The nonsense that Americans call debates


You might be familiar with structured debates where afterward audience members will vote on who “won” the debate. Or what happens in a courtroom where a judge decides what she believes, regardless of the truth. We also call the organized arguments of American politicians “debates” even though they sound dishonest and rely on ad homs, put-downs, deflections, and psychological tricks to try and make themselves more appealing and to preach to your biases. Rather than to try and inform you of an issue if you disagree with them they preach to their base and usually talk past their opponent. Moreover, they engage in these debates with a script they’ve rehearsed, and they have no willingness to change their own minds. All 3 of these formats are called “debates.” But what should debates aspire toward?

Well, we should try to be rational, but since we aren’t perfect, controlling our tone does a lot to keep debates on tract. Tone actually does matter when it comes to being persuasive. We are less likely to trust the motives of the one we are arguing with it the argument gets hot or overly hostile, and more likely to project malice on their words rather than brutal honesty. I think the best kind of debate to emulate is the kind of discussion you find in a philosophy classroom that follows the Socratic method. “Debates” there are more like mutual discussions that aggressively try to get to the bottom of the reason why you believe something, and to look for problems in your assumptions. It’s a form of “debate” that aspires to rise high above the petty squabbles that characterize many debates to spend the time in a way that leads to the most learning.

You might find the following article very interesting, I found it through a a link on a philosophy blog when I asked myself, “I know Trump is a compulsive liar. But why the is it so hard to communicate with Trump’s supporters who get upset easily and who remain convinced he’s just honestly speaking his mind?” It helped steer me away from the American tendency to just blurt out whatever you want when you argue.

You’ve probably also heard public intellectuals and philosophers use the newly coined phrase “the post-truth era” to describe our contemporary society since most people doesn’t seem to give a damn about facts, and only want to hear their personal beliefs validated. If you seek to join the long fight against hundreds of mass psychoses, then you really should understand how we have slipped into believing in all kinds of fantasies in the first place. This might greatly interest you:
It’s the preface of a book which posits that Americans are especially prone to believing in conspiracy theories and mass delusions because we began with a radical strain of Protestant cults that believed each and every person should be permitted to reject the experts and believe in whatever they wanted to believe. Even if you’re not American, the insights can be applied elsewhere; plus Americans are everywhere on the internet anyway, so it’s very important to fully understand what made us so stupid and susceptible to religion.


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