Monday, October 1, 2012
Civilized Debate Skills
Photo of "The Argument" sculpture by Austin Wright
by Richard Reynolds (AKA Mr. Doomed Stuffing)
We do not currently have civilized debate skills. It is arguable whether or not we ever had them; certainly, throughout history, oratorical, rhetorical argumentation has been the métier of scholastics ... and the peasants and tradesmen of the world were free, to a very minor extent, to express their disagreements in the basest of manners, most often using the coarseness and hoarseness of their booming voices to prove their correctness without the necessity of factual argumentation. What is different in modern times is that we have an almost infinite stream of coarse oratory via the Internet, and facts are forever being twisted or wholly ignored to win debates that are as illuminating as the bowl of a crack pipe after all the crack has been dissipated and nothing remains but the glowing embers of tars and contaminates. Try finding your way through a crack house with a depleted glow from a spent glass dick and you might fall into a vat of boiling methampetamine. Awkward drug metaphors aside, we have been left with the dregs of debating skills -- the amateur pundits who want to put their opinions forward without basing them on any more semblance of any reality than a UFO convention.
My worry is that we're teaching our children that volume of voice, intensity of slanderous insult, libelous chiding ... all these nefarious techniques of communicating ideas ... is the way to engage with people with whom one disagrees. I'm guilty of it; most people are guilty of it; if you think you're not guilty of it, you're probably a sanctimonious asshole with the conscience of a pedophile.
Will things change? No, unfortunately. The cable-waves and satellites and Wi-Fi spend twenty-four hours a day inundating our minds and our communities with nonsensical lies that are backed not by science, certainly not backed by scientific consensus, not backed by rationality, and rather these lies rest on the willingness, so intense and desirous, like a bad romance novel, to please ourselves in some misguided obligatory political compulsion of masturbatory ego-stroking, to think our unsubstantiated beliefs are less appalling than those of our opponents.
We are our opponents. We concede no point to our opponents; we do not strive for independence of thought. We want confirmation of our own conceits ... and we all diminish the truth, the factual, the supportable, with our willingness to ignore our own fallibility.
No need to cite examples of what I'm describing. If you don't understand what I talking about here, examples will just confuse you. We're all in this together, for worse or for more worse.
Our only hope is to teach our children well (to cop a phrase from the hippie-rock-folk band Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) ... teach them to understand that to disagree civilly with someone who is full of shit is just as important as changing their minds from believing in unsupportable bullshit ... because a time will come when our children will believe unsupportable bullshit ... and we want our children to be treated civilly when they are called out on their bullshit.
It just makes sense.
A wise man once said, "Opinions are like assholes ... almost everybody's got one ... and just about every one of those assholes is full of shit once in a while." Okay, the wise man was kind of gross, but you can't make the point better than that vulgar adage.