Don’t Bring Good Faith to a Bad Faith Fight
Debates with alt-righters are not about the principled exchange of ideas.
YouTube comedian Ethan Klein of h3h3productions is facing criticism for surprising Stephen Crowder, alt-right social media personality, during a scheduled debate between them by bringing in Sam Seder, seasoned left-wing political podcast host. Chaos ensued. And it’s good that chaos ensued. Because these “debates” are not meaningful discussions of ideas, they are Spectacle, they are entertainment, they are theatrics.
For most of us, this will present itself in much smaller forms — comments sections and tweet replies. Often, I find myself unable to resist jumping in. But, much like with Ethan’s “debate” with Crowder, one must discern whether or not their opponent is even eager to operate in good faith.
I am a college dropout. Dysphoria and depression got the better of me. But, in my three years there, I completed all of the requirements for a philosophy major, including taking classes on formal logic. I’ve studied logical fallacy in detail and aced tests on the topic. Often reactionaries will evoke these in flimsy ways to derail a discussion — the touchdown that should be scored will be flagged for, say, an ad hominem because the other side called into question the ethics of their opponent.
On the flip side, when such technical challenges cannot overcome deficits in debating ability, tactics like the Gish-gallop — where numerous topics are brought up in a rapid-fire and poorly supported fashion faster than the other person can reply — or straight up interruption and talking over the other person are brought out. In these cases, audiences tend to perceive the victor not on intellectual merits but aggression and dominance, even if it is all built atop a slowly mudsliding, steaming pile of bullshit.
This was exemplified in the debate between Biden and Trump where, ultimately, the former just had to say, “Will you shut up man?” to be able to actually speak during his allotted time. This debate-as-dominance tactic is the most common way authoritarian strongmen like Trump engage with political opponents. Much as right-wingers like Ben Shapiro love to say, “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” the modus operandi of such shouters is to replace the appearance of confidence with actual facts — they, in fact, rely on evoking certain feelings in you.
Stephen Crowder himself has a whole series of videos on his YouTube channel called “Crowder Confronts” where he ambushes unsuspecting people to debate them. All Ethan did was understand the game being played rather than bring a proverbial knife to gun fight. That good faith simply is not and never will be there among the Crowders of the world. If you engage them in a public venue, humiliation rather than intellectual victory must be the goal — even if in an ideal world it would be the reverse.
On social media, we have an advantage not afforded to us in the real world: muting and blocking. When one cannot win a debate, the goal so often becomes to exhaust your opponent until they refuse to engage further. Though this often gets the other person to claim victory, in reality, victory for them is wearing you down. Wasting your time. Blocking them denies them that.
But when engaging in a public, highly anticipated debate, one can turn the spectacle against those who are entirely reliant on them, humiliating them where even the best debaters would be ignored in favor of louder screaming — there is a reason Stephen’s show is named Louder with Crowder after all.
Though it is easy to thoughtlessly slip into these interactions online, let Ethan’s actions be a reminder to never waste your time playing a game different from your opponent. The worst thing you can do to bad faith is to feed into it. Either subvert it or move on. And Ethan’s recent “debate” with Crowder is a master class in the former.