Debate seems to becoming a lost art.
By debate, I mean true intellectual give-and-take. You present your facts, I present mine, presumably against a philosophic backdrop of reality and not never-never land, and each party attempts to persuade.
Persuade, not browbeat.
Such is what I read and hear more and more of recently: pure, unadulterated browbeating, verbal bullying and one-upmanship. And I recognize it because I used to be a master of it. But no more.
Yes, I’m through with the jousting. I’m through trying to intimidate and belittle those who disagree with me. Who does that benefit ultimately? My ego, supposedly. And I guess maybe it did sometime. Did I enjoy seeing an unworthy (in my eyes) or unprepared opponent wither in the face of my logic? I admit I did. And that was wrong. I was promoting myself not my argument.
True debate should seek to enlighten one’s opponents, not embarrass or humiliate them. But that’s what arguments—most especially politically-tinged arguments—have been debased into by more and more commentators today, both in public and private discourse.
The anonymity offered by the internet has only fueled such vitriol; write what you want and hide behind a pseudonym. Yep, that’s true, bold debate isn’t it, now?
As a devoted and die-hard follower of Ayn Rand for many years, I was a pompous ass most of the time. I freely admit it now and I’m not proud of it. I learned much from this brilliant, albeit flawed, philosopher but not all of it was entirely good. I would take utter glee in firing off attacks at total strangers, people I had never met in person, because they were Godawful liberals, for example, or Kantians or Marxists. Case in point: I used to regularly knock Robert McElvaine, esteemed History Professor at Millsaps, because of what I had heard about him or by reading his op-eds. I think I may have even told people I “hated” him because of his views. This was said even though I had never met the man.
Well, several years ago, this dreaded liberal professor and I shared cocktails in the bar at Bravo! and had a ton of laughs and a great time discussing history, politics, religion…you name it. Part of this is due in part to a change in my own philosophy, yes; but the larger reason is because I’ve become more humble, more tolerant (if I dare use that dreaded word) and more respectful.
Do I still get angry with other people’s views? Certainly. But if I ever intend to change a mind with views different from my own, throwing insulting salvos won’t help the cause. Respect, reason, rationality…and actually listening to my opponent’s own views without just pausing to reformulate my own…might just allow me to make a point. And maybe even change their minds. Maybe.
If not? Well, unless my friend in argument is out to kill or enslave me, I’ll just shake his or her hand, thank them for the conversation and be glad I live in a nation where people can disagree without being hauled off to a re-education camp…or worse.
So Mr. “Ready, Aim, Right!” here has transformed—and I’m glad about it—into Mr. “Ready, Aim…Let’s Discuss It.” And you know what? I sure have learned a lot more about life, mine and others, in the process. I’m also a better thinker and human being because of it.
I hope real debate remains alive and well and I’m sure it still does in many quarters. I just don’t read or hear as much of it as I used to–especially in our current political climate.
But there is hope: if a former pompous jerk like me can learn his lesson, can’t anybody?!