Here in the United States of America we have freedoms enshrined in our founding documents that people in other countries around the globe don’t have. We have individual Constitutional rights that empower the people, the individual, and limit the government. As a result of our individual freedoms and rights, the power of the individual has been multiplied and helped the United States grow into one of the greatest nations that the world has ever seen.
Part of what has made the United States one of the greatest nations the world has ever seen has been the power we have that’s rooted in free speech. Our free speech rights give us the right to freely discuss our ideas and opinions with anyone we choose without the fear of reprisal. [Suggested addition by slickwilly (see comment below): Without the fear of reprisal from the Government.] Individual free speech rights helps unleash the power to build upon the combination of ideas and opinions and in the process we combine the strengths of the individual into a powerful and united whole that can rapidly create something better or something new whether it’s something ideological or something physical. Free speech is an equality concept, your speech is valued the same as everyone else’s free speech. Without effective communication between individuals, based on the the equality of free speech, things start to break down and divisions begin to grow. Free speech is a fundamental core that makes up our society, without it we will become a less united society.
How we as individuals communicate with each other has been crucial in building a united front that has taken the United States of America from a fledgling nation in 1776 to a dominating world power in the 21st century. We’ve presented ideas and opinions, debated the pros and cons as individuals and as a nation, supported our debate and opinions with truth and facts, and in the end we’ve come to conclusions that are usually based on the truth and facts and that process has helped our country grow and prosper. Yes, we’ve faltered here and there and we’ve seen how the clash of core ideals and a severe breakdown of communication can end with dire consequences, like our own Civil War, but in the end we’ve been able to effectively talk through issues and reach amicable conclusions that help our nation grow and prosper.
Something has changed with how we communicate in the 21st century. The decline in effective communication has been growing at an alarming rate. In the past 20 years or so, how we interact with others in discussions is changing and the change I’m seeing is not good for us as individuals or society as a whole. There are false conceptions about free speech that I’m beginning to see creep into our society that’s putting the brakes on civil discourse and dividing the nation. These false conceptions are growing in popularity and as they grow they’re helping to destroy one of the core foundations that helped make the United States great, we’re losing our ability to effectively talk through issues. The false conceptions are…
We the people have the right to say whatever we want which makes everything we say right!
Arguments don’t need to be supported with truth and facts.
With the internet as an instant gratification catalyst, and the growing popularity of social media, online discussion forums, blogs and media outlet comment sections more and more people are actively discussing a variety of things in very impersonal and uncivil ways that most people would never consider doing when confronted with face-to-face conversations. Listening skills have dwindled, comprehension of the written word is fading, willingness to communicate at all with those outside of our ideological bubble is diminishing, and open bigotry (intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself) is becoming uncomfortably popular and in some circles it’s expected. There are people making choices to argue based on emotions instead of facts and logic, this is a terrible morphing of civil discourse in the United States. There’s a noticeable failure in the ability of some people to communicate opinions and arguments in a manner which is effective. There is a genuine lack of effort, ability, and/or willingness to support opinions and arguments with truth and facts. It seems that our ability to civilly “debate” with truth and fact based opinions and arguments has turned into short snippets of wild accusations with absolutely no truth or facts to back up the opinions or arguments. I’m seeing more and more online discussions, especially discussions of a political nature, where one side makes all kinds of questionable assertions about someone or something using targeted words to gin up emotions without providing a shred of supporting evidence to support the assertion; I too am guilty of wandering down this path sometimes before I catch myself. When a person making assertions is asked to provide something to support their claims sometimes they start making unethical choices like; shifting gears by saying they mean something else (move the goalposts) and when you ask them to provide supporting evidence to support the “new” claim they start dragging the goalposts all over the playing field, or they attack the questioner for asking while dodging their inherent responsibility to support their own assertions, or they clam up and refuse to reply and let their assertions hang out there like those from a hit & run internet troll.
To get back to a more civil manner of discussing things we all need to start following some simple rules:
He/she who asserts must prove.
If you are willing to assert then you must be willing to establish that assertion by supporting it with enough evidence and logic to convince an intelligent but previously uninformed person that it’s more reasonable to believe the assertion than to disbelieve it. Facts supporting an assertion must be accurate.
Don’t assert if you cannot support the assertion.
If you assert and you’re unable or unwilling to support your assertion then your assertion becomes unsupported and the equivalent to an unwarranted falsehood.
He/she who engages in discussion must expect to be challenged.
Engaging in a discussion is a two way street, if you are not willing to “discuss” then you’re just trolling. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Ask fair and clear questions that have a direct bearing on the discussion.
Don’t ask questions that aren’t on topic or deflect from the discussion.
Use rhetorical skills to build your own case and tear down the opposition’s case.
Don’t attack the person making the argument attack the argument.
It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Don’t engage in discussion if you’re not reasonably capable of supporting your opinions and arguments. It’s better to sit back and learn from those who are capable of supporting their opinions and arguments.
These simple rules will help you show some basic respect for those you debate and will help foster in a new era of civil discourse which we, as a society, seemed to have lost. Be the pebble in the pond not the inciting internet troll under the bridge.
This blog post has been a long time coming so if this blog post is ringing your bell and you think it’s all about you (it’s not), then maybe you should reconsider how you’re presenting yourself in discussions. The choices are yours and yours alone.
Featured Image Credit: Background is a cropped photo that I found online, I added the quote to the photo.
12 thoughts on “Take Individual Responsibility For How You Debate”
Batman considers open season on trolls to be without restriction.
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Great essay, Steve.
One tiny nit to pick: “without the fear of reprisal” from the Government. Otherwise speak at your own risk.
That’s a fair point Slick, I added it to the text.
“Part of what has made the United States one of the greatest nations…”
Nation is derived from the latin “naci” which means “of birth.
The “United States” is the name given to the political entity that WAS (emphasis, as this is no longer true) “of America” – America being the nation of British settlers who declared independence from their home country.
Read the Declaration of Independence. It contains the phrase “our British brethren” for a reason.
The fact that you don’t know this is indicative of the general problem of Boomers believing in civic nationalism, and that all we need is free speech and the best ideas will win…
That is not how it works. Not how it has ever worked, any time in history. Because of that naive attitude, millions of people are going to suffer.
Because a generation bet the future on “let’s all get along”
The rules you put out are similar wishful thinking. Have fun giving CPR to a corpse.
Actually Boomer Blamer, nothing in my blog said or implied anything you wrote in that deflection, it looks like your making up this nonsense as an ad hominem. Please read and follow my Comment Policies. Whatever the point is that you’re trying to get across in this section of your comment is unclear, you can explain it better if you like but refrain from the ad hominems and actually address something in my blog post.
By the way, I’ve read the Declaration of Independence many times and I’ve studied it. I hung a copy of it in every office I had while in the United States Army. It’s actually more to me than just a document that started the independence of the United States of America my great, great, great, etc Uncle signed the document, it has tremendous historical value to my family and I.
As for your the phrase you presented “our British brethren”, this was part of a sentence “Nor have We been wanting in attention to our British brethren” and that sentence was was part of a paragraph that was to convince readers that Britain has treated the colonists unfairly. The point you’re trying to make about using the phrase “our British brethren” escapes me, because at the point that they made wrote the Declaration of Independence they were national British brethren however after they signed the Declaration of Independence they no longer were British brethren, the point of the Declaration of Independence was a separation from their British brethren and the British government. This is self evident.
You made a false assumption about what I do and don’t know. Your ignorance about the importance of free speech is indicative of the problems the United States is facing today with totalitarian minded fools out there doing everything they can to suppress speech they hate and making all kinds of false claims about speakers they hate. If you don’t see this as a problem, you never understood the Bill of Rights.
At no time in my blog post did I say or imply that “the best ideas will win”. Don’t put words in my mouth like that or you’re out of here permanently.
Since I’m not the one that said the things you’re arguing against, this looks like another pointless deflection.
That’s some serious magical thinking.
I don’t know what generation you’re talking about but it’s not mine. It seems to me that people like you are betting on incivility and societal chaos and THAT is what will truly make millions of people suffer.
There have been rules for debate around for hundreds of years and those rules are in place to maintain civility and prevent debates from erupting in violence. What I wrote as rules were developed from a long history of civil debating rules that needed a little updating for the 21st century. You’re willingness to throw out rules as being “wishful thinking” when those rules are what ground us in civil discourse tells us all what we need to know about your personal character.
Please try to do better on your next comment.
Very in-depth and a proper criticism. There’s a difference on fundamentals here. I simply don’t believe free speech actually exists – that this is an invention of the “Enlightenment” era. There’s really no good positive defense of the concept that I’ve seen. Not the utility of “it” existing – but the existence as such…
That’s one difference on first principles / fundamental presuppositions. It’s about the ideas, patterns of these generally held assumptions, and how that’s shaped policy and society.
So let’s look at these ideas:
“He/she who asserts must prove.”
– not necessarily… this is first of all impractacle in most dialogue and also there’s another way to handle things you disagree with – you can say, “ok, let’s say you’re right about that and see where it goes”. This style occurs many times during the Socratic Dialogues.
– also, asserting supporting evidence could be challenged with the same rule, leading to an ad-infinitum regression into the underlying facts. I’ll admit this is a somewhat silly challenge of the rule but it’s logically evident.
“Don’t assert if you cannot support the assertion.”
– what about saying, “I believe XYZ but can’t support it factually. ABC would disprove it though.”
“He/she who engages in discussion must expect to be challenged.”
– hey yeah I’m all for that
“Ask fair and clear questions that have a direct bearing on the discussion.”
– yes this is a good thing to do as well
“Use rhetorical skills to build your own case and tear down the opposition’s case”
– I’d add that good rhetoric should point toward the truth
“It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
– too late for that
Well, all around it’s pretty good stuff. I maintain that a lot of people in today’s world simply won’t do this – that these are patterns of behavior that you learned prior to being able to say what they were exactly; part of your culture, your people, and it’s fading for a reason. One big part is a breakdown of trust.
Thanks for having some.
Yet here you are exercising free speech and offering your opinion; your logic on this point is questionable.
Might I suggest you visit countries that don’t support their people having free speech, how about North Korea, in some aspects China, almost any country where the government is dominated absolutely by Islam. Speak out against the government or the Koran in these countries and I’m sure you’ll find some good positive defenses of the free speech concept.
The basic form of the Socratic methods is to ask questions of logic and fact intended to help someone discover their beliefs about some topic. When an assertion is made, someone is presenting their beliefs on a topic, it’s a complete waste of time to try to help them discover their beliefs when they’ve already presented them. In modern debate this is non-starter, you don’t waste time wandering off into such tangents – get to the point! In modern debate, whether online or in person, a questionable assertion should immediately be challenged with a demand of supporting evidence. In my opinion, it’s also a waste of time to say, “ok, let’s say you’re right about that and see where it goes”; however, I might consider doing something like that in a conversation with a close friend or family member but outside those confines they get a direct challenge.
Let’s use the race baiters around Madison as an example. There are race baiting social justice warriors in the Madison area that have either stated outright or directly implied that Dave Blaska is a white supremacist and a racist. These assertions have been made many times and no matter how many times it’s asserted the accusers cannot provide a shred of evidence to support their claims. White supremacist and racist cannot hide their immoral beliefs, there are always patterns; I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever to support the claims that Blaska is a white supremacist or a racist, none! These social justice warriors are asserting a lie as if it is fact and they have nothing to support it, this is slanderous and libelous behavior and you don’t pander to people who do these kinds of things with ancient Socratic methods of debate you confront them head on to prove their accusations. These unethical and immoral race baiters are making these claims to put those they oppose on the defense and shut down any debate coming from their opposition. There’s this concept in the United States that a person is “innocent until proven guilty” and modern debaters have bastardized that concept and openly state that it only applies in a court of law when this concept has been far more than that, it’s been a core of a civil society and they are actively destroying that core.
This rule is no joking matter.
Setting that rule aside as being “impracticable in most dialogue” is an open Ethics Surrender unethical rationalization. You can see a complete list of Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions by following this link. Here are the ones that you’re using in this discussion.
It’s interesting that you would write that because over on Blaska’s blog you wrote this…
…to which I replied…
So since your rhetoric didn’t point toward any verifiable truths then using your statement above as a guide your rhetoric was not good rhetoric, does that make your rhetoric bad?
Thank you Steve for your thoughts on these trying times.
Yes, individual thoughts, words, actions, combined with the thoughts, words and actions of others are the building block of all societies. Tearing down the right of an individual to express his or her thoughts and conform to the dictates of the collective is the end of freedom as we know it.
I would also like you to consider in these times the words of another person I have been reading and that is Leo Hohmann. https://leohohmann.com/
I find what he has to say very troubling but it is good to know just where we stand as individuals and as a society.
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