’s mind. You can give someone things to think about, and we know that a small % of people do change their views, but it’s a gradual process. Do not expect to get credit
The US education system is weak in terms of teaching respectful debate, so not many people have any sort of training in constructing an argument and disagreeing respectfully.
People get offended, then angry, then spin out into personal attacks, which are mostly imaginary projections.
Peoples’ grasp of systematic thinking about society and the economy is similarly weak. We have been trained and encouraged to uplift our own personal, anecdotal experiences as the ultimate standard, and this does not provide any basis for evaluating society.
This is why overblown narratives about grandparents who fled Cuba or the USSR or questions like ‘why don’t you move to Venezuela if you love socialism so much’ are often seen as the ultimate shutdown, when in fact they mean very little and do not constitute any sort of argument.
I could easily reply that my own grandfather died from lack of access to healthcare under capitalism, and then we’d be deadlocked by this absurd standard
I personally do not waste much time with the truly reactionary, unless it is either entertaining or I feel there is something to be learned from it. Some do, and that’s fine. Liberals I will occasionally interact with.
I like talking to leftists, because I feel that is where communism most easily takes root, and there is often plenty of common ground in terms of policies
If you are going to get into debates, remember that there is the mute button and the block button, and these are fine to use. You do not owe anyone a response to anything on twitter, and not responding does not mean you have lost an argument.
I hope you will use these ideas only for good, and never to see through my own arguments
Like everyone else, I am learning -- if you comb through my replies, you’ll find lots of places where I have fallen short of these principles, and I’m sure I’ll fall short in the future, so never think that I have it all figured out :)

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More from @asatarbair

20 Nov
Who is the working class? A thread on Marxism and class theory.
In the wake of the election, accusations are going back and forth about which party is focused on the working class and which party is ignoring the working class.
These debates are unfolding as though everyone has the same definition of the working class, when that is far from the case.
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How will the left do under a Biden administration? A thread.

The last election was, more than any other, a referendum, albeit incomplete, on socialism in the US. 1/x
The reason for this, of course, is Bernie Sanders. No one has managed to put forth such a serious challenge to the Democratic primary running as an openly socialist candidate in the last hundred years.
Bernie’s run in 2016 shocked the Dem establishment, and his nomination was barely avoided by the dirty tricks of the DNC (such as the throwing out of ballots in NY)
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It's not just 'material interests', but the perception of those interests. Trump also advances an oligarchic agenda which is harmful to the working class, but a large segment of them see Trump as their champion due to his projection of 'traditional values', i.e. racism,
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Any threat to these values is seen as profoundly emasculating, a connection made explicit through propaganda such as this stump speech by Pence:
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4 Nov
Smart political campaigns run on values, not facts or logic. Values create an emotional connection. Trump expertly targets the values of much of rural America: full-throated patriotism, pro-military, pro-patriarchy, pro-Christianity, pro-good old boys... the 'traditional values'
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(I guess in my sadness I'm putting on my official pundit voice. I had hoped for better)
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Do you need to read theory to be a communist? No, of course not. Being a communist is an honest, natural response to the brutality of capitalism and the feeling deep in your bones that there is a better way. What theory can do, is help you articulate things
You can learn that there's a long-established discourse for most of what you'd thought of as your deepest and most revolutionary ideas, which is useful
You can learn that people have tried to put these ideas in practice, and that the history of these efforts is complex and at the same time highly ideological
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A truly crappy article that fails to grapple with the actual history of any socialist country. Pure propaganda, but influential nonetheless. Point by point takedown to follow
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(2) Not "Pure" socialism -- the author rightly dismisses this argument, but fails to mention that actually existing socialism has some might accomplishments, including massively increasing well-being by every indicator measured by social science, from life expectancy to GDP pc
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