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How to Win at Arguments

- BEGINNER -

CRITICIZE THE TIMING OF THE ARGUMENT

This clever ploy distracts your opponent by forcing them to focus on something they can do nothing about, instead of the problem they initially complained about.

The trusty standby is “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” or “Why am I just hearing about this now?” but feel free to lay it on a little thicker: “You could have brought this up before I moved all the way to Iowa with you six years ago.”

If you can imbue the current time frame with an emotional significance that implies your opponent should have been especially considerate of your feelings on that day, that’s also helpful: “I can’t believe you want to talk about this on Arbor Day.”

People are always choosing the absolute wrong time to bring up your flaws; any caring human being would have the decency to wait until you were in the mood to hear that you’ve fucked something up. Encourage them to remedy their infraction by building a time machine, a laborious and consuming task that will leave no time for conflict, nagging, or snide quips about your inability to shower regularly.

FEIGN AMNESIA

You can’t be guilty of what you don’t remember. Who knows whether that statement is logically true or not, but it sounds good, like something someone would put at the bottom of a movie poster depicting Jason Bourne and some explosions.

When faking amnesia, it’s important not to seem incompetent or dysfunctional, as that might cast you in an unfavorable light as an unreliable historical witness. A simple, but elegant way to sidestep such a pitfall is to pretend it is completely absurd to be expected to recall a dead-baby joke you may or may not have made in front of a certain someone’s parents at the dinner table twenty-four entire hours ago.

Accuse your opponent of holding grudges, keeping score, or any other activities that associate a clear factual recollection of historical events with petty spite.

SIMPLY PUT: LIE

That screaming call to your wife from your mistress? Wrong number. That $500 you spent on shoes? There’s obviously a decimal point missing on your credit-card statement.

Lying is such an obvious antidote to reality that some people foolishly forget it even exists. It’s also perfectly legal unless you’ve been sworn in by a bailiff or are provably damaging someone’s livelihood or reputation. No one ever said anything about criminalizing your ability to lie in your own damn kitchen, which is one of the thousands of inalienable rights America’s troops continue to so bravely fight for, probably.

Free yourself from the shackles of the truth; they’re only holding you back in your thundering charge toward victory. Square your shoulders, stand up tall, look your opponent in the eye, and say bravely, “I have never seen those panties before in my life.”

ESCALATE THE DRAMA WITH A META PLOT TWIST

Oh, someone is angry at you? Dazzle and confuse your opponent by getting angry at them for being angry.

If your partner is a dignified individual, your willingness to embarrass yourself with this ploy can only be advantageous, like a magical trapdoor that cuts right through the hard deck of tactical engagement. They’re hurt and horrified that you emptied the checking account? Well, you’re even more hurt and horrified that they suspected you enough to snoop through bank statements when you hadn’t ever once given them any reason not to trust you that they could confirm with 100% certainty at that particular point in time.

Ensure that your wishes are respected in the future by reminding them that it makes you really upset when they criticize you and that you’ve asked them repeatedly to stop doing it. If you own any fire hoses or tasers, consider augmenting your request with aversion therapy.

- INTERMEDIATE -

BLAME THE OTHER PERSON FOR YOUR ACTIONS

Your partner should love you, trust you, and continually monitor you for misbehavior, correcting you immediately and boldly should an unfavorable tendency arise, instead of just letting you do what you’re doing like some kind of pussy.

Remember: Anytime anyone lets you get away with anything for any length of time before starting lame arguments, that person has essentially acted as your accomplice, and everyone knows that the only thing worse than a jerk is someone who puts up with a jerk.

Make sure you remind your opponent of his or her failing in this regard with comments like “You should have pulled me aside and explained to me that you don’t enjoy being humiliated and degraded at dinner parties,” or “Look, no one made you go on a police chase with me” and “Well, I don’t remember anyone knocking any guns out of my hand back at the liquor store.” For emphasis, never forget to add, “I’m not a mind-reader.”

ASK FOR EXAMPLES AND THEN CRITICIZE YOUR PARTNER’S GRUDGY, GRUDGY MEMORY

This is an especially clever one-two punch of strategy. The beauty of this tactic: If your opponent refuses to honor your request for past instances of this “pattern” of bad behavior they’re claiming, their accusations seem baseless and unjustified. If they do honor your request for examples, they can be painted as unreasonably bitter and resentful people who tally up your every mistake to be used against you later.

This move was probably invented by Chuck Norris; it’s that triumphant.

“Name one time I murdered any of your friends and buried them in the basement,” you can say adamantly, and the minute they take the bait, that’s your cue for sarcastic jokes like, “What, you’re the district attorney now? Got an entire legal brief all filled out, do you? Excuse me — I didn’t realize we were in a court of law!” [Note: Does not work in an actual court of law.]

PRETEND YOU WERE JUST ABOUT TO CRITICIZE THEM FOR SOMETHING EVEN WORSE

“I’m glad you brought up my lack of punctuality,” you can say, leaning forward in your chair and pulling off your glasses for emphasis, “because I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your halitosis, which smells way worse than my lack of punctuality.”

If they say something like, “Can we stay on topic? I was trying to talk to you about how late you were for my mother’s funeral,” answer sarcastically, “Oh, so we’re just going to talk about what I do wrong? How convenient.”

AGREE ENTHUSIASTICALLY … AND VERY MELODRAMATICALLY

Nothing confuses an opponent like wholehearted agreement: “You’re right. I guess that sometimes, I do leave the little foil cap from my yogurt container on the countertop until it curdles. I guess I’m the worst spouse in the entire world. I guess maybe I should just give myself twenty hangnails or slam my face in a door a thousand times. I guess you deserve somebody better than a pathetic loser like me. I don’t even know why you’re still here. Maybe you should just leave.”

Your annoyed opponent will reflexively attempt to disagree with you … which they can only accomplish by telling you that you aren’t so bad after all! Abracadabra, motherfucker.

APOLOGIZE … BUT FOR THE WRONG THING

Not everyone is a careful listener. Try your luck with a bait-and-switch apology, like, “I’m sorry … that I’m not perfect,” or “I’m sorry … that you’re a nitpicking whore.” Mumble the last few words if necessary. For extra style points, throw in the mind-bending “I’m sorry my apology isn’t good enough for you.”

- ADVANCED -

LISTEN

Review your internal footage and realize that you, without fail, assume you are right. Recognize the alarming uniformity of this assessment. Consider the problem at hand, which likely represents a minor cultural, philosophical, or personality difference, and suggest solutions. Form a plan of action, and thank your partner for being candid and for caring enough to work on this relationship with you. If the cultural, philosophical, or personality difference does turn out to be major, you should probably break up and find someone who agrees with you on the important things, so you can be happy in your relationship.

Downsides include a lack of claim to victimhood, the painful acknowledgment of personal flaws, and limited opportunities for theatrical flair.

- IF ALL ELSE FAILS -

THREATEN TO KILL YOURSELF

It’s a bit of a non sequitur, sure, but when you think about it, suicide is the ultimate tantrum, and its advantages are legion.

For starters, dead people can’t lose arguments, so your opponent is likely to feel threatened by your guaranteed (if costly) victory.

Second, your threat to kill yourself will convince the other person that you care a whole lot — that this is not just a relationship that’s important to you, but a relationship worth dying for. Meanwhile, their caring for you will cause them to fight even harder for the life you are so selflessly abandoning in the name of love. It’s like a Catch 22 of caring, and logic puzzles like that can keep people conveniently and frantically occupied all night long, you sly dog.

If you’re the type to fling yourself to the linoleum and sob, railroad tracks are the logical choice. For a more sophisticated poetic metaphor about being pushed over the edge, any tall structure will suffice.

Staplers should only be used as a last resort.

8 Comments

  1. Sharla wrote:

    Abracadabra, motherfucker.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Jim wrote:

    I aspire to advanced argumentation, but sure wish I could find a way to still inject a little theatrical flair. Humility is just too subtle otherwise.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 3:59 am | Permalink
  3. jeci wrote:

    This is all one big passive aggressive treatise because you’re secretly mad at me about the way I get mad when you’re mad. You think I can’t tell, but I can.
    (Also: <3)

    Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Sid wrote:

    Damn, now you’ve got me wondering whether my husband actually forgets what he said 30 minutes ago or whether he’s just a much better arguer than I am.

    Friday, December 2, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  5. muskrat wrote:

    This is exactly what they SHOULD have taught me in law school.

    Friday, December 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  6. Christine wrote:

    The lie tip reminds me of the Depeche Mode song Policy of Truth:
    “You’ll see your problems multiply if you continually decide to faithfully pursue, the policy of truth…”

    Friday, December 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  7. Will Sargent wrote:

    Reminds me of this:

    http://issendai.livejournal.com/572510.html

    Monday, December 5, 2011 at 12:36 am | Permalink
  8. Sadly, a lot of this reminds me of my dad. He’s a wonderful man in many ways, but…emotionally, he’s about four years old half the time.

    I’m now going to be looking for situations in which to use the phrase, “Abracadabra, motherfucker.” Also, I kind of want to paint it on a mug for you. Interested? It would be a gift. :-)

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink