The Usefulness of Debate

The Usefulness of Debate

Is debate a useful technique in hashing out issues, learning from one another, or exploring solutions? I used to think it was, but I am beginning to question that wisdom. I used to consider debating an enjoyable sport, but I have been lately seeing the futility of this tool of discourse.

In the debates I have observed and participated in, I have noticed that very little consensus is ever reached. Both sides seem more interested in defending their prized crown jewels – nuggets of wisdom that are, more often than not, entirely subjective appraisals of the world around them. I am including myself in this assessment. I am certainly guilty of playing defense and not listening to the other side.

One can see this in action by watching less than an hour of the US Senate or House debate a topic. Presenters come prepared with slideshows and placards that generally reduce an issue to its most primal elements. The pre-packaged assessments roll off the tongue, but generally hold little resounding emotional resonance.

If you want to see an even more vapid example, read the comments section of any major newspaper website – or a contentious Facebook post. You’ll see paid shills arguing with each other with perfectly crafted quips, insults, and retorts. When an amateur debater joins the discussion with a longer, less polarized reply, they are either ignored or shunned. The discussion is nearly instantly derailed into adolescent grandstanding.

And after hundreds of replies, the original message was lost. Someone called someone else a jerk, used a curse word, or insulted their manliness in some way. Another innocent bystander tries to interject their perceptions on the issue and are slaughtered by the master debaters. A Facebook thread gets deleted, or a newspaper editor decides that comments just aren’t worth the bandwidth they consume.

In the end, we’re left with little to no knowledge gained by any of the involved parties.

From now on, I am going to try to participate in discussions, not debates. I will listen better, defend less, and learn more. My increased openness to ideas will not result in blind acceptance of them, but rather to be considered as alternative points of view. I’ll treat them like a buffet – take what I want, leave the rest. When someone tries to preach dogma to me, stops listening to me, or rallies their defensive forces for an all out siege, I will move on to the next discussion.

Call it a late resolution for 2017.

Author: Robert W. Oliver II

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