Debate is rampant all over the internet, some intelligent and well reasoned, some is just name calling. Unfortunately, almost never is there reasoned resolution. What is there are people unwilling to concede points, intellectual dishonesty, and extreme amounts of bias. Even when people come to a “agree to disagree” moment, it simply means that at least one participant in the debate is too closed minded to accept any point of view but their own.
The debates on the internet echo the debates being held in congress. It’s the kind of stuff that makes observers cringe, or want to change the conversation to something less polemic. The debates are important though, that much can be agreed upon, but determining who is right and wrong is made to seem like a form of mysticism. It’s a game where the competitor that states their opinion with a more insulting quip or a pithier response, is declared the winner.
The Obama vs Romney presidential debates are a great example of our national irrationality. Watching CNN give real time approval ratings to arguments exemplifies that reason is not at the forefront of our democratic process. It didn’t matter if misinformation was being spread, what mattered was who appeared more right, and who used a higher number of key words designed to elicit a desired response. When candidates contested points that were factually incorrect it wasn’t unusual to see their approval go down. What impressed people was when they spoke confidently about their point of view regardless of its validity. According to public opinion, a lie is merely a spin of something that could be true if spoken with the proper demeanor. The takeaway is our process of coming to rational conclusions democratically is broken, and always has been. One person’s opinion may contain significantly more relevant facts than another, but if that opinion is not stated in the proper way it becomes less true in our perception.
On such a stage the players seem so important, but are they? If the wrong solution can be made to seem right by merely presenting the argument with the right narrative, then do the players actually matter much at all? Probably not that much. What matters more is the process in which we derive answers, and that we break down issues in logical ways and implement solutions with a high degree of logical, and factual reasoning.
What’s even more important in creating good debate is giving people more of a reasoned voice. If our debates are poorly structured and so easily manipulated by bias then it creates a society that can be cajoled into going along with nearly anything. What we have is a segmented populace that is largely incorrect and uninformed, and a large part of this is due to a lack of critical thinking. Comedians often joke about how stupid Americans are, and I don’t believe they are really stupid, but they simply accept a cognitive bias before ever really questioning the full breadth of an argument. Political arguments are contrived and oversimplified to be readily sold, but I contend that logic can be sold and prove more powerful than the chicanery currently employed.
If Americans were more rational debaters we wouldn’t have such a visceral populace that is manipulated repeatedly by wedge issues. Thus we should agree more than we disagree. If we want to change the tone of our conversations we first must accept that there are real answers to issues, that it’s possible for us to be wrong, and that we put coming to the right conclusion ahead of our preconceived affiliations, as hard as that may be.
We know there are facts, and science is a platform for finding these facts. In academia there are scientists, logicians, and game theorists that are able to take arguments and hold them to a higher standard. A standard where we are clearly able to define right or wrong answers in a prescribed context, and if not finding an absolute definitive, at least a probability of what is more likely to be right or wrong.
As humans we can know things in complex systems, and we are not forever doomed to live in a Cartesian state of dualism. Facts can be seen when we turn on a computer, or drive a car. There is that which works and that doesn’t. We can use the scientific discipline of observation, hypothesis, experiment, and theory to gain a working implementation of knowledge. Ostensibly this is straightforward, but it begs the question of what is happening on our political stage, and why is debate so polarized if there are right and wrong answers.
So often though our corrupted political process hijacks rational thought and the debate shifts to purely ad hominem reasoning. Politicians can be and often are wrong, but instead discussing solutions, the argument often turns into a form of entertainment via ridicule and quippy cynicism. Case in point, Barack Obama is not the most divisive, marxist, Kenyan born, America hating plague to the planet we’ve ever seen. This is grade A hyperbole, and it’s destructive reasonable thought.
There are conclusions to be reached. However it’s going to take a restructuring of how we discuss and react to the most difficult issues of our time to change the tone of the national dialogue and political milieu.