Remember the Good Old Days when disagreements were settled with a duel? When disparagement of character could be challenged by the superior marksman, or swordsman, whichever the case may be? It coasted on a perverse sense of honour, predicated in the belief that the only reason one would put their life on the line to defend an idea is if they thought that idea was true enough to risk it.
The actual matter of accuracy or lack thereof, however, was not investigated by these duels. They may have proven that the idea–whatever the idea actually was–was important to the dueling participants. That’s it.
Debates are no different.
I can’t help but roll my eyes to near fatal degree when I hear debate proposals being positioned as acts of truth and discovery. They’re not. Just like the duels of yore, they simply illustrate that two people care enough about a topic to make a public spectacle of their disagreement, and in the absence of a corpse the “winner” is simply whoever the audience liked more–an attitude influenced no doubt by whether or not either speaker pandered to their pre-conceived ideas and prejudices.
After all, if debates were about discovery, the questions would focus on actual research findings, and not reductive buzz words inevitably miring us in the swamplands of linguistic nihilism. It’s not a demonstration of acuity or accuracy of belief. It’s a pissing contest to see whose stream reaches farther. It’s a format that rewards theatrics and melodrama, not logical structure or thoroughness of fact-checking.
So here’s a prediction: Jordan Peterson will win his debate. He will win his debate because suspicion of trans people is the activity du jour of hand-wringing reactionaries. His premises will not be accurate and his conclusions will not be valid, but it won’t matter. His detractors already know he’s full of shit and all the debate is likely to do is contribute to his weeks long gish gallop, his supporters will accept his flawed reasoning because transphobia is the Soup of the Day (but only as long as you call it free speech rather than transphobia). No one will learn much except for whether or not their disdain for one idea or another is represented by one of the parties present. His supporters, confirmed in their prejudice by a fancy academic (hey I guess those fuckin’ nerds are good for something, as long as they agree with me), will carry on with their lives heads firmly planted up their asses. The addresses and phone numbers of his detractors will remain on the internet forever. Fact and reason will fall by the wayside, buried ironically by a man who claims to wear the very concepts as his banner.
Nothing will change. Not from this debate. Not from any debate. Educators will carry on educating despite the ditches Peterson tries to dig for us.