Argument Clinic: White Supremacists

Recently, Argument Clinic received a formal request: “How do you argue against white supremacists?”

Is this the right room for an argument

Our work is cut out for us. In this particular episode, while we will retain our usual superior, snotty, didactic, tone, we encourage The Commentariat(tm) to help us out. A definitive treatment of the question “How to argue with white supremacists” probably involves winning a civil war – and decisively winning it, at that.

Unfortunately, with this particular topic, we must first consider who we are. Are we a privileged white male of imposing height and muscled like a viking god? Or are we non-white, non-privileged, non-male, or not capable of projecting the capability of punching a white supremacist in the face?

Probably not what he meant…

The strategic picture looks similar to arguing with a believer in religion. The white supremacist has available to them the strategies of the faithful:

  • Bald-faced assertion
  • Apologetics
  • Gish Gallops
  • Proof by vigorous assertion (AKA: “table thumping”)
  • The infinite well of bullshit

Arguing against them, like arguing against a true believer, is going to be a frustrating and time-consuming battle, akin to ground combat in Russia. Unfortunately, your first axis of strategic decision-making is going to depend on your privilege; if you are a white male, arguing with a white supremacist, you can choose to play their game on their terms and also make bald-faced assertions and attack their apologetics – they are used to respecting their peers (supremacists, ironically, love hierarchy) and tend to be passionately interested in figuring out where they stand vis-a-vis you. If you are better at rhetoric and presentation, can counter their inanities with facts and dominate them with your self-confidence, they may fall to your feet and polish your jackboots with their eager pink tongues. Don’t count on it, though – mostly, you’re likely to just waste a lot of time; their minds are already made up that:

  1. They are superior
  2. Since they are superior they are right
  3. And what they are right about is that they are superior

If you want to get into a toe-to-toe arguing match with a white supremacist, and you have the free time, you can try to dominate them with your brilliant arguments but we tend to agree with Mark Twain:

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

You may want to just throw that over your shoulder as you leave the room. They will jeer at your retreating back, something to the effect of how you’re giving up the argument, but they’ve already determined that they’re going to stand there and power-pump from the infinite well of bullshit until you leave – you’re just advancing the schedule.

If you are a member of ${hated minority} they are just going to take shots at you and (by definition) they won’t take you seriously. The strategy there is tough – your best move is to turn the discussion into a referendum about them – they probably aren’t particularly scintillating specimens of humanity, themselves. Ad hominem like mad, but it’s probably a waste of time. They will never argue in good faith with a person of ${hated minority} so you can point that out, then push them into traffic.

As always, we advise you to “go meta” – instead of getting into the trenches and slugging away, attack their strategy. There are two forms of attack, which we will designate as The Low Road and The High Road.

The Low Road

Slice into their epistemology. As anyone familiar with Argument Clinic or philosophy in general knows, an epistemological battle can be drawn out indefinitely. [We are not sure if that means an epistemological battle is an infinite well of bullshit, too] The basic epistemological challenge is this:

“What is a ‘white person’?”

Standard epistemological infighting says: avoid making assertions, Just Ask Questions. You should have some expectations in mind for how they may respond, so you can challenge every assertion they make as they walk deeper into your mine-field. For example, if the respond that “white is a skin color” then you can go snarky: “so, are albinos the best of all?” or serious: “What about having white skin makes someone superior?” Only particularly un-supreme white supremacists will give the “skin color” answer; typically what you’ll get is a bunch of assertions to the effect that

  • ${hated people} are inferior
  • they are referring to the “nordic race”
  • white people are in dominant economic positions throughout the globe

Drag their epistemology into more and more detail

At this point you may wish to pause the proceedings by introducing glue into the white supremacist’s tank-treads by asking them to slow down so that you can fully appreciate and address each of their arguments. That sets you up to fractally JAQ their arguments with successively finer epistemological challenges. Always focus on challenging their assertions – keep asking them how they back up any fact that they throw at you, and successively challenge how they back up the fact, or, (and this is really nasty) do the weaponized skeptical equivalent of a Gish Gallop, which is to blanket-challenge their facts without actually going into the challenge. That might play out thus:

Supremacist: “Well, for one thing, ${hated people} are inferior on IQ tests”
Argument Clinician: “That’s arguable but let me hear your other reasons first, then we can loop back and look at them in order of importance.”
Supremacist: “Uh, and it’s the “nordic race” that has most of the political power in the world.”
Argument Clinician: “Well, I certainly see problems with that, but let’s hear your next fact and then go back…”

One thing that’s nice about that strategy is that it allows you to act as though your opponent has enumerated all the arguments that they have, which they believe support their beliefs. In maneuver warfare, this is known as “fixing your opponent’s position” – you locate them, fix them so they can’t move any further, and sip champagne and eat canapes while B-52s drop bombs on their position. It also gives you some time to think about what fractal path you are going to drag them down next.

Round two would look like:

Argument Clinician: “So, you say ${hated people} are inferior on IQ tests; are you aware of the problems with IQ testing? There are a lot of problems with the science there, can you really say that IQ tests measure anything more than how people perform on IQ tests? But… wait. Tell me more about the ‘nordic race’ having most of the political power; why do you say that political power is a measure of superiority? Couldn’t it just as easily be a measure of viciousness and ruthlessness?”

That’s how the inverted epistemological Gish Gallop works: you imply that anything they say seems doubtful and scoot along to the next point, leaving it unresolved; if they walk away from the battlefield now, they have left a huge number of unresolved challenges to their ideas. The more they talk to you, the more doubts they are raising.

We must emphasize, that this is an intellectually dishonest trick. On the other hand, you’re talking to an intellectually dishonest time-waster who would be wasting your time, otherwise. They’re jerks, you’re a jerk, we’re all jerks here.

The High Road

The high road is to go straight for the throat and be honest about it. Don’t even engage with their arguments and say, instead, that it’s not possible to both understand the science behind “race” and be a racial supremacist, so you think they’re probably not being honest with you, or themselves, and “why should I bother talking to you at all?”

Like true believers in religion, white supremacists often believe they understand the science behind their sense of superiority. Your problem is: they usually don’t. There is a special case you can identify sometimes, who do, and are just being dishonest about it. That opens the path for another form of high road counter-attack:

Argument Clinician: “You’re making arguments based on bad science that has been conclusively refuted over and over. Either 1) you know that and are relying on the bad science anyway – in which case you’re dishonest or 2) you don’t know that and you’re ignorant and you can fix that by doing a bit more research.”

The high road approach is to refuse to deal piecemeal with their beliefs; after all, it’s their problem that they have managed to adopt such an absurd position, not yours. There is another path, which is to completely bypass the question of whether their beliefs are accurate, or not, and jump to what they prescribe and whether it is practical or moral. You may be surprised to discover that some white supremacists don’t actually have a very clear idea of what they would do if they actually were in power – or, they may discover that their beliefs are so repugnant that they can’t actually say them out loud. In which case, you can hammer them on that point: clearly they are aware that they are saying horrible, repugnant things. Make it a referendum about them not whether their beliefs are true or not. I.e.:

Argument Clinician: “Alright, suppose your white supremacist dreams come true – what do you want society to look like? Do you want to resume chattel slavery? Do you want to commit genocide? Do you want to deport 24 million people? What’s your proposal and how do you think it’d actually work?”

The astute observer will notice here a trend in Argument Clinic, which is “go meta-” – whenever you feel that you’re heading for an “invade Russia in the winter” scenario, pop up to a higher level and ask “is invading Russia in the winter really what you want to do?”

Trench Warfare

The last option for arguing with white supremacists is to just get down and start slugging away. If you’re going to pursue that path, you ought to be prepared to argue knowledgeably about:

  • US historical racism – you should know that black people were imported into the US because they could survive the malaria that killed many many European settlers who were unable to survive working outside. You should also understand why and how the white supremacist southern system lost the civil war (hint: they were inferior in that great “white on white crime” spree)
  • Financial inequality and capitalism as a system of oppression – have your Marxist critique of capital polished up and ready, because the white supremacist may argue that the wealth and power of white people is proof of their superiority
  • IQ testing – many white supremacists point to IQ tests as proof that white people are better (or ${hated minority} are worse) – be prepared to explain why IQ tests don’t actually measure anything, that IQ tests measure social behavior (you can study to improve your IQ test scores) and that only really ignorant people believe in IQ tests, therefore a white supremacist who believes in IQ tests is almost certainly not as smart as they think. Furthermore, be prepared to point out that lots of Chinese people perform very well on IQ tests
  • Nobel Prizes – know the demographics of Nobel Prize winners; it may come up. Hint: if white people are so superior how come there are so many jewish Nobel Prize-winners? Note: this allows you to fork the question of whether jewish people are white or not and drag them off into the whole question of whether semites in general are white (if they walk into that trap, they have just said arabs are white…)
  • What is a “white person” anyway? There are multiple theories of whiteness: caucasian, nordic, central european – be familiar with each one of those and be prepared to explain how those ‘superior’ tribes were at various times conquered and their blood-lines were admixed by the conquerors. Romans for the Germans, Hanseatic Germans and Nazis and Russians for the Nordics, Mongols and the Ottomans for the central Europeans, Romans and Normans for the British, and Mongols and Ottomans for the caucasians. [stderr]
  • Population genetics – supremacist beliefs often depend on a notion of lineage (after all, it’s racism) and lineage-based arguments do not stand up in the face of population genetics over time, especially not over hundreds of years. Basically, at some point in time or other everyone has rubbed shoulders with others, and interbred with them; if someone from ${hated minority} who passed for ${supremacist minority} joined their population, then it’s game over, unless the supremacists’ argument is that genetics don’t matter, which is … odd.
  • Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc reasoning – a great deal of supremacist thinking depends on this basic logical fallacy – that things are the way they are because it’s the way they should be: “white people run the US because white people are, perhaps, better at running things.” You need to be able to pick out the post hoc reasoning and shine a light on it, then weaponize it right back at them: “perhaps white people run the US because white people are bigger criminals than anyone else.”
    Eugenicists have been making this mistake for a long time – it is. in fact, the founding error on which eugenics is based – they have cause and effect backwards. The poor aren’t poor because they are inferior, the poor are poor because some lucky rich people created a system of oppression that they are trapped within. Have your Marxist critique handy!
  • Eugenics – understand the history of the eugenics movement in the US and how it inspired nazis (it did) but most of all, how utterly wrong it was. The premise of eugenics is that certain traits (industriousness, criminality, intelligence, whatever) are entirely or largely influenced by one’s inheritance. You ought to be able to argue that these factors are dominantly influenced by society, not inheritance. Quip: “If wealth is a result of innate superiority, then please explain why there are also wealthy dipshits?”
  • Regression toward the mean – this one is important: if two ‘smart’ people have kids, you do not get smarter and smarter people. What you get is average kids. That’s what “average” means. Even if there is some genetic factor that points toward superiority in any one thing, it doesn’t “stack” like a modifier on your D&D stats. It’s why geniuses like Richard Feynman have fairly average kids (though they had a big head start in life because of Feynman’s money and reputation) and you occasionally get a really unusual individual like Ramanujan who was a super-genius at math but came out of poverty, or Einstein, whose parents were nothing special, etc.
  • Scientific method – you should know your science enough to be able to challenge the entire theoretical infrastructure of their supremacist ideas: “What is your theory of what makes white people superior? How does it work, how is superiority conveyed, and what evidence do you believe supports it?”
  • The replication crisis – you should know how to cast doubt on sciencey-seeming studies from the 1960s until recently; a tremendous amount of information was fabricated but, more importantly, a lot of studies of behavior are based on college undergraduates and have tremendous built-in bias. You may wish to be familiar with a few of those studies and be prepared to point out their methodological flaws. (This especially applies to IQ tests!)

That’s a fairly large list of points of contention that you should be familiar with before going toe-to-toe with a white supremacist in a genuine argument of facts and theory. If you find yourself trapped, and you’re willing to play nasty debater’s tricks, there is always linguistic nihilism. [stderr] We consider it to be a brutally unfair tactic to use if you are arguing in good faith, but you can demolish their vocabulary of superiority and then they are in a very difficult position, indeed.

Generally your strategy should be “find, fix, and destroy” or “go meta-.” Both of those strategies are strongest when you get your opponent to first state their position and the reasoning behind it. Plant those goal-posts nice and deep so they can’t move them around on you!

'Tis but a scratch!

‘Tis but a scratch!

You shouldn’t need an escape-route but keep an eye on your opponent and note whether they are arguing in good faith. At any point where they begin offering an argument that you think they most likely know has been refuted over and over, you can point that out, and build a case that they’re just being dishonest and aren’t really serious about their beliefs. If your opponent starts to sound like The Black Knight from Monty Python and The Holy Grail then they are setting themselves up for a riposte that they are not really arguing in good faith.

Argument Clinician: “I don’t think you’re arguing in good faith. You keep raising points that I’ve already dispensed with.”
Supremacist: “No I’m not!”
Argument Clinician: “Yes you are!”

------ divider ------

I know I’ve missed a lot of stuff but this was getting exhausting. If anyone has a shorter or better way of slicing the problem apart, I’d love to hear it!


  1. Dunc says

    unless the supremacists’ argument is that genetics don’t matter, which is … odd.

    Back when I bothered trying to argue with such people, I often found that they’d switch between arguing about culture and arguing about genes depending on which topic you’d just clobbered them on. Point out that their ideas about immigrants are racist and stupid, and they’ll tell that they’re not racists, they’re just concerned about “preserving our culture“. Point out that British culture is a product of millennia of enthusiastically adopting bits of other people’s cultures, and they immediately whip out the genetic studies purporting to show that most the population is ethnically British. You can’t win.

  2. says

    I often found that they’d switch between arguing about culture and arguing about genes depending on which topic you’d just clobbered them on.

    Yes, good point. They do that. A lot. It’s incredibly annoying.
    That’s why you’ve got to fix your opponent’s position first, before you start going point-by-point (they will probably still try to add new red herrings as you proceed) I guess going meta- against that would be to point out that they are switching between two mutually exclusive arguments of convenience.

    You can’t win.

    I just got an email pointing out that this whole posting raises the need for a discussion of grand strategy in arguing: why is one wasting one’s time arguing with a racist moron, when one could he having a good wank and some coffee instead? (that is not how my correspondent phrased it; I am paraphrasing them slightly) (only slightly).

    This whole posting should be prefaced with “…. assuming you want to waste your time.”

    It’s like arguing with other forms of true believers – if they were capable of skeptically challenging their own positions, they wouldn’t be true believers and there would be no argument. So, by virtue of the fact that they are willing to argue such a wrong position, they are virtually announcing that you’re not going to convince them of anything.

  3. Saad says

    I’m a big fan of the meta approach. Since the substance of their argument isn’t arrived at by rational thinking and, like creationists, they’re not actually interested in seeing if they’re right or wrong, that is the only approach sort of worth taking.

    why is one wasting one’s time arguing with a racist moron, when one could he having a good wank and some coffee instead?

    You can’t have coffee if you’ve just spilled the beans.

  4. Owlmirror says

    As I recently commented, I would suggest that in many cases, bigotries and biases form the bases of monological worldviews similar to conspiracy theories. They do not seem to care that aspects of their beliefs are mutually contradictory.

    Say, I wonder if that’s a meta-level argument that you could make. They don’t seem to care; maybe find different ways of explicitly pointing that out.

    Another meta-level approach: boasts of supremacy often hide deep insecurity. Maybe change the discussion completely to be about what makes them feel insecure.

  5. says

    Another meta-level approach: boasts of supremacy often hide deep insecurity. Maybe change the discussion completely to be about what makes them feel insecure.

    I would say, that, definitely if one was a member of ${hated minority} – run right up on them and say, “Oh, so you think you’re better than me? How so?” I think that tactic would work better face to face than over internets; I’ve noticed that there’s a certain tendency in online supremacists (e.g.: Vox Day) to over-inflate their intelligence, accomplishments, and good looks.

    They don’t seem to care; maybe find different ways of explicitly pointing that out.

    Perhaps lead them into contradicting themselves and, instead of attacking the contradiction, attack them for being incoherent?

  6. says

    I’m a big fan of the meta approach.

    Me too. The only problem with getting meta- is that your target has to be thoughtful enough to be able to reason about their own process of reasoning. Which, if they were, they probably wouldn’t be white supremacists.

    Being able to understand one’s own privilege is an exercise in self-meta-analysis.

  7. says

    This whole posting should be prefaced with “…. assuming you want to waste your time.”

    I see arguing against any type of supremacists as a waste of time. They like the idea of themselves being supreme and better than other groups of people. They like this thought, therefore they keep on believing it despite all the contrary evidence. People believe simply because they want to. Rational arguments are useless against people who hold certain beliefs for emotional reasons.

    So, by virtue of the fact that they are willing to argue such a wrong position, they are virtually announcing that you’re not going to convince them of anything.

    There are plenty of examples where former racists (or anti-Semites, nationalists, homophobes) changed their silly worldviews. But this tends to happen not because of rational arguments and scientific studies, but because of emotional reasons — racists get to know and become friends with likeable people who happen to belong to their hated group and this makes them change their opinions.

  8. DanDare says

    I wpuld very much like to see your thoughts on these strategies in terms of the audience.
    I’m fairly sure my choices would be different in a one on one vs a public stoush that will end up unedited on YouTube. What if its in front of the supremacists extended group of followers and fans only?

  9. nastes says

    @Ieva Skrebele
    Sometimes (all of the times?) it is not the supremacist/fundamentalist you argue against you want to convince (I don’t think you can) but to show their flaws to the other people listening/reading. If you manage to convince one person in the audience that the guy you argue against is full of shit/intellectually dishonest/has nothing to back up his arguments, I would call this a win.
    It is a bit along the lines of: Don’t enter the argument to destroy, argue to create more skeptics


  10. Raucous Indignation says

    You don’t argue with white supremacists. You argue against them. Arguing with them And then you mock and condemn them. An if at all possible, indict, try and then imprison them.

  11. Raucous Indignation says

    You don’t argue with white supremacists. You argue against them. Arguing with them, gives the miserable fucks a legitimacy they do not deserve. Then you should mock and condemn them. Vigorously. And if at all possible, indict, try and imprison them.

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