There’s nothing wrong with arguing—sometimes I do it for hours on end—but even I can admit that there are limits. However, some young people are so passionate about arguing that they travel the country in organized teams for the sheer joy of quarreling. If you see one of these so-called “debate teams” coming, you should immediately run in the opposite direction, because otherwise you’re in for a headache. Imagine going out to eat with a debate team and watching them try to divide the bill. You listen to them carrying on about caloric intake formals and obscure tribal dining rituals for a couple hours before you finally just slap your credit card on the table and yell, “Here’s the money! I’ll pay for the fucking dinner, but you losers need to stop arguing for ten minutes!” But then five minutes later they’re arguing about where to go get ice cream.
Some people claim debate is different from mere arguing, and maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s much worse than arguing. When you argue, at least you believe in what you’re whining about. But debaters don’t actually agree with what they’re saying—they’re spiteful enough to ignore their own world view and argue any position they’re assigned. During competitions their objective is to take this arbitrary position and rattle off as much supporting evidence as possible to spread their opponent with verbal detritus, thereby overwhelming them and preventing them from responding to everything. Rhetorical trickery is the rule of the day, and sidestepping points, employing ad hoc fallacies, and setting up grotesque straw man arguments are all vital techniques. Then these debaters grow up to be lawyers and politicians and there’s no getting through to any of them. They argue the agendas of their constituents and campaign financers and corporate donors and you couldn’t uncover a genuine conviction if you scanned their brains with a black light. Maybe these people were ill-served by their debate teams. Maybe they should have joined listening teams.