Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Temper Tantrum: Rational Debate

I was talking to a friend about the violent rhetoric that led to the shooting of Rep. Gifford, she said we all must be civil and work towards compromise. I disagreed with part of her statement, that does not mean I think she is Hitler.

The part about civil discussion is totally right, the part about compromise is not 100% correct. In a civil debate there has to be a time when compromise is impossible. If you are talking to someone who believes that the Earth is flat, and you believe that it is round a compromise saying that it is a semi-sphere isn't going to allow you to navigate around the world.

That being said there is no reason you can't be civil about it. One of the nicest videos I've seen was of a bunch of Atheists toured the Creationist Museum. Obviously compromise is out of the question between these two groups. In today's era of overheated rhetoric you would expect these groups to yell and scream at each other, but instead they calmly listened to each others points and agreed to disagree. They didn't mock each other as it was unnecessary, each group knew people of their own group would draw their own conclusions. It would be nice if differing groups showed the same respect towards each other as the creationists and the atheists in that video.

There are a few things that people can do to help create a civil discussion.

First: Remember that even if you disagree with someone they are probably not Hitler. I truly believe that only Hitler was Hitler.

Second: Online, let people know that you can understand them perfectly well in lower case and that Caps aren't necessary, unless they really like them in which case that's fine too.

Third: It is physically impossible to listen and talk at the same time. This is an area where multi-tasking is not a good idea.

Fourth: To err is human. Expertize is a funny thing, when you know a little about a subject you can talk about it confidently. After you've put in 10,000 hours on that subject you are actually less confident as you know how much you don't know. For example last year I was pretty confident in my ability as a writer, several magazines published my stories so I had some validation. Now I'm putting together those stories for an ebook and I have to rewrite all of them, just because they were good enough for an editor to pay me for them doesn't mean they are good enough for my book. It's the same with almost any field, so remember that when someone says, “In most cases” and “Usually” it doesn't mean they know less than the person who proclaims, “Every time” or “It always”. In fact the person who makes the small disclaimers probably knows more about the subject than the person who talks in absolutes.

Fifth: Remember that there are crazy people out their that take violent imagery seriously. So use this for entertainment. Tell people that Rush Limbaugh should be smacked with a pillow. If a nutjob takes you serious and goes on a pillow fighting spree it would be funny and no one would get hurt.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Alien Thoughts

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