The Etiquette of Debate

Another slightly off-topic post.

Recently, I was browsing the Facebook page of a highly respected global daily newspaper that I have read for most of my life. They had posted a topic of interest to me, and I felt compelled to share my opinion. That’s when the problems began.

I have noticed lately that there are two schools of thought regarding debates: debate the message and ridicule the other person. I’m all for having open, honest, blunt discussions regarding issues. I firmly believe it’s through these discussions that ideas can be refined and perfected, yielding a superior position on an issue through this sort of refinement process. However, I cannot think of anything more unproductive than to attack the person expressing an opinion that differs from your own. It is the tactic of a small mind and the first refuge of a scoundrel.

Now, without going into the specific topic of my post, I will saw that it was regarding a political ideology. Personally, I believe that socialism in all its manifestations is wrong for America. My post expressed this viewpoint, noting that there are several areas our government should be addressing before looking at my income as the cure for funding its social agenda. A number of other readers posted similar comments.

What should have happened next did not happen. Those expressing the contrary position should have entered into a professional debate on the ideals expressed in my original post. We should have looked at facts and figures, discussing how similar programs had worked or failed in the past, and through this dialogue and the free-expression of ideas we might have identified a common ground upon which to build. What actually happened was an overwhelmingly nasty series of posts attacking, not my ideas, but me personally! Not one of these other people had ever met me, but they took it upon themselves to attack my intelligence, my education, my experience, and my sanity. Why? Because I had the audacity to express an opinion contrary to their own!

It is my opinion that we, as a nation, will never solve our problems if the free exchange of ideas degrades into personal attacks, rather than an impersonal discussion on ideas and perspectives. It saddened me that this newspaper did not better moderate the discussion to prevent such an occurrence. It also saddened me that the newspaper’s editors agreed with those holding to the contrary position and that some of those launching the personal attacks were, in fact, employed by this newspaper.

We all have biases, and we all have opinions, but if we create an environment where those opinions cannot be freely expressed without the fear of being bullied by those who hold contrary opinions, then we lose something fundamental to the principles upon which this country was founded, and something necessary to ensure that policy is built upon common ground, rather than ideological extremism.

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About wbspeirjr

Author of "Muzzle-Loading Artillery for Reenactors," the 8-book "Knights of the Saltier Series," four award-winning historical novels ("King's Ransom," "The Saga of Asbjorn Thorleikson," "Nicaea - The Rise of the Imperial Church," "Arthur, King"), the award-winning sci fi novel "The Olympium of Bacchus 12," and the fantasy novel "The Kingstone of Airmid."
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