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No, troll, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does not owe you a debate

The future congresswoman from New York deftly shut down a notorious right-winger’s dubious request to debate her. Here’s why she was right to do so.

No, troll, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does not owe you a debate
[Photos: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, courtesy of Corey Torpie/Ocasio2018; Ben Shapiro, Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

The ancient aphorism urges us not to argue with fools, because from a distance other people can’t tell who’s who. This truth is but one of many reasons never to get into a debate with the likes of Ben Shapiro.

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It’s not worth your time to know who aging conservative wonderboy Ben Shapiro is. If you don’t already, consider yourself spared. All anyone need know is how to avoid being drawn into his Thunderdome of Logic. A thoroughly satisfying lesson  landed this week, courtesy of soon-to-be congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Wednesday, Shapiro challenged the 28-year-old candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district to a debate. For her efforts, Shapiro would compensate the Democratic Socialist with $10,000 for her campaign. For the uninitiated, this might look like an innocuous offer. Ocasio-Cortez gets to stock her campaign’s coffers while also having the opportunity to win over an unlikely new audience. Make no mistake, though, the offer is a manipulative maneuver made in bad faith. Shapiro isn’t looking to match wits with his imagined opponent: He wants to degrade her in public, and turn her into content.

First of all, he made the offer knowing full well that either she’d take him up on it, whereby he would profit from her sudden political-star status, or she’d turn him down, producing free, easy publicity from conservative headlines claiming the Left’s latest hopeful is too frightened to spar with the Far Right’s Anthony Soprano Jr. in the Marketplace of Ideas. Ocasio-Cortez chose a third option: She ignored him. After a while, however, when the inevitable headlines started to wend their way across conservative Twitter, she commented on one of them.

Not only did she sidestep Shapiro completely, she did so with flair–comparing his debate request to another form of badgering: the catcall. Shapiro handled the diss about as well as one might expect. He accused Ocasio-Cortez of painting him as a sexist and of being anti-Semitic, for some reason, then retweeted about a million of his followers’ echo-chamber-y tweets agreeing with him. (Sidenote: Shapiro is a fierce crusader against “identity politics.” You know, unless it’s his own identity as a white, Jewish man that can be politicized.)

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Of course, his willful misinterpretation of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet further illuminates why one must never debate someone like Shapiro–or other bottom-feeders in the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, such as Jordan Petersen or Dinesh D’Souza. Deliberate misinterpretation is part of the game plan. To them, the debate is the preferred modern duel, because they can dodge and weave and make up facts and do whatever it takes never to appear wrong. Presidential debates may be a vital part of the political process, considering the range of things one can learn about the candidates from seeing their debate styles, but people like Shapiro can’t wait to debate anyone over any ideological disagreement.

The author of an extensively researched Current Affairs takedown of Shapiro studied his technique for “destroying liberals.” He explains the process by looking at Shapiro debating the legitimacy of transgenderism.

“Ben Shapiro isn’t interested in discussing any of this seriously. Just look at how he distorted his questioner’s response about moose: he says ‘Why aren’t you a moose?’ and when she replies ‘That’s different,’ he interjects ‘That’s right, men and women are different.’ She clearly said that species and gender are different (which they are, in that there’s a good argument for revising one of the categories but not for revising the other). But he tried to convince his audience that she had essentially conceded his point, by seizing on and spinning the word ‘difference.’ (We call this ‘sophistry’ rather than ‘logic.’) At every turn, Shapiro shows that he simply wants to make his questioners look foolish, rather than present the facts fairly.”

If Ocasio-Cortez had taken Shapiro up on his offer, it wouldn’t have mattered how much she prepared or how sound her logic was. Shapiro would have emerged with a 30-second clip, edited to make Ocasio-Cortez look foolish in some way, and it would live on the internet forever. Instead, all the people who wouldn’t have been swayed by her argument in the first place will whine about the Logical Jujitsu of her “catcalling” tweet for the duration of one weekend, then the incident will be forgotten. The only way to beat a troll is to not give it what it wants.

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