When I was 8, my family moved from Korea to Australia. I didn’t speak English and often struggled at school because of it. Then I discovered debate in 5th grade and it changed my life. Now I’ve won two world championships for debate and had the opportunity to also coach debate. I wrote my first book, Good Arguments, which published earlier this month because I still believe in the power of fruitful and good debate—from improving a romantic relationship to negotiating a promotion. - 6/2/22 Boston Globe Feature and Review - 6/3/22 LitHub Interview with Andrew Keen on How Good Debate Can Save Democracy - 6/7/22 Books on Pod Podcast Interview - 6/14/22 Book Tour Event at Free Library of Philadelphia

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/8nqilz7ri2691.jpg

Comments: 462 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

Wondernautilus299 karma

Why is the political sphere so against good debates? Or should I say productive debates? The arena where it would be most efficient to drive forward good ideas is always instead scraping the bottom of the intellectual barrel. If good, legitimate, debate can't be seen or performed on a large and important level, haven't we fundamentally failed a functional democracy?

helloboseo405 karma

I agree with the premise of your last question. I argue in the book that good arguments are not only what good democracies do but what they are. The question about the sources of our present dysfunction is harder and I think there are many answers ranging from social stratification to misaligned incentives for social and legacy media. But the cause I'm most interested in is the loss of the skill of good argument—in the political sphere and beyond. The loss of those skills feeds into a crisis of confidence in our ability to argue, which in turn makes us more defensive and strident in argument.

Gordon_Explosion244 karma

I once attempted the risky "YOUR MOM" argument in a high school debate. Have you ever?

helloboseo333 karma

How did it go? I don't have 7-8 minutes of your mom material...

annasunweb214 karma

Thoughts on your fanpage justseoyouknow.com? 😆

helloboseo362 karma

I can't believe someone took the time to transcribe all those speeches—and I'm grateful to them; I used it to pull quotes for my book!

GDJT172 karma

What are your favorite and least favorite argument/debate scenes in film?

helloboseo290 karma

I love movies that unfold as conversations: recently, The Two Popes, Ex Machina, the sunset series with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. For an example of the kinds of arguments to avoid: Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach. The Great Debaters tells the terrific story of Melvin B. Tolson, which I also recount in the book.

HuBidenNavalny154 karma

This is more of a meta-debate question - how do you keep track of opponents’ arguments in a round? It seems you’re one of the least note-dependent Worlds debaters I’ve seen ever; do you flow what they say (and if so, in what pattern) or is it all mental?

helloboseo323 karma

I do flow but I think your question comes down to what it is that you are flowing. I try to listen to the opponent as if I were a member of the audience. What is likely cutting through? What could potentially sway me to side with them? Those are the parts that you need to focus your energy on.

b3njil129 karma

How did you discover that you were a Master Debater at such a young age?

helloboseo114 karma

Biology and instruction

cappy1223104 karma

Not really a question but a famous debate story/urban legend.

I went to Sidney Lanier Middle School and we were national debate champions for many years in the 2000s.

During a CX debate one of our team got fed up with the literal holier than thou attitude of his opponent and slipped in the point "I am God, supreme king and highest level of law and order". Then proceeded to ignore every opposing point made, waited till closing arguments to bring up that he was firmly established as an untenable fact for this debate.

He was awarded the winner, as the opponent had used faith-based 'facts', and the judge allowed that if his facts were admissible, then his opponent claiming to be the untenable deity that created those rules negates them.


helloboseo104 karma

Incredible that you were on a debate team with God!

widowdogood97 karma

How would you set up a presidential debate? Few in the US are happy with the current system, run by parties.

helloboseo440 karma

First, topics should not be as broad as "the economy" or "healthcare." They should be statements that highlight the difference between the two speakers—one person is for forgiving student debt, the other is against.

Second, speakers should have equal time to speak and should not be allowed to interrupt one another. Instead, they should get a turn after their opponent has spoken to respond. Remember how much better the 2020 debates got when the moderator switched off the mic for the person who was not supposed to be speaking?

Third, we as listeners should demand that speakers make actual arguments rather than winning 20-second ripostes that run across Twitter. Those "gotcha" moments may be exciting but they are deeply unfulfilling, undernourishing, which is why we reach for more and more extreme content.

helloboseo96 karma

I am back and will stay for as long as I can!

midflinx82 karma

What rules could a subreddit adopt to improve the level of discourse?

helloboseo203 karma

I write in the book about CMV — a really interesting community that gets a lot right. They have really strict rules about formulating arguments, avoiding personal attacks and rewarding genuine persuasion. For me, the most important rule might be that contributions have to stay on topic. Online debates tend to go awry when the particular debate becomes a proxy for broader ideological battles. But I also write in the book about the limits of legislating the rules of good disagreement. I think good arguments reside in the skills and values that people internalize and that there are limits to what we can do by fiat.

JeffRyan176 karma

What rhetorical techniques do you feel subjectively are most effective for you? (I promise I'm not trying to sell you a used car!)

helloboseo126 karma

I wouldn't know how to drive one! I argue in the book for the 3P's: proportionality (the language, gesture, and speech should not oversell or undersell the point that is being made), personality (they should give us a sense of who you are and why you care about this), and panache (putting in that little bit of extra attention and effort to crafting a line that is as precise, elevating, and stylish as you can manage—usually at the start or end of a speech). That last one tends to be the most subjective: I find myself using a lot of visual images to give abstract ideas some tangible form.

patienceisfun201869 karma

I heard a radio lab podcast about 5 years ago about the national debates in the US and how absurd it sounded to an outsider.

They would speak so fast it was incomprehensible, which seems entirely counterproductive to the purpose of the debate. Then they followed the team that actually won. They were gay black students who instead debated on inequality for every single topic and used slurs and screamed curse words the entire time. They ended up winning the whole thing, after going up against a young woman who cried the entire time during her chance in the final.

Is this really how debating is done on the highest stages? I can't tell you how silly it seems.

Edit:. Found it in case anyone is into auditory masochism:


Gemmabeta53 karma

Once you turn debating into a sport that is completely divorced from "reality" and any sort of realistic consequence people will be playing to the rules of the sport rather than the rules of reality (like what would work in, say, a legislative assembly).

It's like fencing vs an actual swordfight in battle. Trying to use fencing tactics in an actual swordfight and you will be dead, and trying to use fighting tactics in an Olympic fencing match and you'd be disqualified before you even start.

In the same way, competitive debating is basically a gamified parody of "rhetoric," both things have some surface similarities and historical grounding, but under the hood they are nothing alike.

helloboseo39 karma

I like this challenge a lot and it makes me think about the uses and limits of games. Debate is a form of play—an environment in which we experiment with ideas, exchange arguments and, in a competitive setting, pick winners and losers. That form of play can teach us skills that we can apply in the rest of our lives. It also gives us some room to move at a time when so many of our conversations feel stuck. That said, games have to end at some point. Debate is not the only way in which we should disagree and disagreeing is not the only way in which we should handle our differences. I think kids understand this instinctively. As a debater, you spend the whole day competing but when you get get on the bus back home you realize you have to find another way to talk to your opponents.

patienceisfun201813 karma

So what's the point of developing these skills then? To become an auctioneer? Seems like they would make a terrible lawyer.

helloboseo40 karma

I don't have a convincing defense of the speed talking. It was not a feature of the format of debate in which I competed. Maybe the best thing I can say is that kind of debate prioritizes heavy research and the presentation of many ideas and many arguments, which I suppose can be generative.

Asian_Domination_11 karma

In my opinion, this practice (spreading/speed reading) is being pretty poorly misrepresented by u/helloboseo and yourself in this thread. The first thing I would point out is that obviously audience is an important thing to consider in debating. But when a layman (for the sake of this context I mean anyone who isn't involved in competitive debate) thinks about debate they tend to be self-centered in thinking about audience. Especially in competitive debate, the "general public" is rarely the audience, it's the judge and the opponent. Spreading is legit when both teams are on the same page about it and in certain formats/regions it is the norm. It isn't always done in bad faith to "overwhelm" the opponent. Just to emphasize that, I'll point out that people do spreading drills in order to improve their enunciation at rapid speeds, and there is good spreading and bad spreading. When both teams and the judge(s) in a debate round are trained to be able to understand and spread correctly, this massively improves the quality of discourse that can be attained in the round simply because much more content can be addressed.

However, as I've stated, it's essential that this is done in good faith. It is true that there are some teams who treat spreading like it's a tactic to win the round, especially against those who aren't familiar with the practice. I assume that is what happened in the video you watched. Spreading is detrimental if it isn't done right. I will say, however, you would typically not achieve much success by doing that especially in a format where it isn't the norm, and against a team who is clearly unable to communicate in that manner. The judge would just have the same reaction that you did and vote against the bad spreaders if they were not able to understand it. Additionally, in certain formats (American policy debate for example) it's pretty much expected that you know how to understand and perform spreading, especially if you compete on the national circuits, so that might provide an explanation as to why they won.

Another common knee-jerk reaction to spreading is "this isn't useful in real world communication", but I would say they need to reframe their understanding about the goals of education. People say this about entire subjects too ("I'm never gonna use x y z that I learned in school in the real world"). In my opinion, in addition to developing communication skills, a main purpose of competitive debate is to train you to rigorously arrive at a conclusion as close to the truth as possible. When you view it from that perspective, it makes sense that spreading developed (once again, only in a minority of formats too) because it favors a type of communication that is much more focused on actual content/information (dialectic) than performance (rhetorical) and allows for a lot more depth in the process.

I hope this was helpful in giving a little more insight as to why speed reading is a thing.

helloboseo11 karma

Thank you for this insight. I agree that different formats prioritize different things—and it is to the strength of the debating community that it makes room for those differences. We probably disagree on our preferred settings but there's room for the sub-communities to learn from one another.

helloboseo34 karma

I think you're referring to two practices that feature in a format of debate known as policy debate. The first, known as the spread, involves speaking in rapidfire (faster than an auctioneer) in order to overwhelm one's opponent. The other, known as kritik, allows speakers to critique the institution or format of debate as a whole rather than advancing arguments within the discussion itself. I think there is some room for the second but question whether debate is the best place to do it. I can't think of any good justification for the first. I describe it in the book as an attempt to overwhelm rather than genuinely engage with the other side. A fascinating history, in any case, which I try to trace in the book.

helloboseo56 karma

I'm going to log off now. Thank you for the conversation!

Please do check out the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/677171/good-arguments-by-bo-seo/

I'll answer any remaining questions periodically so please feel free to post below.

helloboseo40 karma

I have to do a quick radio spot for 20 minutes or so but will return to answer remaining questions. Thanks for a terrific discussion so far.

Whalewhale9239 karma

I often find myself struggling to get my point across in my arguments, before being interrupted. Do you have any good tips on how to maintain the interest and attention of whomever I'm conversing or discussing with?

helloboseo51 karma

This is a wonderful question. I think we often lose the interest of our conversation partner when we don't know where they are starting from and what they are hoping to get out of the discussion. So it might make sense to start the disagreement with a more open-ended conversation that allows you to express and to hear where the two sides are coming from. Serial interrupters are, of course, different, and there I would advise: first, not speeding up your delivery to fit your arguments in the space the other side allots you and, second, reminding them it's a debate you want to have and not a verbal brawl.

Zoetje_Zuurtje29 karma

I didn't know competitive debating existed, but it sounds awesome! In your post you said:

Then I discovered debate in 5th grade and it changed my life.

What about debating changed your life? Is there anything you always do to prepare yourself for a debate? Where could you learn debating?

Sorry for the many questions, I'm really curious. :)

helloboseo85 karma

In so many ways but the biggest one: it taught me that disagreements need not be painful but that they can be revelatory, affirming, fun. I used to see the differences between me and my peers as a source of division and distance; now I think it can be the basis of more enriching relationships.

For preparation, I would say: learn the basic tenets of debate from the best coaches you can find, read, read, read, and never stop talking about what you read with those around you. You can do this at school but, as I try to show in the book, the opportunities to debate are everywhere in the world—from the workplace to the kitchen table.

meddwannabe8 karma

What do you read?

helloboseo30 karma

Newspapers—FT, WSJ, NYT—and magazines—The Economist, The Atlantic—and books, books!

Sriankar18 karma

By coincidence I just yesterday discovered you via the Intelligence Squared podcast. Great first impression! But, I'm having trouble finding exact information on your 2 championships. Can you specify what event and what league your championships were?

helloboseo21 karma

Thank you! They are a terrific organization.

World Schools Debating Championships: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World\_Schools\_Debating\_Championships

World Universities Debating Championships: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World\_Universities\_Debating\_Championship

Sriankar14 karma

Bo, why do you think the teaching of rhetoric/public speaking in high school and university has lessened in the past 50 years?

helloboseo30 karma

I canvas a few explanations in the book: the advent of printing and the rise of the written word, standardization of the education system, suspicion of hierarchical and classist notions of good language. I'm not sure this is the whole story but skepticism of rhetoric is nothing new—think Socrates' critique of Gorgias—but it is striking that these days when we say "rhetoric" we mean something like "mere rhetoric." This feels like a profound loss.

Sriankar14 karma

Sorry if I wasn't clear, but I'm wondering about the past 50 years. In the 70's and 80s, public speaking classes were much more prevalent. Then in the 90's, public speaking, rhetoric and communications programs started being reduced (in the US and Canada at least - don't know about Oz)

helloboseo28 karma

That's interesting. Maybe one factor is the demand for measurable educational outcomes and, relatedly, the pressure to cut costs. Something to investigate.

jessiefaith1711 karma

You're such an experienced debater and know how to make your arguments flow cohesively. How was writing a book on debate different? Was verbal or written expression harder/easier?

helloboseo13 karma

The biggest challenge for me was bringing myself and my story into the narrative (I promise I don't use the first-person nearly as much in everyday life!) Debaters learn to speak impersonally, as if they were handing down the objective truth. But of course our perspectives are limited. Our vantage point shifts every time we get in a car or a plane. So embodying the lessons of this book in the progression of my life and education was one big mental shift. Another thing I loved about writing the book is that unlike a debating speech or even a newspaper article, the length of the book allows you to give voice to your ambivalences, uncertainties.

idkm8011 karma

Hi Mr Seo! I have three short questions:

Firstly - how would you know if the sources you pull your points from are valid? For example, if the debate topic is something scientific, how would you differentiate science from pseudoscience/fake science articles?

Secondly, how do you overcome moral dilemmas? Is there ever a right answer to questions such as veganism?

Thirdly, what would you recommend to someone looking to generally improve their debating skills? I get that it's necessary to do research on the other side of the argument in order to understand them and debate them better, but is there anything else you'd recommend?

Thank you very much!

helloboseo18 karma

Those are wonderful questions.

  1. Fact-checking can be hard to do on the cuff and, for this reason, debate many not ideally lend itself to some scientific questions. If you're a non-expert like me, you will probably rely on the credibility of the journal or the authority being cited.
  2. I'm not sure you ever overcome moral dilemmas. But you can get to a resting place that feels true to your beliefs and you can, through the process of argument, come to a more textured, nuanced perspective. I think debating also teaches you to get used to the idea that you will sometimes change your mind!
  3. The best preparation and training for debate is to debate. That's both competitive rounds but also in conversation at home and with friends. I tend to think the best debaters are those who have spent the most time thinking about and engaging in debate... That's probably true of most things!

Nspector_Spacetime9 karma

At what point do you end an unresolvable debate with someone expressing an opposing view?

helloboseo14 karma

This is a hard question. In the book, I encourage people to check whether a disagreement is real, important, specific, and whether both sides are aligned in their objectives for wanting to participate in the conversation. When you notice that an argument no longer meets those criteria, you should start by trying to course-correct—for example, by bringing them back to the topic at hand—then suggest deferring the round until you can get to some amount of agreement about the conversation you want to have. If the impasse is truly unbreakable, then debate may not be the best form of engagement. You might have to switch to other modes such as negotiation.

SgtDoughnut7 karma

How would you deal with gish gallop?

helloboseo18 karma

I would focus on isolating a representative lie, showing why it is untrue, then explaining how it is representative of a broader strategy that the other side have taken to overwhelm you with misinformation.

Abraham-Stephen7 karma

I'm currently a high school debater in an NSDA district that was hit very hard after covid and is struggling to retain members and garner interest. The only really healthy school is quite a big one that is well funded and somewhat known for debate. What advice would you have for me to help grow debate in my community? As a rising junior, I almost feel a duty to help it grow. I'd love to build more interest and restore it to the size it once was, but I dont know how to get more people engaged with it.

helloboseo11 karma

I'm so glad to read of your interest. Rebuilding debate, which is really at its best face-to-face, after COVID is something I feel very invested in. One big advantage debate has is that it is a spectacle—though it sounds abstract and niche, people tend to "get it" once thy have seen it. So one starting place might be to do a demo round or to invite in speakers from the community or beyond who can demonstrate a debate. I would also reach out to folks in organizations like the NSDA and to the global debate community as a whole who have expertise in getting things off the ground. Once you start competing in a local league, news of your activities tends to spread.

evilfollowingmb6 karma

What are typical topics in a debate competition?

Do you think arguing with people online improves debating skills ?

helloboseo19 karma

It's hard to identify a typical topic but they mostly take the form "that we should [introduce an inheritance tax]" or "that we believe [eating meat] is immoral." Two key things there: first, every disagreement starts with an act of agreement about what the discussion is about, and, second, every topic has two sides—that is, it gives both sides room in which to stand.

I think some forms of online debate can improve debating skills but, on the whole, it is inferior to face-to-face conversation. In the latter, you get to see the other person in their fullness, are less likely to perform for a crowd, more likely to develop a relationship that is bigger and richer than any individual dispute.

RenterGotNoNBN3 karma

Do you think the culture of debate leads into a state where truth doesn't matter as much as a good argument?

When I moved to Aus i had a bit of a culture shock where people would 'debate' things like wind power in absolute terms.

helloboseo8 karma

That's a very rich question. I do believe that debate is a powerful engine for unearthing the truth and highlighting its advantage over falsehood: things tend to add up! But it also shows that the possession of truth and the ability to persuade others are separate things. So, as you note, being right or true is not sufficient to winning the argument. I think that's less a problem with debate than with our situation as people. Our grasp of the truth is always partial; the best we can do is compare notes, argue, and piece things together. And once we have grasped the truth, we have to go to bat for it.

ttubravesrock3 karma

  1. Do you think that the format of Intelligence Squared is a good debate format?

  2. Do you prefer the UK or US version of Intelligence Squared?

helloboseo5 karma

I do —in particular, the fact that they give people a proper chunk of time in which to speak, a rarity in a time of soundbites.

I like them both. One great asset on the US side is the moderator John Donvan, whom I spoke to recently: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tVGa-36Yh8&t=1554s

stu80183 karma

How does one recognize an informal vs formal logical fallacy?

helloboseo3 karma

I believe the distinction turns on whether the premise(s) of an argument are themselves unsound or whether they do not follow from one another. But you can usually diagnose an error—even if you don't have the exact vocabulary—by following your nose when you're alert to something fishy and answering the question "what has gone wrong here?"

LakersFan153 karma

Do you feel angry or annoyed when you argue with someone that lacks any factual evidence to back his/her statement like us normal folk?

How do you approach those situations? I.e. anti Vax or other controversial topics?

helloboseo3 karma

I do. The best thing might be to start with a preliminary act of persuasion. Explain to them why you want to have a discussion based on facts and evidence and why this, in the end, benefits them, too. Then, in the disagreement, try to get the other side to bring out their argument in full, to explain their perspective in its entirety. Often with misinformation and lies people trip up on their own tail.

Grammophon3 karma

How do you avoid getting emotional or hot headed in a debate if the topic is a pet peeve of yours? And related to this, do you think the art of debate is getting lost in part because people are getting used to have angry word fights online?

helloboseo9 karma

I try to remind myself why I am having the debate in the first instance. The answer to that changes; sometimes it's to find the truth, other times to persuade. But anger rarely helps. So it's less about avoiding anger than trying to find some positive purpose for engaging in the argument.

I do think the forum or channel of debate affects the quality of the conversation—and our attitudes towards disagreements.

huhwhuh3 karma

How do you keep your cool when debating someone who just lacks basic logical reasoning? And when all else fails, they accuse you of being discriminatory. I get so mad that i can't think straight anymore.

helloboseo8 karma

First, before launching into an agreement, seek consensus on what you're going to argue about —not motives, discriminatory or otherwise, but substantive positions—and how you're going to have the argument—through the presentation of logical arguments.

Second, bring people back to those baseline rules and don't be afraid to defer the conversation until the other side is willing to engage in an actual debate.

Jonodrakon32 karma

What are your thoughts on Lincoln/Douglas debate?

helloboseo9 karma

There's a lot to admire and I think it's one of the more rigorous forms of debate at the high school level. I personally would have missed the teamwork aspect of the parliamentary format.

Cocomanius2 karma

In your opinion, what are the best books for studying/teaching academic debate?

I've used Winning Debates by Steven Johnson and The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie in my classes, but I've been told they're quite outdated.

Also, what do you think is the best way to motivate a debate team members to never miss sessions and practice more? I tend to struggle having to persuade the members to attend and it makes me feel frustrated.

helloboseo4 karma

I am contractually obligated to nominate Good Arguments! It really is the book I wish I had as a young debater.

Some ideas on the second: first, exhibition debates can give people a flavor of the activity; second, giving students a chance to compete in front of their classmates is often appealing; third, and I only started doing this in writing the book, showing some of the ways in which the lessons of debate can help them in their everyday lives—at school, on the playground, etc—can give them a sense that debate is not some esoteric activity.

bobmcpop2 karma

What were your favourite books that you’ve learnt debating from?

YoyoLiu3142 karma

What’s your opinion on the state of policy debate? Spreading, slam poetry, theory shells, etc.

helloboseo3 karma

I am not expert in policy debate. As an outsider, I admire the meta-analysis of debate and its limits but think there's also room for just engaging in the argument! I am not a fan of spreading for the reasons described below, though a policy debater has made thoughtful counterarguments (also below).

jasonchan5102 karma

  1. What are your thoughts on the idea that debate as a sport is made to be "fair", either side can win. Even though some debates aren't meant to be fair?

  2. What have you learned from debate that could make the world a better place?

2a. What is used in competitive debate that isn't used enough in real debates?

2c. What have you seen in competitive debate that is used in real life debate but you would like to see it disappear?

helloboseo3 karma

  1. This is a challenging question. I think some questions are not appropriate subjects for debate in some settings (e.g. debating flat-eartherism on a major news channel) because it creates the perception there are two sides. That said, the fairness of debate is, in most instances, an extraordinary virtue. Where else in the world do we give people a truly equal opportunity to be heard?

  2. That loss is inevitable and the wins temporary; but that the rewards of a continuing conversation are long-lasting.

  3. Side Switch: the practice of coming up with the best arguments for the opposing argument, or combing through your own arguments through the eyes of an opposition.

  4. Parties

CalmAndSense2 karma

How do your debating skillz translate to real life? Do they help or hurt?

helloboseo5 karma

Debate illuminates some of the physics that underlie our disagreements. How do arguments work? What's the best way to dismantle an opposing argument? How do we use words and gesture and voice to persuade others? How do we pick our battles in a disagreement? Debate provides one set of tools on each of these and more.

A proper understanding of debate also helps us acknowledge its limits. The debate community contains both the pathologies and virtues of a community that embraces dissent, disagreement, and difference. The same format that celebrates open-mindedness opens itself to lies, that embraces spectacle feeds the appetite for aggression. So we have to be able to see both sides.

benoitbenoit2 karma

Thank you so much for this excellent AMA! As far as I know, the study of rhetoric and debate comes from the classical Western world. Broadly speaking, which principles of arguments hold globally and which are constructs where the Western world has “agreed” is how debates should operate most productively? Asking as someone who works with people of many different cultural backgrounds and would like to improve at productive argument.

helloboseo6 karma

This is a wonderful question and I hope to learn more as the translations of my book come through. In the research for this book, I found that rhetoric and argument have a foundational role in many traditions, from the origins of political pluralism in India (Amartya Sen's Argumentative Indian is great on this) to Buddhist and Talmudic religious traditions. There are some baseline similarities—many of the traditions seem to note, for example, that disagreements are two-faced, that they have the capacity to be used for good or for ill—but I'm sure there are productive differences, too. There's also a question on the format of disagreement we should use when we disagree across argument cultures and that seems to me a worthy question in our time.

griiven2 karma

How you organize your mind and thoughts when doing a debate?

helloboseo3 karma

In the book, I present a 4-part structure for coming up with arguments: what, why, when, and who cares? The first "what is the point?" helps me the most to stay on track. Always be clear on the destination of the argument. Where do you want the listener to be at the end of this point? If you have the goal in mind, the pathways there can be multiple.

Devjorcra2 karma

My only experience with debate was debating at the high school, non-competitive level. As someone who wants a future in politics, is there value for me seeking out competitive and collegiate level debate organizations?

helloboseo3 karma

I believe so. Competition sharpens a lot of the skills you would have already learned and I think college is an ideal time to test out lots of different beliefs.

Sriankar2 karma

I listened to 2 interviews with you yesterday: Intelligence Squared and Aspen Institute. In one (can't remember which), you spoke of the problem of discourse being that we don't argue well, and the solution being that we should speak face to face. But I must ask you your opinion on the role of verbal violence (bigotry) in the silencing of people who, like yourself as a new immigrant to Australia, remained silent to avoid verbal, or perhaps physical, violence.

tl;dr - is the problem our debate skill or the bigotry?

helloboseo7 karma

Thank you for listening to those programs. Bigotry is a problem that debate alone cannot solve and, as you note, one of its pernicious effects is to dissuade people from engaging in conversation. But I would note two things. First, bigotry and prejudice proliferate when they foment in echo chambers without challenge. It is incumbent on all of us — and not just the potential victims of discrimination— to call out and refute such claims. Second, and more broadly, I think we need to decide what kind of conversation we want to have as a society about our differences. Do we want a shouting match or do we want a debate? What I am hoping to do in this book is to channel our disputes into the latter—a structure that gives us the best chance of hashing out our disagreements.

helpfuldan2 karma

Sorta random, but does I think weaken the power of your message? As in suggest uncertainty? Or does it lessen the chance someone feels like you’re lecturing them?

helloboseo4 karma

I'm not sure you would use it in every context but nowadays I am all about acknowledging ambivalence and uncertainty. It makes the moments when you are actually sure stand out!

BreakfastDependent352 karma

How do you improve your speaking voice?

helloboseo17 karma

As a general rule of thumb, I think people tend to talk too fast, especially in situations where they are nervous. People also overestimate the amount of variation when they slow down or increase volume or change pacing—and, as a result, undercorrect. So I would experiment with lots of different speaking styles, sometimes within the course of one speech, maybe record or have a friend listen, and see what adjustments you might want to make. There is of course a limit to which you can "fake" it—so it has to be natural— but I do think it is something you can work on.

Snoo_910572 karma

What are the manipulative techniques that debaters know/dont know that they use?

helloboseo12 karma

I diagnose four main ones in the book—twisting, dodging, wrangling, lying. To take wrangling, as an example, we can easily fall into the habit of saying "no" without ever offering a positive argument of our own. At some point, we have to force ourselves up from the critic's repose in order to progress the conversation; and, when we're faced with a wrangler, we should always ask: "so what's your solution?" "what alternative would you propose?"

cory1402 karma

Do you get worked up? Can you feel your heart race? Passionate ? Anxiety?

helloboseo5 karma

I do

Human-Arm-65382 karma

What makes someone a world champion debater? What did you do to win that title?

helloboseo4 karma

In my case, winning the World Schools Debating Championships (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World\_Schools\_Debating\_Championships) and the World Universities Debating Championships (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World\_Universities\_Debating\_Championship)

orchidlake2 karma

Any tips on how one with basically zero debating skills could keep up with someone that made it their life purpose to discuss their (potentially toxic and damaging) ideologies? Or is there any way to argue "against cold hard facts" like statistics that are used for said ideologies (e.g. STDs apparently being more common for homosexuals which was used to argue that Homosexuals shouldn't exist)? It's incredibly taxing for someone with no debate experience to try to show someone their views are toxic or offensive against someone that will just pull up "non-judgmental facts" and has spent what feels like their entire life on digging their claws into their ideas...

helloboseo6 karma

I understand the concern and, in fact, I don't know how I would fare against a professional brawler of the sort you describe. That said, I don't feel helpless to enter into such disputes. In the book, I go through from the ground level how to identify the topic of a disagreement, build arguments, and, for our purposes, repel common tactics used by bullies in bad-faith disagreements.

F1Asher_0012 karma

What is your favourite type of debate? WSDC, British Parliamentary, American Policy, Presidential Debate, etc.

Also, how do you as a speaker deal with "Whataboutism" as an argument from the opposing side?

helloboseo5 karma

I'm a parliamentary guy. It's a tradition that, despite its name, grew out not of the rarefied halls of parliament but of the pubs and coffeehouses that emulated its procedures and debated the pressing issues of the day in raucous fashion. That's the kind of debate I love: one that feels enmeshed in the fabric of everyday life.

The best strategy in response to whataboutism is to stay the course on the original argument. Point out that they are changing the topic and that we can return to that point at a future time, after they have engaged with the discussion at hand.

globaloffender2 karma

I get heated in arguments. Any advice to remain composed?

helloboseo3 karma

I take three deep breaths before going into any debate. Once inside, try to take turns (so no interruptions), avoid distractions (ad hominem attacks, included) and focus on your purpose for wanting to engage in the conversation.

Newtracks12 karma

Has the science/sport of debate maybe evolved too much ( as in people are now just too skilled at debating itself ), to the point where arriving at a conclusion, or deciding on a course of action in regards to virtually anything is extremely difficult ( especially in the political arena )?

helloboseo4 karma

That is a very interesting idea but I personally don't think so. My read of our public conversations—especially in the political arena—are that they are full of guff and hot air and emoting, but that they lack the substance of genuine argument. That's why they feel, in addition to everything else, so unsatisfying.

Requires-citation2 karma

Why do you have 2 books? The art of disagreeing and good arguments ? Are they the same book?

helloboseo3 karma

Same book! The Art of Disagreeing Well is the UK title.

Star_x_Child1 karma

Is there any one time that sticks out to you where your debate skills turned the tide or deescalated a dangerous confrontation or impending altercation that you were involved in?

helloboseo1 karma

The examples that come to mind are arguments with close friends and relatives. Counterintuitively, these disagreements tend to be some of the hairiest because we presume the other person will agree with us, and that they should, in some sense, get us, regardless of how we express ourselves. I found that actually naming the disagreement at hand and forcing on ourselves the discipline of making good arguments deescalated what would otherwise have become unruly exchanges.

ravinggoodbye1 karma

What are your thoughts on the COVID vaccine?

helloboseo13 karma

I am grateful for the shots I have received!

BatFace1 karma

My husband says when we disagree in a discussion, even if we keep it civil, it is an argument. That it can't be a debate unless we follow official debate rules.

Do you think people can casually debate? Amateur debate?

helloboseo2 karma

Yes, I do, and one of my priorities in writing this book was to make the lessons of debate transposable to everyday disagreements. What we call the conversation is probably less important than the rules and values we agree to uphold. So I would focus less on the label than on finding agreement about the kind of conversation you want to have.

lessFrozenHodor1 karma

What's the personal attack against a fellow debater you're most proud of?

helloboseo3 karma

Those bring me only shame

TheGreatGanarby1 karma

Do you have imposter syndrome?

helloboseo2 karma

Less so on debate these days...

Jassida1 karma

Do you follow the flat earth debates?

helloboseo6 karma

I do not

[deleted]1 karma


helloboseo4 karma

I generally find reading lists hard to follow because the motivation to read is hard to muster when the books have been imposed from the outside. Better to follow your nose and go down rabbit holes: you'll find each book points to something you don't know and want to investigate.

That said, I mostly read major newspapers, the FT, WSJ, NYT, as well as magazines such as The Economist and the Atlantic, to prepare for debates, then took deep dives into individual topics as needed. I did a reading list for The Atlantic, which gives you some of my picks: https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2022/06/debate-book-recommendations-good-arguments/661153/

I would also say read fiction! Storytelling and turns of phrase make a big difference.

SchnizzleDizzleDoo1 karma

Would you agree that humans inability to have debate without feeling personally attacked is fundamentally our greatest failing?

helloboseo1 karma

We have many failings but this is one of them. The involvement of the ego has a lot of uses—it spurs performance, and encourages us to invest our time in the difficult work of disagreeing—but unless managed it can make us prideful and our arguments unresolvable.

Listlessly-lost-1 karma

Could you put in your words, why I was constantly asked to join the debate team but no one on the debate team like me debating anything?

helloboseo2 karma

I cannot because I don't know you!

InappropriateTA-1 karma

Have you considered changing your name (or stylyzing it or going by the nickname) Bose-O, pronounced Bozo (like the clown)?

That way, if you win a debate people can always say that your opponent “lost to that Bose-O.”

helloboseo1 karma

I'm training to be a lawyer so maybe I will use it in court...

Gawdsauce-3 karma

Would you say you're a Master Debater?

helloboseo5 karma

There is regrettably a thread on this above.

BeardRAD-5 karma

Could one say you were a "master"debater...?

helloboseo4 karma

Yes many people have said this on this thread.