A thesis isa position or proposition that a person advances and offers to maintain by argument." according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
One of the most painful and challenging aspects of the debates I find myself witnessing or participating in lately is that there are times when you can't even quite figure out what the debate is about! This is a standard conversational tactic that we use unconsciously. It's natural to change topics intuitively during a casual conversation. The problem comes when conversations aren't casual - these same tactics become the basis for confusion rather than intuitive rapport.
When the thesis we are arguing over isn't clear, it makes it easy, even natural to utilize all sorts of rhetorical fallacies. The 'Red Herring' fallacy is quite suited for this because if you haven't clearly delineated what you're even talking about, then you're not breaking any rules by side-tracking off somewhere else, sliding into a different subject.
The problem here is that we're not just meandering through topics in a friendly way, in times such as the ones we inhabit today, we're usually trying to figure something out together. When serious topics are approached in a casual way, rather than bringing us together, it seems to make us sloppy. Instead of being able to drill down into on thesis, which we could prove or disprove, we're now faced with an onslaught of topics - some related, and some unrelated - and we're trying to manage them all.
Compounding the problem is that we're quite sophisticated on a subconscious level when we're under the sway of cognitive dissonance. That means we might unconsciously resort to tactics like the Red Herring fallacy to get away from a focus on our thesis if we sense our position might be weak. Without even knowing it, we'll start to dodge into a different topic. Now our debate partner has to answer that question and we've diverted attention from the first.
Perhaps you've had this tactic used on you lately?
A final challenge that is provided by debating topics on social media is that we can deliver an entire monologue that contains *multiple* theses at once. When we do this, a debate partner has to be really committed to compassionately searching for truth with us if they are going to persevere. To go through our monologues and discover the unstated theses and answer each of them with clear logic and compassion takes time, patience, and emotional intelligence. You may have noticed that such inner resources do not seem all that abundant these days!
We can go a long way toward creating a culture of compassionate and lucid debate by incorporating just a single principle - that of finding the thesis!
If you know your own thesis, you can state it clearly so everyone knows what you're trying to prove! You can also be considerate to only present one thesis at a time! When listening, you can make it your first order of business to seek and clarify the thesis.
This deeper listening is very compassionate, can be a way of generating rapport. It requires/allows you to pause your desire to give your counterpoints immediately and to simply ask empathic questions until you discern what the other person's position is.
The final benefit of this above tactic is that you may find, if you really ask and dig deep, the thesis at the core of what an "opponent" is presenting is quite different than what you originally thought they were arguing for. You may have been about to start a fight about a totally different issue! By asking, you may find that you're in greater agreement than you originally thought. I often find I share much common ground with my perceived opponents. But even when we disagree, when I find what their thesis is, I start from a place of understanding, rapport, and mutuality. I find that this is the very best place from which to have a difficult discussion.
Finding the thesis statement is not only a crucial step in any formal process of logic, but it can be a potent practice of compassionate listening - discerning what the other person really wants you to know so that you can work from common ground together. [note: this is the thesis of today's blog]