James Altucher
8 min readOct 30, 2020

My first instinct last night at the debate I was participating in was to play a joke and ruin the whole debate:

Just RUIN it.

Here’s how:

A) The guy debating me would state his argument

B) I would say immediately, “You know what, you’re absolutely right. You convinced me. “ and then I would just click away.

Ruin the whole show. Shock and awe. And it seemed funny to me.

(debating Jewel)

But there was going to be a live audience asking questions, it is going to be turned into a podcast, the organizers were advertising the debate.

I didn’t want to disappoint for the sake of my insecurity (an easy way to avoid losing the debate) and for the sake of a joke.

I am not a debater. I’m one of those people who others would say, “to find out his opinion, look at the opinion of the last person he spoke to.”

That said, I have written about the topic of “Why I am not voting” many times and had many facts and resources to draw upon.

I debated Michael Moore on AOL Live about this in 2012. I have written about the topic over a dozen times.

Still, I was not on a debate team. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not in any way a professional at arguing. Even in relationships I tend to agree with anything. Most things I just don’t care strongly about.

The fewer things in your “circle of care”, the less stressed you get.

I learned many things preparing for the debate, during the debate, and after the debate when I debriefed myself and tried to write down what I learned.

21 PERSUASION TECHNIQUES and by the way, these are also incredibly useful for negotiation, comedy, sales, and even conversations with your spouse (as I know all too well!)

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e.g. when they talk about this election is a vote on “racism”, ask, are we debating racism or the 230 year old institution of voting?

Make sure they are not zooming out to argue something else. Notice this and call them on it.

In this case, I said, “I am happy to debate about racism but is that what we are debating for this session?”

More on “Labeling” below.

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“It’s scientific fact that voting reduces inequality” — is this true? What is the evidence of this?

“You can’t change the system if you don’t vote”. Is this true?

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Debater: “people not voting are saying ‘they don’t care about my rights’”

A straw man is when someone takes a weaker sub group in the category being debated and tries to generalize that to the entire group.

Perhaps someone doesn’t vote because they DO care about the person’s rights. Are all non-voters people who don’t care about rights?

(debating Gary Vaynerchuk)

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If they say, “this is the most important election ever” ask, “are we debating this election or the 230 year old institution of voting?”

Always call out when the two sides are debating two different topics.

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Related to the above.

Be able to notice and then say (when these occur): “that’s an opinion”, or “that’s changing the subject”, “that’s just an ad hominem attack”, “that’s a straw man attack. you are only refuting a subset (e.g. cynics)”, etc.

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“People died for your right to vote!”

A hollow man is an invisible person I now have to defend myself against.

Say: “I did not realize that if some invisible person (the “hollow man”) died for my right to vote 300 years ago then that means I have to vote.”

Always pointing out the technique brings it back to the debate.

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“You either vote or you are a racist.”

Is this true? Is this just their opinion. Of the 140,000,000 eligible voters who don’t vote, are they all racists?

Say: “Happy to debate issues of racism. I am working on a book on the topic [credential yourself] but I think this is not the topic today.”

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Someone says “at stake is our humanity”.

This is impossible to prove and uses fear to make an argument.

Say: “There have been many important votes where many thought that was true but it was never true. Fear is not an argument. Nor is fear the right way to create a rational argument.”

Again, it is up to the person presenting the argument to prove something is true. Always ask: is it true?

Is it true that humanity is at stake?

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“I was mugged in NYC” is not relevant in a discussion of is NYC is safe. But the flip side is:

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(don’t debate on Twitter)


If the debate is in front of an audience, say, “We are all interested in this question for the same reason: we would like to reduce crime / be smarter / make a better society / etc.

This is useful in comedy: “You’re from Canada? Me too! What street?”

Useful in selling a company: “This partnership can help us all bring down [competitor].”

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If they say, “more voting is a more engaged country”, ask “is this true?”

Evidence shows that more voting increases chances that incumbents win.

If they say, “if you want to change the political system you have to vote?” Is this true?

You just need one counter-example to falsify this. Frederick Douglass was able to change the political system without voting.

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If they say, “if all people thought like you…” then say, “but all people don’t think like me, have never thought like me, and I’m not trying to make them think like me. That would be reverse-vote-shaming and I am against all shaming.”

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“Who benefits from this debate?”

Is the issue for America really about voting or is this argument a convenient distraction for the status quo?

Perhaps elites like the debate about voting because any one vote is insignificant compared to the real impact each individual can have on society.

Find the hidden messages in the marketing of heresy. “It’s sacrilegious to not buy a home versus rent a home”?

What is the higher agenda? Could it be a $15 trillion mortgage industry run by banks?

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Often people try to figure out what is right or wrong. If this is an ethics question, we need to ask the source of ethics:

is it religious? Is it loyalty to an institution? Is it to care for others? Is it legal? Is it fairness? For instance, if it’s “to show care for others”, does it really show care for others? Does the opposite mean harm for others?

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Agree with all good points made by the other side.

Express their arguments even better than they did. But then question the assumption.

“Cynicism is bad. People should be engaged.”

Yes, 100%, voter literacy and showing the importance of each issue would certainly get people more engaged and result in a better society.

But are there are better ways to be engaged than voting?

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If they say, “there is no way to defend not voting” ask, “if you can be shown at least one way to defend ‘not voting’ would that change your mind?”

They must provide a roadmap for how they can be proven wrong.

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I need to be able to argue THEIR point better than they can.

Charlie Munger calls this “Invert!”

I had to ask myself beforehand:

What would convince me that voting is good?

How can I be convinced it is ethically wrong to not vote? What if one vote made the difference? What if voting would encourage me to be more engaged, more part of a community? More familiar with issues? What if there is evidence that more voting makes life better? What if it’s true I can do two things. Make impact AND vote.

Be able to teach them how to argue with you.

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Let’s say the debate is: “Should sex work be legalized”?

The end-goal is that if sex work stays criminalized it helps fight of trafficking of young girls.

Has criminalizing sex work been effective? Are there more effective ways?

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“If I can prove that more voting makes a society work, would that convince you not to shame people into voting?”

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SHAPING: audience, moderator, opponent.

“The audience is here because they feel it’s important to work for a better, more fair system.” or “The moderator is asking balanced questions and staying on point”. Or “I’m glad my opponent and I are open-minded enough to consider that the other side might be correct.”

Shaping triggers a cognitive bias to act in the way shaped. Nobody wants to disappoint.

Comedy use: “Thank god lockdown is over. I can tell you guys are out to have a good time.”

Selling a company: “I want to work with you, most importantly, because I only work with honest people.”

(these techniques work great in Comedy).

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If they say “it’s wrong because one should vote”, what do they mean by “should”?

Is that just another way of saying “wrong”?

Make sure their assumptions are not placebos.

If they say, “It’s destructive to say ‘i am not voting’ ask, “what does destructive mean”.

Many words have “placebic” meaning but can be applied to anything for the purpose of suppressing an idea. e.g. “it’s extremist not to vote”. What does extremist mean?

“It’s hurtful not to vote?” To who? Why? Is that an opinion or fact?

50% of eligible voters do not vote. Are 140,000,000 potential voters “extremist”?

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Like most debates, nobody won. Like most anything, the goal is not change or education but entertainment.

I met people, made friends, learned more about voting, but most importantly, I am a student of the science of persuasion. I am obsessed about it.

For negotiating, for selling, for comedy, for writing, for leading, and to also DEFEND myself against the people who have mastered these techniques.

It’s one thing to read or think or theorize, but you get better by doing.

I wish I knew these techniques when I was dating between the ages of 18 and 50.

I could’ve avoided that tunafish sandwich being thrown on me by Tracey and everyone in the street laughing at me.

I was a straw man.



James Altucher

For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog. One day I’ll run out of stuff but not yet. http://bit.ly/2blmiaG