Debate is Dead; Long Live Debate
This might sound like shameless self-promotion here, but it’s not. It’s promotion through opportunity. But we’ll get to that at the end of this thing. Let’s dive into the meaty opportunity…
Last week, Do You Want Nazis? Because That’s How You Get Nazis by Kari Castor sparked an at times entertaining, humorous, mean, and irrational discussion on my Facebook page under the story’s post. What began as a mundane Facebook commentary quickly escalated into rage bombs being lobbed at one reader who didn’t agree completely with Castor’s point of view. And that’s fine. At Literate Ape, we don’t expect or even want everyone to fall in line and read along nodding in agreement with every sentence. Hell, I don’t agree 100 percent with Castor’s point of view, and I’m the co-editor. Literate Ape does not want to be Huffington Post or Breitbart — two extremes of both sides of the debate. Literate Ape exists to be a forum for intelligent, unique voices of varying opinions from writers of varying experiences and backgrounds. As long as the work is well-written, not libelous or hateful, we’ll run it.
In my and co-editor Don Hall’s perfect world, Literate Ape is a place for all readers on the political and social spectrum to visit to discover new thoughts, and yes, even thoughts that may be nod-worthy with every sentence. We continue working toward that by always looking for new contributors with a voice that has yet to be heard. We don’t want the pieces we publish to incite online or street fights, but we are thrilled when they spark healthy debate.
The problem is that healthy debate appears to be dead. Or, at best, on life support in a hospice bed providing infected bed sores rather than rational thought.
I don’t want to waste your time, or mine, typing out yet another explanation of how Facebook and Twitter, and comment sections have allowed self-aggrandizing and singular thought and vitriol to run rampant. We know it exists. The internet has allowed us to wallow and thrive in this kind of shouting match. And that’s all it is. Rare is it that you’ll find a good debate of any kind of quality in a Facebook thread.
A few years back, I got into it with a pastor from Las Vegas about breast implants on a mutual friend’s page. His point of view was that women who undergo breast augmentation do so because they have low self-esteem, and they have low self-esteem because they have not fully accepted Jesus. Of course, that’s complete nonsense. And he and I debated the various points, of which there were many. Throughout the debate, we remained respectful to each other, and he did recognize my points and admitted that he ought to approach the actions of others with less absolution based on his experiences and thoughts. It wasn’t a full concession, and that was fine. I didn’t want to be right, I just wanted him to see that there were other sides to the coin he hadn’t considered.
He and I ended up becoming Facebook friends and engaged in liking each other’s posts with the occasional friendly debate on issues that really weren’t all that important in the long run. I liked that pastor. And when he died of a heart attack a few years later, I was a little bummed out. I’d never met him in person, but it was clear to me that the world lost a man of passion and purpose and reason. We need more people like Pastor Jimmy Mac. (The Christian faith needs more pastors like Pastor Jimmy Mac.)
Debate is hard. That’s why only the real nerdy kids did it in high school. Debating issues one is passionate about is even harder. And debating issues one is passionate about while remaining respectful to your opponent is even harder than that.
Castor’s piece, in short — and I don’t want to undersell it — states that politeness won’t help the Left defeat the extremism of the Right and the Trump Administration. If we focus on the word “politeness,” she’s right. I don’t think “politeness” is the right word to use. “Respect” is the word both the lefties and the righties need to remember. Even in war, there is respect for the enemy. If you don’t have respect for your opponent, you’ll lose. Because without respect, you cannot understand your enemy. As evidenced by Vietnam, Iraq and just about every online argument, if you don’t understand your enemy by way of respect, peace with honor and progress from the wreckage is impossible.
We the People must be respectful of our opponents.
That said, fuck Nazis. Fuck racists. Fuck sexists. Fuck Trump and fuck anyone who still apologizes or defends his administration’s attempt to ass rape democracy to death while instigating totalitarianism. But you can say “fuck them” without saying “fuck them.” You can knock your opponent down a peg or two without the insulting or name calling. Make them look stupid and prove them wrong by revealing the stupidity and fallacies in their argument.
Joe Pesci’s Vincent Gambini in My Cousin Vinny didn’t win his case because he called the small southern town witnesses rednecks, hicks, or stupid. He was respectful of their situation and what they believed, and used his knowledge and understanding of the situation and those witnesses to prove them wrong with facts. We need more cousins like Vinny. Let life imitate art.
Debate is the most important tool in democracy’s toolbox. Once that goes out the window, so, too, does the democratic process.
Going back to Castor’s piece, which sparked the intense thread on my Facebook page, she does not want to chill. And she shouldn’t have to. We need rage. But we also need calm. Now stick with me here because I’m going to use an analogy that the NRA folks might cum all over… Rage is our weapon. It’s the rifle, it’s the bullet. Calm is needed to aim the rifle and gently squeeze the trigger so we hit our intended target. Without calm, we’re just a rage monster firing off rounds, which is how innocents get hurt. Dare I say we need more Lee Harvey Oswalds. He was full of rage but was calm enough to (allegedly) shoot the brains out of Ted Kennedy’s older brother.
Now here’s the shameless self-promotion I promised.
Being that Literate Ape exists as a way to inform and encourage discussion, we host a monthly event called BUGHOUSE! on the first Monday of each month at Haymarket Pub & Brewery. BUGHOUSE! is 75-minute show designed to interrogate concepts, proselytize truth, and dissect popular thought through a lens of skeptical artistry. Three bouts, six warriors, three decisions. BUGHOUSE! aims to definitively answer the most (and least) important questions of the day. This month’s event is Monday, July 9. (Yeah, I know that’s not the first Monday of the month but we wanted to be mindful of the holiday week.) This month’s topics:
Online Vitriol: Self Regulate or Throttle Access?
The Faraway Future: Star Wars or Star Trek?
Climate Disaster: Nostradamus or Chicken Little?
In the 10 month’s we’ve done this event, Don and I have always had spectators and performers alike say to us that it was not only fun but educational, too. We don’t take it too seriously, but we recognize how important it is to engage in respectful debate on all topics both important (Climate Disaster) and not at all (The Faraway Future). And if Pastor Jimmy Mac were alive, I’d invite him out to debate me on the reason women get boob jobs. Because who better to debate that topic than two men?
Join us at BUGHOUSE! this Monday and in subsequent months. You won’t regret it. For those of you not in Chicago, each one is a podcast, too. (Listen here.) And join in on the need for respectfully debating even the vilest people making the vilest arguments. Don’t pull your punches but take the time to understand them so you can beat them. One must know thine enemy. The moment you start name calling and screaming out of turn, everyone loses. Everyone except the bad guys.