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Walt: As long as we remain part of the debate, we are winning

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Steve Walt channels Saul Alinsky and offers some advice for combatants in ideological wars. No direct references here to taking on the Israel lobby, but we know that’s where he got his shark’s skin. Here are two of his rules for how to play in the sharktank. Smart:

Never Get Mad.

Let your critics throw the mud, but you should always stick to the facts, especially when they are on your side. In my own case, many of the people who attacked me and my co-author proved to be unwitting allies, because they lost their cool in public or in print, made wild charges and ad hominem arguments, and generally acted in a transparently mean-spirited manner. It always works to your advantage when opponents act in an uncivil fashion, because it causes almost everyone else to swing your way

Of course, it can be infuriating when critics misrepresent your work, and nobody likes to have malicious falsehoods broadcast about them. But the fact that someone is making false charges against you does not mean that others are persuaded by the malicious rhetoric. Most people are quite adept at separating facts from lies, and that is especially true when the charges are over-the-top. In short, the more ludicrous the charges, the more critics undermine their own case. So stick to the high ground; the view is nicer up there….

Challenging Orthodoxy Is a Form of "Asymmetric Conflict": You Win By "Not Losing." 

When someone challenges a taboo or takes on some well-entrenched conventional wisdom, his or her opponents invariably have the upper hand at first. They will seek to silence or discredit you as quickly as they can, so that your perspective, which they obviously won’t like, does not gain any traction with the public. But this means that as long as you remain part of the debate, you’re winning. Minds don’t change overnight, and it is difficult to know how well an intellectual campaign is going at any particular point in time. So get ready for an emotional roller coaster-some days you might think you’re winning big, while other days the deck will appear to be stacked against you. But the real question is: are you still in the game?

The good news is that if you have facts and logic on your side, your position is almost certain to improve over time. It is also worth noting that a protracted debate allows you to refine your own arguments and figure out better ways to refute your opponents’ claims. In brief, think of yourself as being engaged in a "long war," and keep striving.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.

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