When will people learn that debate is just noise to distract you all?


This week, an organization calling itself the “Munk Debates” hosted an event in Toronto. Even knowing that much, I would have rolled my eyes — these public debate shows, whether it’s Munk or Pangburn or whatever otherwise tedious troll has decided to stake their reputation on hosting assholes arguing with each other — are a waste of time. This one in particular was a debate between David “Cheerleader for Bush & the Slaughter of Muslims” Frum and Steve “Proud Racist” Bannon on the subject of “Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist not liberal”.

This was rather like inviting Ken Ham and Kent Hovind to debate on whether the future of science is creationism or evolution. That, too, could be presented as a “public service” by allowing ideas to be “vigorously contested,” but it would be a lie. Debates never accomplish anything. I very much like this summary of the process by Tabatha Southey:

The truth is that while debates can be fun to watch and some people are very skilled at doing them, debates very seldom change anything, especially minds. In fact, in the real-life debates, the audience vote found that “opinions remain entrenched—neither side wins,” as the Munk Debates tweeted, after announcing that Bannon had won. It’s fitting that the Munk masquerade ball ended with fake news. These kinds of things are mostly advertisements for the people involved. Debates are the exhibition basketball of academia and politics.

Regardless of whom public opinion deemed the “winner” of our all-too-real Bannon vs. Frum debate, merely placing Steve “Camp of the Saints” Bannon up on that stage only boosted his rightly flagging mainstream influence. People like to endlessly chide that “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”—but the truth is, no one ever chased off a desperate showman with a spotlight.

Yeah, it was a ridiculous conclusion: the Munk Debates announced that, on the basis of a comparison of pre- and post-debate surveys, Bannon had swayed the most attendees. It turned out that they’d counted wrong, and no one had changed their minds in the debate. No one should be surprised, especially when it’s a couple of conservatives differing only in degree debating liberalism.

I have a suggestion for all the debaters out there, happily riding the gravy train provided by impresarios selling tickets to on-stage conflicts between opposing views (it’s great! They get to milk both sides for money!): just tell them no. That’s hard when they’re waving big money at you, but we’ve got to kill this debate culture, which is really just a pretense masking reactionaries finding excuses to present the illusion that their ideas are equally credible with their opponents. Tell them no, but give them an alternative: you’ll give them a talk or discussion with the audience on their stage, but you’re just not going share a platform with racists or religious lunatics.

Comments

  1. says

    I have a suggestion for all the debaters out there, happily riding the gravy train provided by impresarios selling tickets to on-stage conflicts between opposing views (it’s great! They get to milk both sides for money!): just tell them no.

    Yep, be wary of the guys standing in the middle playing the “let’s you & him fight” game. Modern journalism is the epitome of this with its phony appeals to “objectivity” and “both sides”. (It also means you can play the blame game both coming and going. IT journalists are great at this, being usually the loudest cheerleaders for a new technology or methodology– and equally loud to scorn it with “who thought this was a good idea?” articles six months later when it fails to live up to their inflated expect– fine, fine, I’m getting down off the soapbox! 😉)

  2. sparks says

    In a sentence: Debate is necessary.

    OK, just one more: The way these assholes do it is NOT debate.

  3. ck, the Irate Lump says

    People have to learn that there’s a massive difference between “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” where you shine a light on something they don’t want known to the greater public, and putting a PR man in the limelight so that they can promote their ideology. If someone screams “Debate me!” and you give them it, then you’re falling into the latter rather than the former. You do not need their direct participation to disinfect via sunlight.

  4. Ichthyic says

    “Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist not liberal”.

    yes, people who constantly lie about how the founding fathers are on their side, ignore decades of discussion that lead to the formation of the constitution to argue for populism over democracy.

    the US is literally teetering on the final edge.

    voting is not going to fix this, and you know it.

  5. mcfrank0 says

    Knowing what I do now, I firmly believe that High School and College debate clubs have ruined public discourse.

  6. vucodlak says

    @ Tabby Lavalamp, #6

    Oh that’s easy: We were so sure that shining a sunlamp on the Nazis would make them wither away that we didn’t notice the troubling conglomeration of moles that appeared on our skin.

  7. methuseus says

    @Ichthyic #4:

    voting is not going to fix this, and you know it.

    While you may be right, saying it like this make people (especially liberals) feel like their votes don’t matter, so they refuse to vote, which ensures that the people who believe they are right but are wrong will get their candidate into office. This makes things worse i both the short and long run. So, yes, we need to vote, even if, ultimately, we need a different overhaul in the end.

  8. methuseus says

    @ Tabby Lavalamp, #6:

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    Then why is it as more sunlight is hitting the infection, the more it’s spreading?

    It’s because debates like these are shining grow lamps on it, not shining sunlight. I know in the agricultural world they are basically the same thing, but that’s why analogies are analogies and not basic truths.

  9. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    So, you’ve got David fricking Frum as the advocate for liberalism? The thing this emphasizes to me is exactly how dead liberalism is–that is, liberalism in the sense that it was traditionally used in American politics. Liberalism is now used only to mean liberal in the economic sense–pro free trade and free market and against government intervention of any kind. In the US, liberal used to connote advocacy of women’s rights, civil rights, use of taxation to equalize income (and in the case of inheritance taxes, actual wealth) distribution, and so on.
    Even “liberals” don’t refer to themselves as liberals any more, preferring the term “progressive”. It makes me wonder what the fuck happened to my country.

  10. DanDare says

    Debate is very poor at exploration and deliberation. It is only useful where you have two and only two well thought out positions in conflict. That is very rare.
    A better mechanism could be something like getting a group of say 10 people to explore in parallel on a subject. They take turns adding to the information map and then start refining after a few rounds by proposing tentative conclusions.

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