Monday, January 10, 2005

Impossibilities of Debate

This in reply to Skitz's Debate is dead post. This reply got delayed. More so, since me and Skitz got together to talk about this. There are some fundamental impossibilities of debate. It is not technology we are talking about.
  • Psychological Impossibility: I claim that most people don't want to hear the other side at all. They don't want to begin such a thing. Cognitive dissonance is only one of the reasons for such behavior. We are extremely uncomfortable with conflict, and we don't want to go there.
  • Linguistic Impossibility: People on different sides speak different languages, and cant talk to each other. They don't understand each other. They want different things. In psycholinguistic literature, there is talk of framing. The frames are different for people on different sides.
  • Social Impossibility: When we have certain beliefs, we belong to the society that fosters those. Thus the swathes of red and blue on the US map. We don't even hang out with the other side. We don't even know who they are. Aliens. Meaningful conversation, with them? Something like this.
Thus, debate isn't dead, it never was possible. We in our hearts hope that its not this bad. This kind of analysis must be about a large fraction of people, not ALL of us. Not intellectuals, etc. So, here. Pick up something important, like which way you vote. Tell me how much debate with the other side you did, how much you tried to read, talk to, or understand the other side. If the other side is prima facie wrong, then you don't debate.

Seeing all the sides must be good. This is something I deeply believe. So, the challenge is this. How do we make people get an itsy-bitsy glimpse the other side. Not debate. Just a tiny glimpse.


Blogger $mike said...

I believe myself to be a rational person. Facts are facts, right? The problem as I see it, is that many of the issues for debate in the public arena are devoid of facts, and thus open to manipulation of the linguist and social kind described above. Then, only personal belief is a factor, making debate nothing more than ego masturbation.

Let’s take abortion. I’m fairly certain everyone here would agree killing another human being is wrong. The basic question behind the ~debate~ concerning abortion is whether that thing in the woman’s womb is a human being or not. No one can say for sure. For every fact that points to yes, there is a fact that points to no. To some it’s a parasite until exit. To some it’s an “unborn child”. It depends on your personal beliefs, so debate is pointless.

Even something as ~scientific~ as economics is full of contradicting facts. Does cutting taxes really invigorate an economy? Bush did it a few years ago, and I’d say the results are mixed. Unemployment seems to be going down, but what about the reports that some people have just stopped reporting their joblessness? Consumer confidence is wavering, but consumer debt fell a great deal lately. This, that, A, B, up, down, left, right. What affect did cutting taxes have? Who the hell knows for sure? It becomes an issue of personal belief in the end because you can’t prove anything.

[ As an aside, you know that movie, “A Beautiful Mind”? It was about that guy, Nash. He came up with some theory where cooperation was found to be a better system than pure self-interest? Anyone know if that’s being used at all or a good source to learn more about it? ]

Taking a look at the above, it seems I’ve become quite a curmudgeon on public policy debate. My position is, if it comes down to personal beliefs, what’s the use of debate? Especially when those personal beliefs are influenced by personal gain. I believe abortion should be safe and legal. How am I going to convince a born-again Christian who believes life starts at conception of this? I believe we need to overhaul the federal tax system, possibly using a flat-tax or national sales tax and including some way of taxing wealth, with near zero deductions/loopholes. I believe more and more in states’ rights, that the federal government should become akin to the European Union, that the Department of Education is ripe for oblivion, mining rights should be controlled by local authorities, and the FCC ought to be disbanded so every state has domain over it’s own spectrum. OK, that last bit is still an idea in the oven for me. But how am I going to convince some middle class family to give up their deductions for children and mortgage, or get them to support a slashing of government initiatives with such wonderful doublespeak names like “No Child Left Behind” or “USA Patriot Act” when it goes against their personal beliefs and interests, given that I can’t *prove* my beliefs will improve their situation?

9:43 AM  

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