Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Days of Debates

While I was in my second year of college a friend and I would talk about the various issues regarding history, philosophy, religion, and politics. He made the comment one day that I was going into areas that, “you have to expect people disagreeing with you all the time.” I understood at the time what he meant, but for some reason it was not as powerful to me at the time. I think I had this idealistic view that others will disagree with each other, but if you present the better argument then your chances of coming to an agreement are better. I still do to some degree; otherwise, why even present arguments? Let me give you some personal history on how I have changed a bit on this.

Not too long after what I mentioned above with my friend, I was on a Bulletin Board System (BBS) corresponding with others by message boards and e-mail. A BBS was a pre-cursor to the internet. The internet was really just taking off at this point, but BBSes were still in vogue until about the mid-90’s. There was this man I noticed debating a lot of teenagers on these message boards. How do I explain this guy? He had this 1960’s Existentialist Hippie thing going, and he had this way of really talking down to the teens on there. I decided to step in and debate this guy so the teens would not feel like they were walked on, but mainly because I thought the guy was wrong on so many things.

After months of going and back and forth with this guy something always came up. He would always say something like, “There are lots of people that disagree with you.” I would acknowledge that, but then try to get him to respond to the particular argument I had made. You know, “Which premise do you think is not true? Let’s talk about the reasoning.” Later, it would come up again that others disagree with me. Then I would respond with, “If everyone disagreed about what 2+2 equaled would that mean that it did not equal 4?” Or, how about the people that thought before Columbus crossed the Atlantic the world was flat (It turns out a lot of people going back to the Greeks thought the world was round, but you get the point)? He had this hang up over the whole concept of truth and, in his mind, the argument was over once he pointed out others disagreed with me.

I ended up debating another guy sometime after this that was a lot smarter. The problem was he was not as educated in the areas we were talking about. What happened is whenever we came to a point that he was not comfortable with he would make some sarcastic remark or try to be funny at my expense. I had a “stick to the facts” attitude about it because I did not want to get into just name calling. Eventually it got to the point where I felt like all he wanted to do was take cheap shots. It was not about having good reasons, but seeing if he could get me angry, the upper hand emotionally, or something.

This is part of the reason I do not get involved with online debating very much. Usually, if it is something I really care about I might try to present a few facts and let it go. My days of big, drawn out debates are long gone. It just is not worth my time. If someone likes that sort of thing then he or she should do it. However, I would encourage doing it to see how well your arguments hold up rather to see if you can “convert” someone to your point of view. Also, asking probing questions to better understand what a person means to create clarity is probably just as important for your own understanding.

That last sentence is what I want to emphasize. In any issue you care about it is important that you study the issue and find good reasons for what you believe. A few blog entries ago I mentioned that to know something means you have to have true beliefs, but also good reasons for that belief. This is not an easy thing to do because of some of what I have just mentioned.

Now on this blog I do go into a little bit of history from time to time. On just about every issue there is an opposing viewpoint. On a lot of things it depends how skeptical one wants to get. This is especially true in old west history because of the fragmentary nature of some of the history. On the other hand, it has to do with assumptions or biases involved what one considers a fact, and what one considers evidence. Next time I will go more into the issues of opposing viewpoints and how I deal with them.