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The Devil’s Advocate’s Advocate
The first time I opened my mouth in college it was on the topic of devil’s advocacy. It was September 1993, and we were having a policy discussion in my Core humanities class: the teacher asked whether we should allow people to make comments they don’t agree with, “just for the sake of argument?” No one could see what the problem with doing so might be, so I spoke up. I argued against, passionately and persuasively. I won the others over: for the rest of the year that class had a “no DA policy.”
The argument I gave was that devil’s advocacy undermines the trust on which conversation is grounded. Why should we take someone seriously if she herself doesn’t believe what she is saying? Conversational progress is predicated on sincerity and openness, because only those willing to put their cards on the table are in a position to learn—or be learned from. I wasn’t aware of the oft-tweeted phrase “the devil has enough advocates,” but it would have fit right into my rousing speech.
My case against devil’s advocacy was, however, insincere. The truth is, I was just playing devil’s advocate.
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