Arguing On-Line

Posted: June 7, 2006 in Blogosphere, Debate, Manners

I stumbled into an interesting post at The Futurist called "Deconstructing the Leftist 'Mind'" and the even more interesting comments thread that follows it. Never mind that The Futurist is a right-leaning blog and that the post was bait for left-wingers. If one were to discard all the news and debate that subscribes to hopelessly reductive and increasingly meaningless dualisms such as left/right or red/blue, there would be little left to attend to. The comments have a really interesting exchange between Conrad and GK, but as the number of comments climb, the level of civility descends and the exchange devolves from debate to argument to name-calling and worse. Naturally, things spin out of control. There's an old bit of wisdom from UseNet that the first person to mention Hitler or Nazis in an argument concedes defeat by admitting he/she is out of good ideas.

This article by Charlie Brooker at The Guardian describes the same phenomenon. A brief quote serves to characterize his viewpoint:

There's no point debating anything online. You might as well hurl shoes in the air to knock clouds from the sky. The internet's perfect for all manner of things, but productive discussion ain't one of them. It provides scant room for debate and infinite opportunities for fruitless point-scoring: the heady combination of perceived anonymity, gestated responses, random heckling and a notional "live audience" quickly conspire to create a "perfect storm" of perpetual bickering.

The American Experiment in democracy is sometimes described as an ongoing public discussion or argument, which results in a sort of equilibrium superior to either of the extremes. To have one side (thinking of only two sides of a coin) or facet (thinking of a multiplicity of perspectives) become too dominant is politically unhealthy precisely because the equilibrium disappears and extremism rules. Further, stifling of dissent and disappearance of principled argument signals the sort of desperation that leads to violence and war. 

I still have hopes of learning new and interesting things, many of them interpretations and opinions (as opposed to mere facts), and I fully expect my opinions and perspectives to change as a result. However, human nature apparently being what it is, it's difficult to find interlocutors who can maintain decorum. It's a shame.

  1. grasshopper says:

    The deterioration of civility on the internet is no worse than many face to face arguments. Past a certain playfulness forcing your ideas on another becomes a form of bullying. At least in anonimity and before "a live audience," no one gets her or his teeth kicked in. No torn earlobes, no gouged eyeballs and no weapons suddenly drawn. Disagreements have often devolved into murder, even wars, if you believe what you read. Idiocy in the form of rash words doesn't kill anyone or even suppress further discussion. grasshopper

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