How not to argue with Chandler

I admit that I was drawn to this video by the spectacle of watching Chandler Bing (aka Matthew Perry) get grilled by Jeremy Paxman. But instead Paxman is strangely absent from the debate leaving Peter Hitchens to rule the floor.

Four things I learned from this conversation

1. Empathy is vital to communication
Peter Hitchens comes across as particularly cold in this debate. He denies Chandler’s experience of addiction and ends up resorting to cheap pot shots in the argument. Chandler however opens up about his past, shares his experiences in a very vulnerable way and then offers some practical ways that addicts like him can be helped. It makes Chandler’s argument a lot more compelling as a result.

“read something other than your book”

2. Play by the rules
Because Chandler asks permission for an opportunity to speak he is then invited to take the floor by Paxman which means he has shown courtesy and deference to his host. This further warms the audience to him and against Hitchens who shows very little respect to anyone in the room.

3. Never insult your opponent (unless you can do it in a charming and playful manner)
Peter turns to name calling when he runs out of arguments, Chandler does too but he manages to do it in a charming and humorous way. Peter resorts to belittling Chandler’s argument and response and loses the argument because he loses his sense of humour. Even though they are on diametrically opposed sides (someone somewhere at the BBC must have thought for the sake of ‘balance’ you get someone who denies that drug addiction exists to talk about the impact of drug courts) Chandler finds a way to compliment Peter for making a good point in the argument.

Not that your aspirin point wasn’t genius but you don’t know what you are talking about

4. Try to communicate with you co-council beforehand
Baroness Meecher ends up arguing against Chandler which makes it more difficult to argue effectively. [ I had a similar problem when on a twitter debate with some militant atheists recently when 6 day creationists decided to join in… I don’t think it helped the overall case about the relationship between science and faith. ]


Baroness Meecher was the expert, in the room and yet she was consistently ignored and put down by both Chandler and Hitchens. This had to be pointed out to me by my friend Pete Philips on twitter. I was so awed by the star power of Chandler that I didn’t even notice this example of “everyday sexism.”

What did you learn from the debate?

Matthew Perry

You might like this Chandler Bing vs Matthew Perry quiz.

3 thoughts on “How not to argue with Chandler”

  1. I’m not sure Matthew Perry comes out of this looking too good, either, to be honest. Though I believe he was very sorely provoked by Hitchens, he eventually gave in to the temptation to respond with ad hominem comments himself. And he struggled to give a convincing rationale for treating addiction as a medical condition. There were far better responses to be made to Hitchens’ main thesis which, like most moralisers, comes down to a self-righteous exhortation to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Quite how someone who is supposedly Christian, and therefore should know about our dependence on grace, can hold this kind of view is beyond me.

    I agree with your points about the treatment of Baroness Meecher. She got some good points in towards the end, but was talked over or ignored through much of the piece. “Chandler” and Hitchens were definitely focused on each other. I think this is partly down to Everyday Sexism, but on Hitchens’ part also because she represents a liberal viewpoint he clearly despises. I think a man making those points would receive similar treatment, but I suspect Hitchens might not have felt able to be quite so dismissive.

  2. Krish, personally I found Peter Hitchens’ approach more convincing. I don’t think that venerability etc is very important, rather the discussion should be based on facts – which is precisely the point Hitchens was trying to make in his request for objective proof.

    As for your third point, as I remember it was Perry who did all of the name calling and made other unhelpful remarks eg. ‘you are just a person who is talking who is wrong’. I did not think he was especially charming in this regard.

    Your fourth point is very astute and the little space given to Baroness Meecher was a great shame indeed.

  3. We watched it too, couldn’t quite believe the bellicose arguments Peter Hotchens was making.
    I’m not sure Matthew Perry was quite prepared for such a low level of debate. I think he came out ok on the whole.
    I agree with the sentiment of your post Krish

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