Notes On A Fight
On being a master debater
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From a social dynamics perspective, there are three kinds of podcasts.
There’s the kind with a really good interviewer with a great deal of experience. Howard Stern and Joe Rogan are maximum-tier hosts of interview shows; either can make you look really good if they like you, and you are going to have a hard time on either show if they don’t.
There’s the kind where it’s a bunch of friends hanging out. This is most podcasts. They lean amateurish, and the guests are generally friends of the hosts. They are about goofing around, and they’re almost never hostile.
Finally, there are mid-to-upper-mid-tier, professionally produced shows where the guests and hosts are about evenly matched in terms of social importance. In the case of specialist pods on subjects like finance or shooting sports, the guests are experts who are typically treated deferentially. In the case of political or culture war pods like the DarkHorse Podcast, deference should not be assumed. The subjects are controversial and the guests are passionate and opinionated. It is advisable in such cases to come prepared for a scrap.
Some of those people are reptilians.
I don’t mean they’re literally lizard people. The people to whom I’m referring have little to no empathy for their interlocutor and a significant degree of control over their own physiological arousal.
People like that learn that they can manipulate others early in life, and with a very little education in a few of the major motivatorsand psychological types, they excel at ideological streetfighting. Most people argue in good faith, and a debater who doesn’t get upset easily and who has a solid grasp of no more than one or two dirty tricks will twist someone who argues in good faith into a pretzel. I didn’t see the entirety of this podcast, but the seventeen minutes I did see were a perfect example of how a journalist with an axe to grind and good debate chops can beat the piss out of a smart scientist arguing in good faith.
Debating in a public arena is like persuasive writing at the professional level; most people think they know how to do it, and most people are wrong. There is method to argumentation, both in person and on the page, and if you have not studied it, you’re going to be unpleasantly surprised when you get into a confrontation with someone who has.
This is because you don’t win a debate by merely arguing the rightness of your position. A debate is a social confrontation, and social confrontations are analogous to physical confrontations, both in terms of methodology and results. Like the winner of a fistfight, the winner of a debate not only gets bragging rights, he takes the loser’s energy. You don’t enter a debate, then, merely to argue. You enter it to take a small (or not-so-small) amount of another person’s life-force. It’s metaphysical woo-woo, I grant you, but anyone who’s done it will tell you winning a fight is different from losing on both a physical and spiritual level, and whether or not the winner is technically correct on the merits of his argument is orthogonal to whether or not he wins.
In this article, I’m going to break down one of the “moves” Robert uses on Bret and explain how to counter it.
Prep work: there are performance-enhancing drugs for debates. You almost certainly have at least one or two in your medicine cabinet already. NSAIDs like Tylenol, Alleve, and Ibuprofin all have antidepressant effects up to 79% better than placebo (fish oil works too), but what may be more interesting to readers of this article is that anti-inflammatory drugs all decrease how much you give a shit in general. If you’re going on a podcast, take an anti-inflammatory an hour before the show; my bro-science estimate is that you’ll be ~20% less prone to getting angry.
As a body/facial language guy who has done full-contact martial arts, I pay attention to people’s baseline level of physical arousal. This is because people with a low baseline level of physical arousal tend to be less reactive. Nonreactive people have, as a rule, better emotional regulation than reactive people, which very often makes them better technical fighters, because they don’t get upset. The main tell in Wright’s case is that he looks like a fucking reptile. He doesn’t blink often enough, his eyes dart around the room, and the corners of his mouth turn down, all of which combine in such a way as to make him look like an iguana.
Pay attention to 2:56 or so, in particular, the way Weinstein touches his face versus the way Wright touches his. Bret scratches his cheek politely, which is to say he does it quickly and unobtrusively; his beard itches and he’s taking care of it. But Wright touches his face a lot. When I saw this video on the group chat, the moment I saw Wright’s lizardlike way of blinking, I said “That guy’s gonna start touching his face,” and I was right.
What Wright is doing by playing with his face is weaponizing intimacy. This establishes dominance and disconcerts Weinstein, who is either unfamiliar with people who intentionally do this kind of thing or in denial that it is happening, and is still treating the interaction like it’s a conversation as opposed to a confrontation. Normal people mirror those with whom they’re speaking, especially on a face-to-face video chat like a podcast. For low-reactivity lizards, though, mirroring is a tactical opportunity, and one of the standard moves reptilians use to put you on the back foot is to touch their faces, because it takes advantage of the fact that you're mirroring them to violate your space in a way that you can’t really call them on; you feel in an indefinable but undeniable way like they're touching your face. Weinstein is already pissed off—he says as much—and while I haven’t seen the rest of the podcast, I would not be a bit surprised to see Wright doing this throughout the discussion earlier to subtly get his goat.
Secondarily, Wright is also not making eye contact, but he’s not making eye contact in a particular way. He’s intentionally not mirroring Weinstein. Weinstein is having to chase Wright’s eye contact, which puts Wright in the dominant position.
To sum up the preceding bullets: The moment you see your interlocutor is disengaged emotionally and is really into rubbing, touching, or playing with their face in a social situation where their intent is ambiguous, cease the presumption of good faith immediately and go weapons hot: abusing intimacy is a tell that you are already in a fight.
What Weinstein did not do, and what he should have done the moment Wright started touching his face (probably way beforehand, honestly), was to treat the interview as hostile. Intent goes a long way toward winning a fight, and even if you aren’t a technician, the understanding that you are dealing with a hostile actor will give you a shot of adrenaline that will make a considerable difference in the outcome.
Tertiary observation: “You’ve got me kinda pissed off” is a threat display on Bret’s part. Threat displays are a waste of time in a boxing ring. Fight or leave. Wright is a technician who already has Weinstein on the back foot, and once it has been established that someone is boxing you, the only sensible goal is to dismantle them and see what you can get for their carcass on the open market.
Prescription: If you’re going to be on a podcast within six months but not within the next week, take an improv class or two. Improv comedy is a social supercharger. It ingrains skills for social success in ordinary situations, and it’s like Brazilian Jiujutsu for social confrontations. You learn to think quickly, to be verbally clever, and the difference between an adversarial and a friendly conversation and how to win in the latter case. (Get good at improv and BJJ and you will be more or less unstoppable in terms of masculine social presentation.)
I swear I’ll finish the series on motivation soon.
Did you read about 'weaponizing intimacy' somewhere, or is this an original theory?
Interesting. I've listened to Wright on podcasts a handful of times and thought of him as eminently reasonable (though with some flawed starting assumptions). Would not have thought of him as a bad-faith actor. May have to give this a watch.