People have a fetish: debaters are constantly bickering about meaningless things – everything that could be utterly useless – and they don’t realize it but they are still afforded great attention. An audience is always at their disposal of viewpoints.
It is not too hard to know why.
We have an appetite for the scandalous, bold and dangerous opinion, no matter how much we later try to suppress it. We also have an appetite to engage with such opinions. Most of the debaters are the object of envious contempt and this predisposition has exponentially grown; ‘snobby teens with weak physical frames’ are easy targets, and for most, ‘they have it coming’ because they can outspeak the ‘normal’ with commanding theatrical performances and outwit the same with glossy words and complicated sentence structures. So the only way for the ‘normal’ to turn to is abuse; words start meaning a lot more than they should, and things escalate beyond meager sentences and highly charged verbal spats. Interestingly enough, resorting to other means isn’t a concession; no one believes they are wrong or that they have the weaker argument. It is the debaters; they are the fools who love twisting words and dragging people into unnecessary conflict just for the sake of it. Exceptionally exemplary sadists, in-fact.
I grew up quite differently from the typical debater who seeks more than just debating. For some, the activity is a means to climb the school student hierarchy, and debating for me was not a means to attain any such thing. To be honest, I was never sure of why I even gave it a shot. Perhaps it was the sudden explosion of confidence my brother experienced when he did it that had a pull on me, or it was the secret desire to outshine my peers with respect to intellect, I cannot really recall. But I went all in. I began to see the phenomenon of debating as a form of art; to express meaningful opinions laced with consistent logic, armed with powerful rhetoric and delivered succinctly at the right moment, the art of constructing great arguments consumed me like wildfire. I remember how fondly I used to refine arguments on certain hotly contested issues every day in a notebook, with each passing day providing an opportunity to introspect an abstraction with more rigor. It has been many years now; I have left all of it behind; the thrill of competitive debating, pestering the other team and pressing for a win through unconventional psychological warfare, all of it is behind me now.
But not entirely.
I have a penchant for drawing room talk, but not in its traditional form. I do not conform to hearsay mudslinging and neither do I strengthen my position with a deeper, louder voice. I aspire to be cold, calculated and almost evil. At times, I do not even care to check my own personal convictions. Instead, I seek to argue in order to expose how badly people argue.
This does not mean that logic, rhetoric, timing and all the other tools go out of the window; nitpicking holes in another person’s argument is one way of educating the said person about how to argue, but another and perhaps more meaningful way is to display, with extreme obsessive meticulousness, the construction of a really good argument. It takes longer to paint the entire picture – not many people are patient amidst heated arguments – but the result is worth it. One can say it’s ugly, and another can call it beautiful, but none can deny its veracity and authority.
However, the fruit is spoiled by too many impatient people, eagerly involved in their own imperfect nitpicking. If I were to write a random binary sequence, perhaps generated from a series of flipping coins, the mind would, with reckless abandon, look for patterns. It has always been this way with many of us. Why did politician ‘X’ do this? What could be the agenda behind such and such acts of ‘X’? Some of us have the answer because we pander for clues and patterns. We want answers, so we make up patterns somehow. In its own devious way, the method for such nitpicking and spotting patterns is almost perceived mathematical when in reality it is a product of ego and convenience. We want ‘X’ to conform to our theories; there can be no other plausible explanation. This is textbook confirmation bias, and so many of us are guilty of it, even the ones who try to be really careful. What lends ‘credence’ to some of the arguments thrown around is the fact that these theories are supported by a bunch of relatives, who know some important men who talk about things they should not be talking about, and this all comes around in the drawing room delivered with unfettered pride and confidence. It’s really comical.
Peer pressure plays more than just a cliche role. The more we want to turn a blind eye towards it, the harder it becomes to sideline; social media applications are perfect examples of this behavior. No one wants to be a fool in front of an audience. They don’t want their ego bruised, or their intellected dismantled so publicly. Who cares about the intricate art of debating, of constructing well-sound arguments? In all fairness, no one arguing over Twitter, for example, would care about being perfectly consistent so there may be some small leeway to be granted in this case because the platform matters. But not as much as many people take unfair advantage of it. The only way out of this is abuse, of calling each other names, reverting to logical fallacies – especially the ad hominem – and masquerading them as great chess moves. The contest is not about the better argument anymore; it is about who the better man is. The more people the belligerent can rally behind him, the more his argument starts exhibiting a devious logical fallacy called social proof, and make no mistake about it, social proof is perhaps one of the most effective techniques of persuasion that take a skillful, smart and a priggish human being to deconstruct.
Social media leaves an imprint or a record that can easily be revisited at one’s convenience. I can choose my own time to respond, and this gives me the liberty to come up with a well-nuanced response. Drawing room talk, unfortunately, does not have this luxury. If you are invested in a topic, convicted about the outcome, then a few curveballs here and there require immediate attention. Not all words are perfectly traceable, so it becomes easier to contort context and reinterpret, and again, fix the entire opposing argument into your own paradigm. This happens almost always, and it annoys me because it is so hard to counter. For someone who has been programmed to be invested in trying to construct good arguments, such fuzzy math comes off as some flag-marker for OCD and is extremely off-putting.
What’s more annoying is that such tactics are supplemented with abuse, with ad hominem and the anti-debater bias: “it was a mistake that you started competitive debating”. I have heard this so many times in response to a well thought-out argument. My problem is not that there are not many smart people out there – most of them are probably smarter than I am – but it is that most of these people utterly disregard the process of constructing and supporting good arguments.
That is demoralizing.