8: Debate Revisited

I said in my last post that I would eventually tackle Andrew Sullivan's article, "Is There Still Room for Debate?" Today seems like a good day for that. There are two things that I would like to address: first, the question in the title of the article, and second near-religious fervor, Sullivan was citing.

So first, can we still debate? Yeah, I think we can, though I would be the first to admit that we've gotten increasingly bad at it, especially on social media. I think everyone at a fundamental level recognizes that there are multiple facets to everything and that there is always room for interpretations that are wrong or are missing some parts of the facts.

Most of the time when I've seen or heard someone say something stupid about there being no room for debate for them they are either 1. A child who still has a lot to learn about the world; 2. An ideologue who won't be worth speaking to anyway; or 3. Someone who is actually too stupid to realize that life is complex and full of gray areas. The final two are rare enough that I don't bother. The first has a tendency to grow out of that mindset and get better at thinking and reasoning as time goes on.

I think we are always at the risk of losing the capability for debate as people become increasingly comfortable with authoritarianism, but at the moment, I think there is still room to disagree and to come to different conclusions. For example, I try to do my part for anti-racism, but I have no intentions of putting black squares on my social media. I disagree with that part, but I don't disagree with the overall aims of the current protests.

Overall, I suppose I end up in a more hopeful position than Sullivan. Debate and disagreement are being pushed down a little bit, but everyone is angry right now. Cooler heads will eventually prevail, but it's worth keeping in mind that we are still the same country that dumped a lot of tea into the Boston Harbor over a tax increase. Some things just don't change all that much, and I'm sure there were perturbed people in Britain and America wondering when we could get back to the mental work.

I guess I just think there's a time for both. There's a time to think and a time to act. There's a time to reflect and a time to move forward. There's a time for debate and a time for a revolution. This just happens to be a time for the latter, so those of us that might prefer a bit of a debate are getting our collective jimmies rustled. And I get it. I wish we would all sit down, have a nice, logical conversation and all come to the collective conclusion that we should disband the police.

I just also think we might be the wrong country for it. Again, tea. In the Boston Harbor. Because taxes. See where I'm going with this?

But then there is a side issue, and that is the fact that we are all so cozy with authoritarianism these days. And let's make no mistake here, this is not just because Trump and his circus of fools are in the whitehouse. It's a problem that runs deep in America.

Sullivan thinks that this takes on religious undertones. I generally agree, but I think it's not so much about religion as it is about how comfortable we are with the government walking all over people. We're ok with unjust surveillance as long as it helps us stop terrorists. We're on-board with the government forcing us into lockdown and economic freefall as long as we are kept safe from Covid-19. We're fine with Trump as long as the libs are getting owned. We're ok with publicly-funded colleges banning speakers as long as it keeps students mentally safe. An actual socialist was nearly a candidate for president this year.

These seem unrelated, but I think the thing that draws them all together is that they are all examples of the extent to which we've become comfortable with authoritarians. We seem to have lost or laid aside the view that says "we shouldn't consolidate power into one branch of government because there will eventually be a bad person in there that will abuse that power." Instead, we've allowed people to abuse political power all in the name of some abstract cause. After all, the thinking goes, if we just have someone good hold absolute power, then all our troubles would be fixed.

But good luck ever finding anyone that is completely good. So while I don't agree with all of Sullivan's conclusions, I do agree that we can definitely get worse. The more we slide our way down the slope of authoritarianism, the worse and worse our debate will be until we have nothing but the bottomless pit of dystopian, state-mandated groupthink. On the other hand, this trend is reversible. We always have a choice between rational debate and getting the State to stomp our enemies. The more we choose the former over the latter, the better off we will all be in the long run.

But don't just take my word for it. Read the article yourself and come to your own conclusions.


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