UNITED STATES—Most people these days do not even understand what debate is. They seem to think it is some kind of verbal brawl where orators sling verbs and analogies at one another in an attempt to win some kind of prize. That is not debate. Classical debate begins with opponents returning to first principles. They march backwards together until they come to an agreement about what they both think is true.
From that point, each debater constructs an argument based on those agreed truths; each of them achieves a dissimilar conclusion. Then, they support this logical framework with logical argument, and, if skillful, they may actually convince someone of the validity of their argument and its conclusions.
What is called a debate nowadays is two people standing up on a platform, say Facebook, for example. One says something. The other complains about their terms and poo-poos their conclusions. Each may drag in some unrelated and entirely unsubstantiated "proof" from another quarter, Wikipedia or Youtube, usually, and then each takes a step back and says, "See? I told you I was right."
I engaged briefly in such a ridiculous exchange this evening. It started with someone telling me that I did not know what I was talking about. True to form, they objected to the terms I used in my statement. They basically said that using the term "class warfare" regardless of what I say about it, what context it was used in, or what I was referring to, ruled me to be a moron, unworthy of any practical consideration. That statement on their part made me conclude that I was corresponding with an uneducated ass.
But I persevered for a little while. But in such an exchange it rapidly becomes clear that this other person's universe and your own do not share sufficient points of contact in reality to allow for any kind of meaningful discussion, let alone debate. It frequently amazes me that people who have been exposed to the real world come away with such a weird idea of what that world is and how it operates.
Take the pundits of capitalism. This is their religion. They have faith in capitalism. They don't question the tenets of their religion. They do not mind that their economics just does not add up. They never question the idea of infinite and perpetual growth in a finite universe. Their appreciation of history is sequestered somewhere in a study of the 1% of the population that has done spectacularly well under capitalism, and resolutely ignores the untold, toiling billions of dispossessed and disenfranchised upon whose labor the whole corrupt system depends.
I guess you can tell, from the foregoing paragraph, that I am no big fan of capitalism. I am also not a big fan of most other big box theories of economics. I like the idea of Communism, at least as espoused by Jesus Christ, but not its practical application. Except in a world of altruists and saints, Communism as a doctrine doesn't fare well.
Socialism, as a compromise seems a good way to balance civic responsibility with private greed, but the seesaw of conflicting politics is wasteful and frequently inefficient. I like the idea of super intelligent, omnipotent machines that will take the disbursement and regulation of resource and benefits out of selfish and greedy human hands, except that I hate that idea just as much as I like it.
Perhaps we could open these questions up to real debate and consideration, so that we could really see the bones of the rationalizations that support the different arguments - instead of just arguing about unsubstantiated notions. This kind of pseudo debate may be the staple of responsible politics, but it is just a show played out for an audience.
And it isn't just the old, moldy conservatives who refuse to allow any real debate. Most of the progressives, even the most ardent 3rd wave feminists, are afraid of actual honest open discourse. The more extreme their view, the more their resistance to honesty, inquiry, and dispute resembles the most fundamentalist zealots. And this is a shame, because they often have a few good ideas mixed in with their good intentions. Just about all the modern day activists are the same. Raise the tiniest question about any of their cherished dogmas and they jump all over you, hurling insults. You are misguided, stupid, oppressive, in denial and (my personal favorite) privileged.
Aren't good ideas supposed to be able to withstand criticism? Aren't things like truth and reasoned argument supposed to be able to stand up under inquiry? I get most suspicious when people treat their cherished notions as if they're some kind of delicate crystal creation and refuse to let anyone look at them closely or to compare them to other creations in the full light of day. For years I thought that this kind of thing only happened in the anti-intellectual, faith is better than reason crowd. For it to be so prevalent in the rarefied intelligentsia of the non-conformist left elevates it, in my mind to a kind of intellectual plague, a pandemic of unreasoned reason that is harming everything it touches.
Knowing that my pleas for a return to Aristotelian rhetorical methodologies will be equally misconstrued and misunderstood makes me feel no better about the prospects for our future on this planet. It is one thing to perish on the sword of religious bigotry and jingoism, quite another to drown in a sea of politically correct prejudice and denial.
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