In my first piece for this site called “Why I Podcast“, I wrote a little about my temperament when engaging people, and today I wanted to expand on that a bit.
Later this month I’ll be hosting a debate of sorts between friends who disagree on a few things here and there on my YouTube channel. As I was thinking about the upcoming event and the moderating role I’ll be playing, I realized that I myself really don’t like debate as a whole. Or, at least, not debate in the sense of what we now know it as in our culture.
My entire podcast is set up to facilitate discussion, and build previously non-existent or burned bridges. At least that’s the intent, and I’m in the stages of developing that mission over the course of time, but it didn’t start out as a conversation.
For the longest time I fed myself a steady diet of right wing talk radio. Listened to Levin damn near every day. Covered the local circuit with Belling out of Milwaukee, and topped it off with clips of Milo Yiannopolous and Ben Shapiro on YouTube. There were others interspersed in this listening regimen of course, but those were the main ones. When I created my podcast I hadn’t just tasted the Levin Kool-Aid, I’d downed the entire gallon and was asking for more.
I dreamt of being the next new “big thing” in right wing talk. I dreamt of blasting the “evil Democrats” and extolling the virtues of the Right.
This didn’t work out for two reasons.
Firstly, this isn’t my personality at all. It’s true I get very passionate and fired up about issues, but at the end of the day my primary method of venting that passion is to try to bring people together. Right wing talk radio doesn’t have that objective. It has a goal of bring the “Right” people together (see what I did there?) and keeping the Left at arms length. This isn’t something I’d ever be able to do.
The second reason this didn’t work out was because early on in the process of setting up the podcast I brought on a co-host who disagrees with me politically in a number of spheres, and would likely identify as a “Liberal” of sorts. In the world of the political Right (and let’s be honest the Left does this too with Conservatives) words like Liberal or Progressive are virtually spat off the lips of the pundits. They’re dirty. Undeserving of interaction. This, to me, is not only contrary to my personality but it’s also inherently wrong. We are not only a diverse country, but human beings on the whole are a diverse race. If you have a conversation with two people who hold similar political positions you’ll find that they may have had vastly different upbringings, or life stories about how they came to their particular worldview. Pigeonholing people into designated camps may be convenient, but it isn’t the way to build a better country.
With the realization that many of these talking heads on the Right, whom I had looked up to in a sense, were also businessmen who have to pay their bills, and sell their product (or persona), I began to see that the interest wasn’t truly expanding the cause of Conservatism, but rather to put on a good show. That’s basically what “debate” is in our current culture, it’s a reality T.V. show. They take two ideologues who are diametrically opposed in every sense of the word, people who are so entrenched in their views that no one can ever convince them otherwise, and basically have a yelling match on air. The person who has “home field advantage” gets to cut the other person off at their leisure, and when they get even angrier and not being able to talk the host gets to shut them out completely with a self-satisfied look as if saying, “See! I told you these people can’t be reasoned with!”.
The problem is that their audiences take these extreme examples and paint the entire spectrum of those who disagree with them with that image. The result is that we stay in our own little camps, patting ourselves on the back about how good and reasonable we are and how unreasonable, and awful those “other people” are. We talk about how they’re ruining our country and how “if we just did things our way” it would be fantastic. I say “we” because I’ve done all these things, and while it’s kind of embarrassing to admit it, it’s the truth. I’m not above pettiness in the political arena so, lest you think I’m delivering a sermon, rest assured I’m reflecting just as much upon myself here.
Even in the circles I currently run in there’s this mentality. I follow a lot of anti-SJW YouTuber’s, and it created quite a stir in the community when Blaire White hosted Laci Green (a favorite target of riffing in the anti-SJW community), there was a very mixed reaction. Many asked Blaire why she would have the “enemy” on her channel. This coming from a community that supposedly prides itself on open discussion, free speech, and the marketplace of ideas. It was disappointing to say the least.
This is why I don’t debate. At least, not in the sense of the word that’s familiar to many in our generation. I’m not interesting in shouting over people, or proving how “right” I am. I’m not as much interested in creating clickbait, controversial content as I am creating a new kind of conversation. I’m not interested in walking away angry but am more interested in walking away with understanding. To me a true debate is not a display of primal dominance. It isn’t a dick measuring contest.
A true debate is one in which both parties are actively seeking the truth. We all have our biases when going into a debate, after all, who would hold an opinion they thought was wrong to begin with? But a true debate is one in which individuals don’t enter the arena with the idea that they have nothing to learn. There’s always something to learn, even if it doesn’t alter your worldview, if nothing else you can learn something about your opponent. A true debate allows for the development of cohesive argument and nothing hinders the development of critical thought more than interruption or ad hominem attacks from the opponent.
At the end of the day, what we call debates in our current culture, aren’t true debates. They’re grandstanding and playing to the home crowds, while simultaneously denigrating and broad brushing the opposition. As long as this is what will define debate in our culture, I’ll refuse to partake and opt to choose conversation instead, because conversation will be what creates the actual change we hope for in society.