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Militancy and the Inability to Openly Debate an Issue

November 15, 2009

Militancy and the Inability to Openly Debate an Issue

 

It is probably the most disappointing turn of events in the last couple of years of blogging that what was once an open platform for reasonable discourse has evolved into centre of partisan hostility. The term ‘reasonable discourse’ has been replaced with the desire to crush the unbeliever. Where once complicated subject matter could be discussed in a civil manner, now there is the propensity to leap down someone’s throat with a barrage of insults. Two years ago people could agree to disagree and move on. The infantile and impossible attempt to win an argument did not dominate the forum and concern themselves to making a valid point. This has all changed as the population grew and new people who think that arrogance is a fresh tactic has increased in number. Old tactics that belong in the school yard from whence they came have been revived.

 

A basic problem is that the ability to clearly understand one’s own position on an issue is missing. People have chosen a side in a debate and presume that because it took a monumental effort to arrive at their position that it cannot possibly be wrong, let alone questioned. They understand that they support a position but cannot articulate why they do so in a way that others can understand. Without being able to explain the reason for a position then no one has reason to accept it as valid.

 

Another problem is the inability to recognize that rival points of view exist. We can look at the last US election to see how polarizing any discussion was. The whole debate was being run by partisans who took on the ‘with us or against us’ mentality. I seem to recall blind rage being uttered at the mention of the other party and accusations that a vote for them was a crime against humanity. One post headline had a heart around the name of a candidate as if we should just love that person as they do.

 

Leading questions that presuppose the answer in the asking are a big turn off for me. We already know what this person has decided and where they stand. Through experience you may also find that your suspicions are correct when as soon as they run out of answers the accusations of belonging to one their listed of enemies is thrown at you. Yawn and move on. There is no point arguing with someone who considers you an enemy.

 

Smugness and veiled insults offer little to justify a position other than to say, ‘support me and I will stop calling you names.’ How dare I not support their deeply held beliefs? After all they have a clique of 2 maybe three supporters in this pool of 4000 voices. Now that is a winning team if ever I saw one.

 

Does it strike anyone else that the end result of all this aggressive style of partisan writing is in fact anti intellectual? It requires no intelligence at all to conjugate and regurgitate a list of insults that has your friends cackling with laughter. It may be emotionally satisfying, in its own shallow way, but it can never be mistaken for actual thought. Comedy is entertaining but few people consult a clown (ie: a fool) before making life changing decisions.

 

Why do I put so much emphasis on the ability to debate an issue?

If may digress for a moment and refer to debate between G K Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw on the subject of ‘Can We Ever Agree,‘ we do have a prime example of how two people from opposite ends of the political scale can debate each other in a reasoned manner. The debate was both lively and informative as it displayed to mental prowess of both men. Had it descended into a rant of insults and cheap shots it would be a forgotten collection of diatribes from prewar England. Instead we have one of the great intellectual discourses of our time handled with wit and good nature.

 

In a debate it is easy to make the mistake that it requires nothing more than two people to stick to their guns. This could not be further from the truth. Winston Churchill is often cited as being unable to sleep the night before he was have to face question time in parliament. Yet when the parliament house was bombed by the German’s in World War 2 he insisted that it should be rebuilt to the same design. He wanted to retain the closeness of the two parties as they debated legislation that would affect the whole nation. The scrutiny of the opposing sides could be seen in the eyes that were almost close enough to touch.

 

Many people may think that debating an issue is a simple matter of doing some research and then getting up to present that case. Yet many people find that as the time of the debate approaches so too may the feelings of doubt. This is no longer a one sided rant where any response can be deflected with a quick retort. It is no longer a case of convincing yourself and taking applause from the crowd of usual cronies. Instead it is about convincing the people who are undecided. Belittle their intelligence and you can lose them in a moment; chastise them for not supporting you and they will rebel; become emotional and they will see through the crocodiles tears. This is because they will listen, read and watch with full attention. People are not stupid and they can decide for themselves if they have been presented with a compelling argument.

 

There is an alternative to an open debate and unfortunately that seems to be the norm these days. That is to attack the messenger and ignore the message. Militancy has taken precedence over reasonable discourse and that only ever suits militants.

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