The death of intelligent discourse

Ever been afraid to speak your mind?

You might not expect a guy with his own self-flattering, ego-stroking blog, plastered with his face and attitudes to shy away from a debate. But I guarantee you’d be surprised with at least some facet of the opinions I don’t share. I’ve written on anonymity, and how it empowers those who fear retribution for their views to share them, and I make an art of debate anonymously online, as well as in person, where my inevitable slips of the tongue and nuances of speech can’t be twisted and turned as a means to attack me long after the fact. Yet I find myself constantly in fear of the consequences of saying what I really believe on so many issues. And I’m not alone. In recent years, the West seems to have collectively made a grand assault on the notion that two people can disagree on something without hating one another.

Consider these two Twitter feeds. I follow both of these people, despite the fact that I disagree rather vehemently with one of them. Now, I tend to rattle off blurbs from my Twitter or Facebook feeds when my housemates and I shoot the breeze — I pick quotes from articles or cast videos to the TV, and we delve into discussion or debate on [subject] for a bit. (I feel it’s a very “college” thing to do, what with the exchange of ideas and all.) One of my housemates asked me once why I keep “all this crap” in my feeds if it’s so dumb, if I don’t agree with it?

That’s a simple question, and it was entirely innocent, but I feel it raises a more significant point. Why do people seek to shield themselves from everything (and everyone) they don’t agree with? Facebook pages like “Being Liberal” and “The Comical Conservative” do a great job of spewing baseless claims and (pardon) shit-flinging with no real substance.

(M) Conservatives love denying or misrepresenting science.

Posted by Being Liberal on Monday, October 26, 2015

Some of the most delusional people on the planet. But this is how they operate folks. They set up plans and policies on the garbled muck that flows in their liberal brains.

Posted by The Comical Conservative on Monday, October 26, 2015

These aren’t cherry-picked; take a look for yourself. I guess some combination of clickbait-y headlines and antagonistic rhetoric gets these pages the millions of likes they boast and the resultant ad revenue for the sites to which they link. But the end effect, intentional or no, is grim; by subscribing to, “like and share”-ing, and responding to these outlandish, radical statements, people are voluntarily ostracising themselves, allowing their complex, developed worldviews to be reduced to stupid, spelling-error and artifact-ridden JPGs plastered with inane comments.

I’m a college student. I was told for years growing up that the American university was the greatest and last bastion of free thought on the planet. And, indeed, I’ve had great debates and discussions with my housemates and friends, and in my humanities courses. I thoroughly enjoyed attending screenings of both the Republican and Democratic presidential debates put on by the respective R and D clubs on campus. (Funny enough, both events invariably turned into roasts of the presenting candidates. It’d been a while since I’d laughed so hard, honestly.) But then I turn around to find troubling statistics out of other universities:

The ability for us, as intelligent beings, to form opinions and worldviews, is critical. But even more important is our ability to gain more information, as well as an understanding of other viewpoints, and deepen or (God forbid) change our opinions accordingly. A poster hanging in my room put this point rather aptly. “Humans are funny creatures, and have a foolish aversion to being wrong. Rather than appreciate the benefits of being able to change one’s mind through greater understanding, many will [find] ways to cling to old beliefs.” By using the Internet, social media et. al. to draw lines in the sand, and to raise mighty, ham-fisted flags under which to stand, and, in doing so, simultaneously painting everyone who disagrees as a Boogeyman, racist, sexist, bleeding-heart, backward, whatever-you-may, we have effectively begun to put nails in the coffin of civil discourse and intelligent debate.

I’ll close with an unrelated, amusing GIF. And, by the way, it’s pronounced “jiff.” If you disagree, you are stupid, dumb, an idiot, and also literally Hitler, and should set yourself on fire.

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