By Greg Drobny
Hi, my name is Greg D., and I was addicted to online debates.
Okay, not really “addicted,” per se. But for a couple years, I engaged with nearly everyone over political issues. I wanted to see if it could ever bear fruit.
And when I say “engaged,” I don’t mean screaming matches or name-calling. I honestly and sincerely (at least from my perspective) attempted to interact with ideas and learn from others who held opinions different from my own. Even when insulted, I labored to bring conversations back to the fundamental issues at hand rather than getting distracted by secondary or tertiary topics and going down a path of arguing for argument’s sake. I wanted desperately to see if it were possible to do this in the modern social media world.
After approximately 5 years of public writing for Ranger Up’s The Rhino Den and Unapologetically American, would you care to guess how many strangers I’ve encountered who are able to do this?
I’m not positive on the exact count, but I’m pretty sure it’s smaller than the number of vacation homes owned by Bernie Sanders.
The sad reality I am slowly beginning to accept is that we may very well be past rational debate—at least in any meaningful sense. Sure, two honest intellectuals can trade ideas, discuss the finer points of their disagreements, and those listening can—if they are curious enough—learn something.
But what we’re seeing in the vast majority of public discourse is so far removed from that concept that I’m not sure it matters. What’s happening all over the news and social media isn’t debate at all.
From the post-Presidential election hoopla to full-out riots on campuses over people who say words that others don’t like, we occupy a place in public discourse whereby people don’t want to debate—they want to be right and they want power. At any cost.
Was it always this way or has it gotten worse? Although we could head down an interesting path of discussion regarding this question, it ultimately matters far less than the fact that we’re here now.
I’ve participated in, without exaggeration, hundreds of lengthy online discussions with people of differing opinions. I have witnessed and read through, without commenting, at least as many (probably more) discussions. And the conclusions I’m drawing from all of this are not pretty.
We are a society of people who, by and large, care very little about logically working through a problem. This is not an error owned solely by those on the Political Left or Political Right—those who try to convince you that “the other side” is less logical than themselves are, about 99% of the time, guilty of the same mental lapses in judgement.
As I’ve pointed out in the past, this is why the hoopla over “fake news” doesn’t matter. The overwhelming majority of people—even among those who think they are “informed”—are not reading past the headlines. They’re not engaging with the material at hand, so whether something is fake or not is, for all practical purposes, irrelevant.
Examples of this abound. One of my favorites was demonstrated with the article published on the Huffington Post entitled “Bernie Sanders Could Replace President Trump With Little-Known Loophole.” The comments section of every Facebook page sharing this article were witness to unadulterated, hyperbolic rage from anti-Bernie people, which were met with an army of his supporters shouting back even louder through their keyboards.
Of course none of them actually read the article. If they had, they would have seen—in the second paragraph, no less—this:
“There is no loophole that allows a random person to assume the office of president. That’s pretty basic common sense but yet you clicked or even shared this article anyway. Now that right there is the real point of this post…”
“There will be many people who clicked share on this post because of its headline. They may not even click to open the story. They will never actually read these words. Ironically these are the folks who need to hear it the most.”
And these are the people in the public square debating the important issues of the day. If you think that the propensity for sharing something based only on the headline belongs only to uneducated rubes, then I’ve got a lot of unobtanium to sell you at a bargain price.
From Keyboard Warriors all the way up to members of the U.S. Congress, we have mass numbers of people succumbing to this wicked disease of Confirmation Bias. That much is obvious, and very few educated people dispute that.
What is less obvious, however, is the effect this is having on our society as a whole. People are spending inordinate amounts of time arguing their position—only for no one to hear it other than those who already agree with it.
This has led to what seems, at least to me, to be a fever pitch of noise regarding political issues. When the Political Left loses their collective minds over every little thing Trump does (many of which are not all that dissimilar from the past few presidents) and the Political Right considers election victories to be carte blanche for spending every dollar they can find (or print?), then it becomes blatantly obvious to anyone who is willing to pause for just a moment that no one is putting much “thought” into what’s happening.
They just want the “other” to be wrong so badly that they’ll do anything to prove it.
Politics has always been reactionary. I’m not arguing that to be a novel thing, as any student of history will show that it isn’t.
The difference today is that it’s moving at the Speed of Internet, and everyone has a voice.
I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, and what’s more is that I’m not sure where we go from here.