Political Debate is Inherently Corrupt

Political debate is conducted in mutual bad faith, and I’m not just talking about the general malicious intent.   There is a specific structural pattern to bad faith debate:  while the honest debater moves toward premises, the bad faith debater actively flees from premises.

Good faith debate, like you might have with a friend, is a search for the logical point where the two views divurge. If the friends can identify the node where they part, they can move upstream, as it were, to work directly on it instead of indirectly through their discordant downstream conclusions. Their work will yield agreement efficiently and quickly. Because, after all, what they want is agreement. Neither has a conflict of interest. Each is eager to expose his own premise to critique.

Good faith arguments proceed in retrograde: from assertion “backwards” to premise, and this same movement repeatedly, to deeper premises. Soon, agreement gets easier. It’s a search for agreement, and it honors the opponent.

Bad faith argument drives in exactly the opposite logical direction. Each speaker seeks to insulate, rather than expose his premise, and he seeks to trap the opponent in his static assertion and prevent him from moving retrograde toward his own premise. Neither speaker, of course, actually wants agreement. What each wants is victory. So you have two minds at work, each with a severe conflict of interest.

It’s tempting to say that the audience insults its own intelligence by subjecting itself to this. But most of the audience is corrupted already, to the degree the politics of a nation is a struggle over whose money will go to whom.

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