The only place progress is made is in the arena of ideas, a place where ideas are shared and debated.
In order for a debate to be successful, one must first form an opinion, whether supported by facts or not.
Here are a few simple rules for debating:
1. Stick to the topic at hand: Do not bring up topics that are antiquated. Do not talk about pot or abortion when the issue here is clearly debating.
2. Keep it pithy: Make your point short and sweet. One of the best means of doing this is simply to stick to the topic at hand.
3. Use facts to support your argument: This is where your study of history and facts come into play. Facts make an argument credible. So move your argument forward using facts.
4. Do not attack the other person on a personal basis: Do not say things like the following: "You are an idiot," You are a Nazi," "You are a moron," or "You are a liar." Such statements do not advance an argument, and essentially confirm that you are mad and have no facts to back up your side of the argument. Once you start chiming hate the other person wins and the debate is over.
5. Stay calm: The best way to show that you are in control is to stay calm no matter what. If the other person says something that offends you, let it roll off your tough skin. If you do get mad, which may happen when you perceive you are arguing with an idiot, do not use puerile words such as were discussed in rule #4, as this merely shows that you are not in control.
Bottom Line: Other than moving ones position forward by the use of facts, the most important aspect of debating is controlling emotion. When someone becomes angry in a debate, or starts spewing vitriole and personal attacks, that person has lost the debate -- period.
It’s fine that the issues cause anger, but it is not fine to say things to invoke anger. Progress would never have been made in this world if past debaters participated in personal attacks. For progress to be made, all the facts need to be placed on the table and tossed about in a constructive manner.
When it's all said and done, the debaters should at least be able to shake hands and go on about their lives as though the debate never occurred.
Sticking to these simple rules will generate an intelligent discussion by keeping the debate on the issues, and should result in an educational and fun experience. You may even change your mind on an issue or two, I have.