How to Steal Analogies

On the surface, analogies sound like good arguments. They're not.

Analogies are rarely persuasive, at least when they are refuted properly. They are only useful when trying to explain something quickly, NEVER as an argument itself.

This became very clear in a tournament last weekend. My daughter and her debate partner were hit with a parliamentary debate resolution that called for allowing medical marijuana use in the MBA, which is actually a debate going on at the moment. My students were to oppose the use, and the reasoning they used was the current law varies throughout the US. So, their philosophy was simple: a team in New Jersey would be allowed to take medical marijuana to treat PTSD, but a team in New Hampshire would not. Therefore, negate the resolution that called for allowing medical marijuana use in the MBA.

The team that was supposed to support the use of medical marijuana wanted to refute this argument, essentially showing that the discrepancy among state laws would not matter to the teams. To do so, they used an analogy they called “pink hats.” They reasoned,

“Some schools allow pink hats, some schools don’t. It doesn’t matter whether or not schools allow pink hats; it does not harm anyone.”

Now, in the world of persuasion, the use of “pink hats” is a pretty good idea because it is a strong visual. However, the “pink hats” analogy wasn’t being used to understand something. It was being used as the argument itself. This was a tactical error on the part of my kids’ opponents.

My girls didn’t expose this error in the round (it’s early in the competitive year, but they won’t let this slide again). Following the round, my team and I discussed how we could turn this analogy totally on its head. And it is so easy to do! A reasonable line of rebuttal would be:

  1. We’re not talking about schools. We’re talking about basketball. Let’s talk about basketball!
    (This is a “tell” that turns the judge’s attention away from the analogy and back to the argument.)
  2. Let’s say some teams were allowed to wear pink hats, others weren’t.
    (Notice the “turn”: we stole the analogy — or the metaphor used — and placed it in our world.)
  3. Imaging watching a game where only some players were running around with pink hats, and others weren’t. It’d be very distracting, whether or not you thought it was an advantage or disadvantage.
    (Use the opponent’s analogy to paint a clearer picture of YOUR world, rather than theirs.)
  4. This is the core reason we are against the MBA using medical marijuana: A difference of use across the NATIONAL league would make this sport total chaos.
    (That the conclusion has nothing to do with pink hats is a good indicator that the analogy was used to support an argument, not an argument in and of itself.)

Notice the key point: ANALOGIES AREN’T ARGUMENTS. They merely serve to describe something complicated. If they are ever used as arguments, hijack the analogy and make it SUPPORTIVE of your argument. It will definitely stick in your judge’s mind.