I am good at arguing
August 22, 2008 5:38 PM   Subscribe

I seem to be really good at debating. How can I use this "talent"?

I have a passion for debating. Whatever the topic is (excluding biology and related sciences, of which i'm 100% ignorant), I think I can "feel" when other people are afraid, have weak arguments, or are shocked by some obscure stats I pull from the top of my head. Being an analytic person, I seem to be able to use all this to my advantage and counter-attack with well-constructed arguments or a good sophisms, enough to win the discussion.

Question is: given that I am not a lawyer or a politician, but a computer scientist, how can I put this "talent" to good use?
posted by dcrocha to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Use it to climb the corporate ladder.
posted by mpls2 at 5:46 PM on August 22, 2008

Your local school needs a good debate coach, and if they already have one, they need an assistant coach. It may require a few Saturdays hanging out in high school cafeterias, but debate teams can always use volunteers who can spend time making sure the arguments are air-tight. Four years of high school speech and debate changed my adolescent life and taught me far more than high school classes ever did. The formats and the styles are all easy to learn, but what the debate community really needs is a return to the fundamentals of logical argument.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:11 PM on August 22, 2008

Learn humility. Prepare to lose. Prepare to win.

Read up on biology and related sciences - just in case.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 6:12 PM on August 22, 2008

Teach. I was into debate and Model UN and all that a lot, and I couldn't be happier than I am as a teacher. I teach English abroad, and pretty much the thing that makes me marketable is that I can produce and understand language and all the nuance behind it extremely well - skills I honed in

So much of teaching is convincing students to trust you, and convincing them that they can do whatever you've set out for them and more. As a person exceedingly good at manipulating (not just in a bad way!) language, you'd be excellent at both of these things.
posted by mdonley at 6:14 PM on August 22, 2008

I can produce and understand language and all the nuance behind it extremely well - skills I honed in these activities.

*dies of shame*
posted by mdonley at 6:15 PM on August 22, 2008

Best answer: You could find people on the internet who are wrong and win arguments with them.
posted by XMLicious at 6:30 PM on August 22, 2008 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Almost every person who thinks he or she is good at arguing is in actuality only good at being a dick. This may not apply to you, but it certainly applies to the people you will meet if you decide to cultivate your argumentative side.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:36 PM on August 22, 2008 [13 favorites]

Almost every person who thinks he or she is good at arguing is in actuality only good at being a dick. This may not apply to you, but it certainly applies to the people you will meet if you decide to cultivate your argumentative side.

Seconded. Make sure you are actually debating and not just being contrary to people who aren't interested in being your foil.
posted by qwip at 6:53 PM on August 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

I used to be the kind of guy who liked to argue, and thought I was good at it. People would often tell me that I should become a lawyer. I never knew whether it was a compliment.
posted by box at 7:18 PM on August 22, 2008

Start a blog.
posted by sixcolors at 8:39 PM on August 22, 2008

Best answer: Learn when not to use it. Know when it's important to let it go, even when the other guy is really wrong and you could totally school him.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:52 PM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Is there a social or political issue you care passionately about? If so, you could get involved and use your skills to act as a spokesperson and make a difference to a cause you care about. I'm a strong debater and public speaker, and so for several years in the '90s I did a lot of public speaking, media interviews, and debates on behalf of a couple of activist groups I was involved with, which was a very satisfying way to channel that ability.

Having said that, I'll second what Solon and Thanks says about learning when to use argumentative powers, and when to set them aside. The downside to being a spokesperson/activist was that I argued constantly in my day-to-day life; I debated coworkers, friends, and family about politics, movies, history, you name it. And it was tedious -- for them, and for me. It ratcheted my stress levels up in ways I couldn't see until I decided to stop arguing all the time, and I was amazed by how much calmer and happier I could feel. I also found that if I saved my arguments in my day-to-day life for times/issues that really counted, my point of view was taken much more seriously (because it wasn't seen as just me on yet another rant).
posted by scody at 9:24 PM on August 22, 2008

Seconding the brilliant comments above by Inspector.Gadget and Solon and Thanks.

Both are superb.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:29 PM on August 22, 2008

Start by understanding that you're probably not as good at it as you think you are. (Nothing personal, nobody is)

Then advance past "debate" and work on actually being persuasive. There's a vast difference between the two. After all, if the only person in the debate who thinks you're good at arguing is you, you've probably already lost.

Which is just another way of saying that getting a smug sense of accomplishment because you think you made better points than the other guy isn't really "winning". After all, who hasn't seen two people arguing, both of them annoyingly sure that THEY were, in fact, winning the argument... don't be that guy.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:49 PM on August 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

Question is: given that I am not a lawyer or a politician, but a computer scientist, how can I put this "talent" to good use?

By saving it for the very rare occasions when you can actually use it to make a positive difference. You really, really don't need to go around sensing peoples' fear and pouncing on their weakness with your superior arguments in your profession. It will probably get you into trouble if you overuse this wonderful talent.
posted by scarabic at 11:18 PM on August 22, 2008

I mean, really... prove me wrong.
posted by scarabic at 11:20 PM on August 22, 2008

If you are really correct, and you are a computer scientist, you should consider whether you want to move into university administration. In my limited observation bull-headed males with a talent for logic-based intimidation quickly rise up the educational management hierarchy.

Another angle is that a lot of politics is local and part-time - it isn't necessarily a vocation that need conflict with your day-job. However, it typically requires not just debate skills but the ability to forge relationships and broker compromises. If all you have is a killer instinct in debate you will not be a successful politician. (This is also true of lawyers and just about any field that ostensibly requires debating skills).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:46 PM on August 22, 2008

Choose one good cause that needs your support, then start researching and supporting it. Become one of the top 10 experts in the world on that topic. Depending on how things fall out, you might end up a politician of some sort (local council and up), maybe an online crank, maybe a think tanker, maybe an activist, maybe one of those experts who are always called when a television show needs an expert on something, maybe the author of important papers or books, maybe a weird guy to accidentally sit next to in a bar. Just be sure that the debate matters (there is a good and bad side) and that you argue for the good.
posted by pracowity at 1:21 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

pracowtity: Yes!

Honestly, you could be Richard Stallman. Who may be all sorts of things, but is also a genuine force for good in the world, largely if not wholly through an insistent unstoppable intransigent argument.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:55 AM on August 23, 2008

Ehh, I'd concentrate on learning how to listen to other people while you're proving them wrong. Not every person with something to say has written a book.

If you're concerned about "winning" in the sense of impressing people, I'm not the only person I know who is generally more impressed by the person who is listening and having a two-sided conversation than the one who is steamrolling over their "opponent" in the interest of proving themselves. If conversations were only about competing with facts and finding out who knew more about the subject we'd all be wasting time better spent in a library. Not that this is necessarily you. I'm just suspicious of sophisms.

Also: obscure statistics in casual conversation can't be fairly debated and those who know their subject material really don't need them. This doesn't apply to in-field arguments, but in a social setting that would be a red flag for me to "lose" that conversation. I'd know I wasn't really involved in a discussion.
posted by dosterm at 2:30 AM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Troll Metafilter
posted by falameufilho at 10:05 PM on August 23, 2008

You could make bank in patent law.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:15 AM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: Bite your tongue. Echoing the highlighted comments, winning the arguement (or debate, as you so diplomatically put it) doesn't mean you've convinced them of anything (except maybe that you like to win). Use your ample analytical talent to understand and help people, and they'll be more receptive than if you destroy their ideological world in a maelstrom of linguistic hail.
posted by argh!spiders! at 3:25 PM on August 26, 2008

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