These are three of the most common underhanded tactics used in debates.They come into play as an attempted deflection from the main argument that your opponent is usually losing and can no longer argue intelligently. If you watch out for them and keep bringing your opponent back to the original premise of the debate, your opponent will have no choice but to discuss the actual facts of the argument instead of trying to wiggle out of them.
1. Red Herring (Changing the subject)
"I should not be prosecuted for stealing songs off the internet. The internet is a free medium, and if you put your song there, expect it to be pirated. Isn't the internet free speech?"
This one- changing the subject and throwing your opponent off track - is used constantly. The attempt is to shift the focus from the individual who stole a song, to the bigger question of intellectual property on the internet. When you discover this attempt to change the subject and stray away from the main point, keep focused on the original question and keep coming back to it as many times as you need to without falling for another subject. This takes discipline with an experienced Red Herring expert!
2. Circular Reasoning (Using an unproven point to prove a point)
PRO: "God is real!"
CON: "How can you prove that God is real?"
PRO: "The Bible states that God is real."
CON: "So why should I believe what the Bible says?"
PRO: "Because God's hand wrote the Bible."
This fallacious, circling argument appears all the time in many different forms. Once you catch on to its deception, you can catch it quickly and bring your opponent back to reality and the authentic question, which is: Can you prove that God exists first, before using God as an answer? .
3. Straw Man (Oversimplifying the opponent's argument)
PRO: "Health care should be mandatory for everyone so that we all share the cost burden with Society."
CON: "This is a free country. No one can make me pay for anything. It‘s just another tax, and high taxes are what led to our recession. Do you want higher taxes?"
This oversimplifies the argument instead of getting into the details. The straw man is something that is easy to pound your opponent over the head with; "taxes, free country, the flag, nationalism, God and country, etc. This overstatement, that "no one can make me pay in a free country" only ignites passions and ignores the reality that we all pay in one way or the other depending upon national priorities. The argument should be about these priorities rather than a simplification. The term "Straw Man" originated with the idea of a fighter who set up a dummy (straw man) to fight, and easily knocked it over!
The best way to win an argument is to stay with the facts and not allow your opponent to stray off track by: Changing the subject, Using unprovens to prove a point, or Oversimplifying the argument so that it can be disregarded. Once you catch on to these deceptions, it's fun to watch your opponents squirm when you catch them in one of the fallacies.
There are many other fallacious debating tricks that religious zealots and political quacks, to name only a couple, use to confuse people. It's in your best interest to study these before you get into the fray. Otherwise, your argument may be sound, but you will be defeated by simple trickery.
Get educated about fallacious arguments, you will be pleased with the results.
Anagarika eddie is a meditation teacher at the Dhammabucha Rocksprings Meditation Retreat Sanctuary
www.dhammarocksprings.org and author of A Year to Enlightenment. His 30 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Thervada Buddhist monk. He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.