Author Topic: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"  (Read 1727 times)

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Offline heyalison

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I came across this article elsewhere on social media, and I think it speaks to some very relevant points for this forum, for skepticism, and society as a whole. The article can be read here: "Speaking Ills" (John Semley/thebaffler.com/Oct. 31, 2018) (Full disclosure, for those people who might want to dismiss this out of hand as being the work of "cultural marxists" or whatever the cool terms are these days. The article is from The Baffler, who describe themselves as "America’s leading voice of interesting and unexpected left-wing political criticism, cultural analysis, short stories, poems and art.")

Some quotes:

Quote
"The general notion of public debate (and the very idea of the “pubic sphere” for that matter) resides tacitly on discursive public space as an arena for settling the relative strengths and uses of a set of ideas. Two intellectual frameworks enter, and only the burliest leaves. It’s a kind of egghead octagon. Now, however, debate—and especially the challenge to debate—exists as an end in itself. Debate has become a conservative fetish object."

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"...the very form of structured, public debate feels slightly regressive. It appeals not only to the loopy, esoteric belief in the unmediated primacy of the spoken word, but also to potentially uncomfortable ideas of authority itself. Debate proceeds not from the model of a community in dialogue, but rather from the general addressing his troops. It’s a bizarre trick that the contemporary right (from “classical liberals” to alt-right and Intellectual Dark Web figures) attempts to lay unique claim to the very ideas of reason and rationality. “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” bray Ben Shapiro’s followers. But rhetoric has always relied on affect and feeling, not just the calculated rousing of the audience’s emotions, but the deeper feeling that speech itself is somehow privileged, truer."

These behaviors are clearly on display in the alt-right and fans of the Peterson, Shapiro, and sometimes even those of Novella. Ironically, even on this board discourse has been hampered by this aggressive demand that every thread be treated as a debate, and that all debates be answered or the opponent has "lost." Certainly the emotional high of watching edited clips of one's heroes owning an opponent is popular, as the internet thrives on sharing these clips, and challenging people to dare to watch their hero. There is no original thought from the poster, however, just the emotional rush of being on the winning side and imagining oneself as the winner of the exchange. And much like the debaters they're fans of, if you dismiss this framework they will gladly proclaim victory anyway, as though choosing not to debate these empty, bad faith gestures is evidence of a paucity of intellect.

The ultimate casualty of this approach is the death of any sort of collaborative approach to problems, sharing ideas, and seeking out truths. Can you imagine trying to design any complex technological item if every design element had to be debated over, instead of collaborated on? In many of the more obvious examples of this behavior (the cultural appropriation tire fire is a great example), there is not much effort to go "OK, look, I'm not getting this, it doesn't seem real to me, but how can I try to understand it?" Instead, people start with a talking point they've gleaned from the internet (CA is BS!), and then just hunker down for a long siege, hoping to outlast their opponents and declare victory. There's no effort to seek out resources or perspectives which might help glean understanding, and in fact people openly dismiss accessing resources from opposing viewpoints. And despite the cry of Shapiro and others about facts and feelings, the emotions are clear. The anger and defensiveness at being called out for bad faith arguing come from that emotional fervor. I'd suggest some have an addictive relationship with this cycle of emotion, even while demanding they exist only in the realm of facts and reason.

We're in a historical moment where many bad, bad ideas and bad people are gaining prominence because we've allowed them to set the terms of interaction. We need to find sustainable ways not just to live on the planet, but with each other, and maybe part of that starts with questioning the framework that has led us down this path.

(FWIW, I'm not interested in debating this, and I've already got the usual suspects on block anyway. Sure, I guess that must mean I've lost this "debate," but I'm glad to have conversations with those who aren't mired in that regressive stance.)

(EDIT: to fix the link)
« Last Edit: November 01, 2018, 08:31:08 AM by heyalison »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2018, 08:41:58 AM »
I've never liked debate, whether it's the kind the SGU had a couple of episodes back, or the kind the politicians stage before an election. A debate never settles the issue at hand. It just allows us to see who is the more skilled debater. In fact, a good debater is expected to be able to argue either side of an issue, as, e.g., when a lawyer is expected to argue the guilt or innocence of a person regardless of whether she or he believes the person guilty or innocent.

That said, I am guilty of the above, though I try not to, and it happens less and less and I get older. I get into arguments with people when I feel strongly about an issue, and try to convince them they're wrong, even though I never succeed.

With friends, disagreements play out much more as you advocate, looking for common ground, not arguing (or not nearly as often) and ending with each of us understanding each other's positions better, or even coming to an agreement.

We humans are ruled far more by emotion than by reason.
Daniel
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Offline Harry Black

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2018, 09:50:33 AM »
I've never liked debate, whether it's the kind the SGU had a couple of episodes back, or the kind the politicians stage before an election. A debate never settles the issue at hand. It just allows us to see who is the more skilled debater. In fact, a good debater is expected to be able to argue either side of an issue, as, e.g., when a lawyer is expected to argue the guilt or innocence of a person regardless of whether she or he believes the person guilty or innocent.

That said, I am guilty of the above, though I try not to, and it happens less and less and I get older. I get into arguments with people when I feel strongly about an issue, and try to convince them they're wrong, even though I never succeed.

With friends, disagreements play out much more as you advocate, looking for common ground, not arguing (or not nearly as often) and ending with each of us understanding each other's positions better, or even coming to an agreement.

We humans are ruled far more by emotion than by reason.
I was about to post something similar.

The idea that the best ideas prevail is clearly false and people with a higher level of debating ability need to be even more careful about their biases than others because its unlikely anyone will ever 'prove' them wrong.
The extreme example of this is, if I were to debate Ken Hamm, creationism is not suddenly more likely to be true, even though I would lose.
It means we may need to do the extra work of assuming all of the people telling us X may have a reason to believe it and going back over our own behaviours rather than just assuming we dont need to take it seriously after asking for evidence and people not responding.
Doing otherwise is just what that one person at work does where they keep an email to show they requested X but never got it so the problem shoukd not be in their intray. Its an approach that favours the removal of responsibility over the actual solving of problems.

I understand it to a large extent. The current model is the one that has been used for decades, even centuries. But now, the internet and social media has given us more granularity as to why some voices were missing all along. To ignore that because of some idea that the enlightenment got every process right first time is the same as ignoring germ theory after the invention of the microscope.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2018, 02:05:28 PM »
And yet, there are some propositions nobody is ever going to convince me of. Nobody will ever convince me that there's a God, or that you're better off not getting vaccinated, or that there's any benefit in homeopathy, acupuncture, pee-drinking, or "energy" healing where they hold their hands above you and direct "energy" into you with their mind. Nobody is ever going to convince me that the Earth is flat or that the planet Nibiru has been hiding behind the sun for a million years and is now getting ready to come out and wreak havoc upon the world or that Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon.
Daniel
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Online arthwollipot

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2018, 07:53:55 PM »
At the risk of being the guy that just posts "I agree",

I agree.
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Offline SkeptiQueer

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2018, 08:53:34 PM »
I wonder if perhaps the devotion to debate is related to the just world delusion. If we believe that right triumphs over wrong, then of course the right side would win the debate. If the debate is supposed to convince the other person, there's nothing about being smarter or having better ideas that does that. If it's about convincing the audience, that's certainly not about which idea is right at all. I wonder if this isn't related as well to the overvaluing of the idea of intellectualism.
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Offline heyalison

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2018, 08:31:27 AM »
I wonder if perhaps the devotion to debate is related to the just world delusion. If we believe that right triumphs over wrong, then of course the right side would win the debate. If the debate is supposed to convince the other person, there's nothing about being smarter or having better ideas that does that. If it's about convincing the audience, that's certainly not about which idea is right at all. I wonder if this isn't related as well to the overvaluing of the idea of intellectualism.

To me, it seems less about a just world than the refusal to acknowledge privilege, though I suppose they end up playing out the same way. I'm never shocked when those who rile against the idea of privilege also tend to be heavily invested in the idea that equality is already present, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Believing in a just world conveniently blurs that, so it does seem they're intertwined.

There definitely does seem to be some fetishizing of the identity of being an intellectual. It seems to be happening when people "play act" as intellectual, through behaviors like aligning themselves with the presentation of their heroes (the "watch this YouTube video!" phenomenon), which allows the emotional hit of superiority without any intellectual effort. The constant framing of "Carl Sagan said this, and I agree!" or "Steve Novella said this, and I agree!" is the intellectual equivalent of a kid wearing Dad's oversized suit and playing office.

Also, and I think we've seen this happen on this board, some people have anger management issues and they express that online. They seem to get a thrill out of "winning" debates, or angrily decrying those who call them out for this behavior. In those cases I imagine skepticism just happened to be where they stumbled into, and if they'd instead been, say, into fishing, they'd be arguing with people on fishing websites about why others don't actually understand how to properly use lures or something.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2018, 09:46:11 AM »
I do admire and respect intellect. I guess I lack the objectivity to know if I'm fetishizing it. I hope I'm not. At the very least, I don't think I've ever posted a YouTube video of someone arguing a topic. I'm more likely to post videos of great musicians playing Bach. I do cite people I regard as experts, and I do regard Dr. Novella as an expert in his field.

I reject the idea that the world is just. The world doesn't give a damn about justice or fairness. Inequality is a shameful reality in my country and elsewhere. I admire people who agitate for a more equal, more just nation and world, and I participated in such agitation when I was younger. But now in  my old age I've become cynical and I'm just trying to have fun. Which makes me a bad person. I still care, just not enough to overcome my cynicism and do anything about it other than giving money to progressive causes and charities.
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Offline heyalison

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2018, 09:50:46 AM »
And to bring it back to a point, sorry, instead of just pointing out behaviors again, I think communities need to be active in engaging them. As frustrating as it is hearing the same talking points over and over, writ large they are a big factor in the rise of Trump, Ford, Bolsonaro, and others. Letting Islamophobia be a debate issue without any context of the real world and how that fuels anti-Muslim violence isn't a neutral position. Saying nothing isn't a neutral position. The right has appropriated the language of reason and skepticism, and are using it for such cynical ends.

Still, I think Skepticism is in a unique position to influence positive change, because it is so heavily populated with white cis men. Those of you who do get it, who are concerned about the state of the world, you have access to other men like the rest of us don't. I'm honestly worried about where it is right now, but I think Skepticism has a great capacity to be a force for positive change in the world. It might be uncomfortable, though, and it might mean conflict with your pro-Trump relative, but at least you have a chance to be heard. The rest of us, those with the boot on our neck right now, we're invisible and silent in those guys' worlds.

And part of that is visibility, and it's really troubling that there are, what, 1800 replies to the CA thread? And the same disingenuous arguments are still going around. The SGU has like a quarter million listeners, and if even a tiny fraction of them come check out this messageboard and lurk, that's a lot of people who are being exposed to the idea that, as a skeptic it's fine to use straw man arguments to silence the concerns of people of color. Debating in that case has clearly not done anything other than fuel the confidence of the bad actors. Maybe skepticism, or whatever comes out of it, it needs to give up on free speech fundamentalism, and decide that it's not intellectually dishonest to accept that dehumanizing conversations lead to real world dehumanizing violence--and as such denying a platform for those to spread those ideas is the ethical choice.

If there's a time to be having this conversation it's now, and I hope all of the smart brains attracted to skepticism will decide to figure out a better way, because I am legitimately worried about the future of our species. The world is already getting worse for some of us.

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2018, 11:32:28 AM »
Maybe skepticism, or whatever comes out of it, it needs to give up on free speech fundamentalism, and decide that it's not intellectually dishonest to accept that dehumanizing conversations lead to real world dehumanizing violence--and as such denying a platform for those to spread those ideas is the ethical choice.

I can admit that I am a free speech fundamentalist. One of the most fundamental liberties necessary for a free society.

You are the person who stated that stating that the authoritarian regime of Morocco not being religiously tolerant, with references to several human rights reports, is just a way to "complain" about Muslims. You psychologize about people in this thread.

Also, I don't recognize that threads here are debates where people declare victory. At least I don't view it like that, and I can't recall ever claiming victory. Most of the time the "threads" die out because, I guess, things don't really progress anywhere, people for whatever reason get less time and therefore don't visit the forum for a while and when they are back, that discussion was too long ago to warrant further debate, or because a discussion becomes too heated so it is better to just call it quits. But I may be wrong. I can only answer for myself.

What does "overvaluing" the idea of intellectualism mean? I don't know about you, but I think society has too little, rather than too much, intellectual thought. What desirable alternative to intellectualism is there?
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2018, 01:32:12 PM »
I've never been a free speech fundamentalist. I stopped supporting the ACLU way back when they defended the "right" of Nazis to march in Skokie, IL, claiming the holocaust never happened, though a neighborhood where holocaust survivors lived. (I support the Center for Constitutional Rights instead of the ACLU.)

I have no pro-Trump friends or relatives, with the possible exception of my sister, with whom I cannot talk about anything but cats and the weather because she goes ballistic at any mention of politics (or religion, or medical science) so I actually don't know her politics right now. She supported Reagan but we have not spoken about politics since then. I'm pretty sure she's not racist. She always throws out comments about how great her acupuncturist is, and how great acupuncture is for her dog (!) but she's never mentioned Trump to me. You might be underestimating how difficult it can sometimes be to talk to relatives. Or maybe it's just my Aspergers that makes me incapable of relating to people.

Daniel
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Offline Harry Black

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2018, 03:37:04 PM »
Quetz, you say you dont know where the threads are where people are declaring victory?
Look at the cultural appropriation thread. For months it has just been a place for people who agree with each other to reassure each other that they are correct and for one rather smug individual to pop in and post pretty much exclusively examples of things to sneer at.
Its also very clear from the critiques you all offer that none of you actually understand the ideas you are critiquing because the objections you are all imagining are not real objections.
The current idea there is that people object to the mixing of cultures?? Jesus Christ.

What is happening in that thread is the sociological equivalent of  the eyeball argument against evolution.

Its the best example of what heyalison is talking about (from what I understand) but not the only one.

Further more, this childish demand for every example of every incident that has given people a general impression of divisiveness etc is not helpful to anyone because the 'defender' can surely find ways to explain away and dismiss every individual example (as Im sure you will with the above) and define the problem out of existence, but that does nothing to remove the impression from those who have walked away with it.
We know we have a diversity problem.
We are being told by minority people why.
We are not responding to their concerns with anything other than dismissal and at best condescension.
We can feel like our behaviour and choices are justified but we have been told what the general impression of others is and we are doing nothing to address that.

And ironically, the folks pushing hardest to dismiss these problems are those who make the most noise about optics and how we need to package ourselves so the Trump voters etc will listen. But fuck the vulnerable people who need our help and are understandably running short on patience.

Offline heyalison

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2018, 03:43:11 PM »
I can admit that I am a free speech fundamentalist. One of the most fundamental liberties necessary for a free society.

Then you have a very myopic, limited, and privileged view of the world. I'm not getting into the same free speech argument again, but the reality is we do in fact limit speech all of the time. Free Speech Fundamentalism is a simple answer to a complex question, and betrays a lack of depth of understanding human behavior and cultures.

Quote
You are the person who stated that stating that the authoritarian regime of Morocco not being religiously tolerant, with references to several human rights reports, is just a way to "complain" about Muslims. You psychologize about people in this thread.

Look, I don't even remember what thread that is? What I do know is you post anti-Islamic and anti-refugee talking points a lot, and when people engage you on it you argue with more talking points. 

And as surprising as you might find this, it's not all about you. You aren't bringing anything different to the table than any number of young men online who repeat the same talking points and engage in the same bad faith behavior. My concern is with this demographic as a whole, and how we veer you away from enabling the cruel and xenophobic right wing politics in the world. And regardless of your claims to not be a member of a tribe, the goods and the ideas you're selling are.

Quote
Also, I don't recognize that threads here are debates where people declare victory. At least I don't view it like that, and I can't recall ever claiming victory. Most of the time the "threads" die out because, I guess, things don't really progress anywhere, people for whatever reason get less time and therefore don't visit the forum for a while and when they are back, that discussion was too long ago to warrant further debate, or because a discussion becomes too heated so it is better to just call it quits. But I may be wrong. I can only answer for myself.

You clearly join in passive aggressive questioning of other's skeptical bona fides. That you don't see that behavior as part of dominance assertion seems to just be another facet of yourself you're blind to.

Quote
What does "overvaluing" the idea of intellectualism mean? I don't know about you, but I think society has too little, rather than too much, intellectual thought. What desirable alternative to intellectualism is there?

And again, you miss the point of what people are saying, and respond in the least charitable way possible. Though I'm sure any minute now you'll complain that people aren't giving you the benefit of the principle of charity (or more likely smugly you'll wonder it aloud  ::) ).

You might be underestimating how difficult it can sometimes be to talk to relatives. Or maybe it's just my Aspergers that makes me incapable of relating to people.

That's fair, and I apologize, I know family can be hard for a lot of us. I guess my point would have been made better as "If you do have access, please use it."

EDITED to fix a small grammar thing
« Last Edit: November 02, 2018, 03:49:03 PM by heyalison »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2018, 07:50:57 PM »
... I know family can be hard for a lot of us. I guess my point would have been made better as "If you do have access, please use it."

I completely agree with your underlying point: That we should confront bigotry whenever and wherever we encounter it. As a cis white hetero male myself, I probably don't always recognize it, but I always try to speak up when I do encounter it, unless the person is scary. I'm too much of a coward to confront an angry, mean-looking person who's bigger than me or who I think might be armed. But that's usually not the case and I try to say something.

OTOH, some of the scariest-looking people I've come face to face with were when I was in prison, and I had my prejudices rudely shattered when they turned out to be very friendly. It was an educational experience that I'd recommend to everyone who has grown up, as I did, in privilege.
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Offline Soldier of FORTRAN

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Re: "Speaking Ills: The quasi-mystical cult of debate-for-debate’s sake"
« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2018, 10:38:41 PM »
Bit of an aside, but I can't stop seeing that, "just because you disagree," canard as being like money laundering. 

Step 1) Say some nazi-esque shit or whatever.
Step 2) Other person says, "that's some nazi-esque shit, what the hell?"
Step 3) Some dude pipes up, "whoa, you can't say that just because you disagree!"

Apparently disagreement makes equals of us all. You can launder anything through it.

I see it a lot of from the alt-right types.
If global warming is real then how come I just felt this chill down my spine?

 

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