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A course in discourse
February 28, 2013 - David Alexander
Whatever happened to reasoned debate? It seems to me that there are one of two types of “debates:” either people are content to shout at each other, throwing around wild ad hominem arguments or they are too busy trying to be “civilized” to actually be critical of another person’s point.
How a person could misconstrue either of these forms of rhetoric as debating is beyond me. We are all familiar with political talk shows where two people from opposite sides of the political fence duke it out on camera, seeing who can get the most cheap shots in during a two-minute segment.
I have several problems with this format, as many people say they do, but obviously, someone still watches these shows. First, taking an issue that has several aspects to it, say gun control or abortion, and trying to crunch those ideas, which take time to elaborate on and rebut, into such a condensed frame seems a bit silly. Secondly, many shows deliberately choose schmucks to represent one side and folks who are well-established for the other, which seems a bit like putting a heavyweight up against a lightweight.
However, this desire to avoid shouting matches has created another problem. For those not wanting to engage in such disputes, the overly aggressive nature of the aforementioned has caused them to water down their arguments or avoid conflict altogether because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Heck, even during the so-called presidential debates, the candidates are not allowed to address each other directly. By definition, that is not a debate.
We need to learn to have strong civil discourse that is challenging, thought provoking and earnest. Being respectful of another person’s opinion doesn’t mean you shouldn’t criticize it just like standing your ground doesn’t mean you have to attack everyone who doesn’t agree with you.