In the arsenal of those who desire to affect change, debate is one of their most effective tools. However, it is not the end all be all way of solving questions and settling disputes.
This past week, browsing YouTube, I saw a title and thumbnail that made my blood boil. My pupils dilated, my hair stood on end and my muscles tensed. The video was by the channel “Jubilee” and was part of a series called “Middle Ground.” The title was, “Can LGBTQ+ and Christians See Eye to Eye?”
The comments on the video were infuriating, they contained nothing indicating that minds had been changed, but were full of people patting themselves on the back for being so “civil” and “hating the sin not the sinner.”
The conversations in the video were shallow, yet the very fact that it took place was seemingly laudable enough. I am aware that YouTube comments are below the bottom of the barrel when it comes to discourse, but the video did prompt me to think about what the role of debate is when it comes to changing people’s minds.
There is an attitude that I have observed in the past couple of years; that there has been a sharp decline in civility in our political discourse and that lack of civility is what is going to lead us all to ruin. If only we could all just sit down with each other and have a calm, reasoned debate, everything would be all sorted out. This attitude, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how ideas spread and of how power dynamics affect those ideas, and the people who hold them.
What was the point of that video? The title of both the video and the series, “Middle Ground,” suggests that the purpose was to find parity between the two viewpoints and come to a mutual understanding. Before either side had said a word, the framing made the argument that compromise was the way to peace and that the process of debate was a way of synthesising that peace.
Both sides were given equal time, with equal numbers, and were portrayed as moral, social and intellectual equals. It was utter disingenuous dreck.
What were the participants hoping to get out of the debate?
Debate is not just another word for argument, the clash of opposing ideas and peoples. It describes a ritual, a formalized way of conducting that clash. It’s more akin to a boxing match than a negotiation.
It is Mayweather v. McGregor, a theatrical spectacle. Mayweather was not trying to show McGregor that he was the better boxer, McGregor, like all humans, doubled down when egos and self-hoods are challenged. Mayweather’s goal was to show the audience, the world, that he was the better boxer. The difference is in debate it is more abstract.
And just as debate is a way of fighting, there are those who fight dirty. Gish gallops, bad faith, and bullshit abound. Don’t get in the ring with a rabbit puncher.
I’m not saying that we as a society are too far gone and debate is completely useless prattering. Far from it. Debate is an excellent way of getting down to fundamental issues and exploring a subject matter. I’m simply saying that it has a time and place where it is most useful.
The video was of the dominators negotiating with the dominated. It was a disgusting farce.
There is no “middle ground” when it comes to recognizing the humanity of people.