Public debate is not something at which I would label myself as skilled. I love a good discussion, but most of the time I need to absorb and think prior to responding. If I am fully aware a debate will occur, and have time to prepare to defend and refute, I fair quite well. But spontaneous debate is not my strong suit when it pertains to subjects in which I am not highly educated. This is probably true for most people and can likely be proven by social media.
When we review debate in its earliest ages, the times of Plato or Socrates, we learn of educated individuals who studied and prepared for open debate concerning topics such as science and philosophy who were armed with knowledge prior to commenting. Their goal was not to prove themselves correct, but to open a discussion from which all might learn and grow.
In our modern age of technology and social media, debate happens at a rapid speed across the internet by people of all ages and backgrounds. This is a good thing since those who hail from many socioeconomic backgrounds have a voice within the debate. However, the platform does not always allow for intelligent debate. The pace is fast moving, many people have the ability to interject with unrelated statements, and bravado increases behind the shield of a computer, so participants may spew forth attacks against fellow debaters.
More than likely we have all witnessed a debate, which could probably be deemed more correctly as an argument, sliding across our newsfeeds. One person voices an opinion or posts a picture, someone responds with disdain, and without hesitation, people are fighting with their utmost power to be “right.”
Left out of the equation is empirical data, scholarly sources, or even the very basic of facts. What people bring to the table are assumptions, opinions, untested theories, and a cosmic ton of personal feelings. Many of these feelings are so personal that friendships have been broken via some internet squabble. Knee-jerk reactions to misunderstood statements, or opinions with which we do not agree, often lead to someone cursing and typing in all caps.
I can’t point fingers without pointing a finger back at myself. I am as guilty as anyone else for being involved in cyber tiffs. One of those particular arguments, about whether or not a person should or would use the restroom meant for the opposite gender, was so ridiculous I hang my head in shame for having been involved. But the truth remains that it happens. In fact, I’ve witnessed some internet interactions which made me wonder as to just how far the dispute would escalate. There is rarely a positive outcome from these discussions.
The question I must ask is, what benefit is this to individuals and society? We have seemingly taken a scene of well-behaved, intelligent individuals, sitting around a table and sipping tea whilst discussing important issues, and morphed that scene into a boxing ring complete with fighters feeling each other out until the time is right to take the first jab. Rather than talking about solutions to universal problems, we use our keyboard arsenal to attack those who disagree; each keystroke is a bullet aimed at our remote targets. This becomes most apparent in discussions of prominent news issues, e.g. abortion, gun control, and politics. People do not absorb, or even recognize, valid points raised by opposing viewpoints.
Maybe this is born of modern political debate in which it is far more frequent to witness character assassination in the form of verbal cow flops being tossed than it is to see respectful debate. Perhaps we do carry over that mindset to our cyber lives.
What I do believe might be at fault more than following the lead the supposed great debaters in our country is there is a lack of willingness to stand tall and say, “I’m wrong.” The embarrassment involved in standing within a public forum and admitting any amount of defeat is a left-hook to the ego few are willing to endure. Moreover, few people are even involved in debate for the purpose to learn and grow, and are seemingly participating to prove the superiority of their own stance.
Nothing but speculation of the psychology behind social media arguments exists to the best of my knowledge, and correlation does not equal causation, as I well know. However, we could safely wager even as we speak, someone is involved in an ugly social media debate. I don’t want to believe social media has strangled out intellectual debate, but the data is definitely pointing to its downfall.
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!