…are three contributing killers of discourse, especially online.
Aspiration for intellectual infallibility is killing the very root of discourse: curiosity. Help control the cat population!
We’ve reached an Orwellian opposite where the people with the closed, impenetrably stubborn minds claim to be the most open. But “LOL, right, like I’M a square!” is of course a square assertion; such a person has boxed his or herself in, and desperately clings to conserve their idea of their identity.
I find that boring. My favorite people are aware that they’re works in progress – those who don’t claim perfection, but strive to improve, and empathize with those doing the same. When someone who’s, say, not a senior citizen, presents an image of full formation, I’m turned off. Hipsters and hicks alike. Gimme humility!
It’s not just the lack of (self-)acceptance or need to remain “correct.” It’s the requisite will to confirm any biased thought as they see fit, to serve whichever narrative they’ve decided serves them best. There’s no real entrance or exit allowed with such a mind – a veritable pre-golden ticket Wonka factory.
Lack of curiosity is unnatural – we have only learned all we’ll ever know once we’re dead. Ideally we progress until then. Confirming one’s biases while rejecting all conflicting information is not progress, unless one’s goal is to steel and suffocate their brain.
Enter Unquestioned Political Party Allegiance.
“But I’m well-informed!” Where do you get your information, and do you also read purveyors of the opposite ideology? Indoctrination ≠ information.
“My political allegiance is correct; the other is evil!” Do you realize the “other” (you little hypothetical xenophobe, you!) thinks that, too?
“All the other side does is LIE!” See above, but more so, why mindlessly align with a major political party, instead of defining your own unique principles? Why so binary?
Cling, cling, cling.
Destructive. Believing we’ve chosen the correct political party (or religion, though politics seems more prevalent) leads to instant, unearned feelings of superiority, disrespect for the other, and in turn, no ability to debate them.
We sideline ourselves, consuming media from representatives of our chosen ideologies who think, research, talk and debate for us.
We can’t magically internalize these representatives’ knowledge, so when we’re presented the opportunity to debate real principles, too many of us can only resort to slogans, ad hominem personal attacks, or aggressively changing subjects in the absence of our ability to articulate.
We feel artificially empowered having (chosen to have) been convinced that we’re on the correct side, and therefore feel justified defending that side however sloppily or despicably as necessary to “win.”
But no one wins. The result: not only are no minds changed, but we’re further divided from opposition, further convinced that we’re good/smart and they’re evil/stupid.
A lot of perfectly good relationships are ruined because of this. How many times have you seen the unfortunate “UNFRIEND ME IF YOU BELIEVE X, Y, Z, etc” post online? These are exactly the type of people we should want to debate! There’s already some common ground and a mutual respect to build off of – ideal foundation for mind-expanding discourse. Because of this I’ve never understood the derision/fear of talking politics at the proverbial family get-together. We can always agree to disagree – or better yet, admit a deficiency of knowledge in a given field, and do some research before meeting up again.
For each of us there was a time when we first began to cling to whatever biases we hold. We weren’t always so stuck or set. We have a pulse and therefore the ability to change our minds. It’s a privilege and a vital strength.
That said, choose your battles out there. Snark, sarcasm (as well as non sequiturs, or any other tools for hiding in plain sight), and ad hominem attacks are several of the biggest “tells” that one is arguing with a brick wall – a person who denies his or herself (or never learned) the ability to think critically, independently, and curiously. Often they have tied their very identity to their idea that they’re of superior intelligence and morality, and will fight like a cornered badger to desperately conserve this and to avoid humiliation, rather than improve or learn something new – such would be to admit a deficiency; heavens no!
Pleas and Suggestions:
Encourage questions, rather than ridicule someone who doesn’t already know or believe something that you do. And don’t interpret being questioned as intentionally impolite. “How DARE that Troll ask me to articulate my beliefs!”
Encourage discourse. It’s the foundation of real progress. If people can’t discuss their disagreements, they will ultimately regress to violence. This can(/will?) end very, very terribly (see: the French Revolution – seriously, it’s mind-blowing).
Entertain others’ opinions. If your principles are defined (reminder: “I belong to Political Party X” is not a principle) you will be able to more easily navigate the rocks in the water.
Admit deficiencies. It’s the only way to move on. I saw a new one the other day, in a YouTube comment “debate” where someone replied, “Well OBVIOUSLY I was wrong about …” – in other words: “No DUH – only a MORON like You wouldn’t realize that I realized I was wrong.” I don’t know if that’s a step in the right direction or not.
I talk or e-mail with at least 40 unique customers a day for my job, many of whom need help, but have no idea how to ask for it, or are ashamed to have to ask, so they’ll adopt a combative voice. Insecurity and deficiency should be handled with humility, not aggression.
Civilization itself requires good communication, discourse and debate. Unless we’ve simply grown tired of this experiment in civility, and want SICK BURNS and SLAMS and REKTS instead; when you see these online spats, it’s rare that anyone appears to actually want to help or even change anyone’s mind, so much as claim victory or superiority.
I wonder about a link between exploration and empathy — the kindness and patience we gain for others from our own willingness to wade into the wilderness of uncertainty.
What do you think? Holler,