The Death of Engaging Conversation and Informed Debate
Ah, social media. A platform for the ignorance of the masses. A glorious innovation to spread misinformation and to display bad attitudes for the world to see for forever.
Wow, this blog post has already started out sounding like its author is an elitist cynic. Haha.
Anyway, social media is an amazing tool that shares information and enables world-wide connection in capacities once thought of as impossible. However, the majority of users use said capacity to complain about life and "talk" about politics and social problems. I put "talk" in quotes because, one, unless he or she is using speech-to-text, he or she is not literally talking, and two, because without the quotes it may suggest some form of intelligence.
But getting serious now, I recently engaged in a less-than-friendly conversation with one of OKC's most prominent reporters. As he is very opinionated (and I don't think that's inherently a bad thing), he loves to argue with and mock Oklahoma politicians, especially in the midst of some recent drastic budget cuts. As a pseudo-conservative, he likes the idea of small government but also believes that taxes can fix all of society's problems (and this is a very sarcastic view of his ideas, admittedly a straw man; also, admittedly, I haven't actually nailed down his political views). As such, I called him out for it on Twitter as he was complaining about the cuts (as he's done nonstop since the budget passed two weeks ago). As a libertarian, I'm all for limited government and limited (to non-existent) taxes, so a $6.78 billion dollar budget seemed plenty liberal enough for me. Rather than tweeting back at me and engaging in a conversation, he quotes my tweet and presents a straw man of my argument, subtweets me to a couple of his followers as the guy who wants to cut funding to abused kids in foster care and then blocks me.
Ironically, my brother sent me the below pictures just a couple hours before the Twitter-feud began. Shoutout to Tyler.
I do not want to disrespect this man but it seems strangely sad to me that a man who is supposed to be an objective fact-checker (and is supposedly one of OKC's best) presented a straw man of my argument to his followers and then blocked me altogether. While this is is not a soap-opera on social media, I can't commentate on the state of debate in society without also mentioning social media. Social media has contributed sorely to this poor state. Social media has given every single person in the country a platform to share their ideas. While this can be a very good thing, it is currently being abused by the loudest sheep. Everyone thinks that they have the original and brilliant idea, everyone thinks they are right and everyone thinks everyone else cares about what they have to say. However, NO ONE CARES. The only people that care are those who are just as or more convicted about the issue you're posting about. If you post an anti-gay marriage post on Facebook, ten people are going to descend on you in some misguided attempt to get you to change your mind. Typically, words like "bigot" and "ignorant" and, if you're lucky, some expletives will be leveled at you. Regardless of where you stand on that issue (or any issue at all), there is discussion and debate that can be had on where one stands politically, socially and morally. It is totally possible that two people can come together, have a discussion and depart amicably but still be in disagreement. It just rarely happens anymore, because people are much more invested in having an opinion rather than in being informed. This can result in anything from getting ignored to the classic, "YOU ARE WINNING THIS ARGUMENT SO I WILL START TYPING IN ALL CAPS AND CALL YOU AN ASSHOLE!"
Because nothing displays your rational thought-processing more than swearing, angry typing and eventually blocking the agitator!
Returning back to the Twitter-feud between me and the reporter, the issue isn't in the disagreement itself. The issue is in what it means for Truth in society. Him and I could have engaged in a lengthy conversation (preferably offline, everything is better face-to-face) and we still could not have seen eye-to-eye, despite his strong arguments for the morality of taxes for the sake of the marginalized and my arguments in favor of individual social activism with no governmental intervention. But we didn't even get to that stage. He blocked me before we even got near it (granted, I also called him an elitist prick after he started subtweeting me). The fact is, this is no isolated incident (the getting blocked over a disagreement, not the calling people pricks, I don't normally do that). People love to hold on to their truths and spout them off as written and established facts, or at least as unique ideas.
As St. Augustine argues: the truth is like a lion, it will defend itself. Those who dispute this quote typically do so from a platform that defines Truth as something subjective or widely accepted. The fact is, the majority does not determine Truth. In fact, throughout history, it is sometimes only the minority that embraces the truth. There is a Truth out there that we can find. But to do that, we must let go of our own truths. When I engage in an argument, it's not to "prove my point" (despite what my sometimes enthusiastic or over-zealous nature may suggest). Rather, it is to find the Truth that ideally all parties are searching for. There is no venue where this is more obvious than in political discussion. There is a point where opinions don't matter. At the end of the day, there is fact and fiction, a right way and wrong way. However, less people are willing to engage in discussion in order to determine which way is right and are more invested in harping on ideology.
Voltaire is one of my favorite Enlightenment philosophers. He was a member of a small group which, throughout history, has whispered truth into a world shrouded with misinformation and ignorance. He didn't shout and he didn't put on a spectacle to attract attention, he merely stood his ground and promoted truth. I have no desire for people to blindly follow me and agree with me. I'm still learning and, at the end of the day, I know nothing. There is so much I don't know and the amount I don't know is exponentially growing with each passing day. I don't want someone to tell me I'm right, I want someone who is willing to talk to me to tell me why I might be wrong.
A beautiful paradox of knowledge is that as one learns more and more, one is also reminded evermore of how much is yet to be learned.
I'm not here to say that this reporter is a meanie because he didn't agree with me and/or because he blocked me. I'm here to advocate for discussion and debate. I can't stress it enough, but America (heck, the world) needs an informed people to be voters, workers and innovators invested in empowering each other. If one is truly convicted that they hold on to the Truth, this Truth is best spread (and maybe even refined) through open conversation face-to-face. It's time to grow-up, everyone; and I say this to the 50-year-old reporter, to the 13-year-old on Facebook, to the 20-something college student and everyone in between. Convince yourselves that you don't know anything, abandon the pursuit of your petty self-actualization and actually talk to someone who disagrees with you. It's amazing how much you could learn.
Revolutions are overrated. If someone really wants to change the world, it starts with how you treat people (particularly those who disagree with you). Take the conversation offline, set aside time to be intentional in the pursuit of fact and speak graciously.
*Header photo courtesy of The Atlantic Magazine.