Internet discussions get resolved five ways:
1. The two people actually meet some sort of compromise or agreement. I’ve been meaning to blog for some time about the merits of Facebook in this regard. I think part of it is that Facebook is more “real”, forrcing us out of the anonymity we’ve gotten used to, but another is that Facebook combox discussions tend to be more limited.
On blogs and message boards, the discussions go on between lots of people with various voices confusing threads and issues.
Or, on a blog like this one, it’s almost entirely controversial. I’ve once or twice had some fair minded interlocutors pop up here to engage in an open-minded exchange. I’ve more often than not had people from the Left who come here in complete attack mode.
But on Facebook, I’ve found that even contentious discussions often even out in a compromise, each person leaving a bit enlightened by the conversation. I’ve had arguments with people on a mutual friend’s Facebook thread, then those arguments have turned to us friending each other.
Getting back to the three ways:
2. Boredom. Most people may post a comment or two in a combox discussion, but they wander off after that. Most people leave discussions because they’ve trailed on down the line, or gotten bored with the topic.
The question of “victory,” if it applies at all, comes into play with the next two.
3. I will admit that from time to time I find myself facing a worthy adversary. As well-read as I am on most of the subjects I stick to on this blog, dollars to doughnoughts, Satan will find some person who’s just a little better read in some dimension, then that person will come on here and start not only attacking my ideas, but me personally, calling me an idiot and even challenging my academic and professional credentials.
Usually, what happens in such situations is that a) I do whatever level of research I feel is worth the conversation, b) consult some authorities on the matter in question for back-up, and c) after giving up the conversation, I retreat from blogging for a bit because the exchange was so exhausting.
If “debate” is the goal, like a kind of sport, I presume the other person claims victory. Indeed, looking at the website of one such recent interlocutor, I find that he/she/it likes to go to pro-life blogs, attack the blogger on some picayune detail, challenge the blogger’s intelligence, and then go home to his/her/its blog and claim “victory.”
Meanwhile, when dealing with such people, I balance three impulses: making sure I’m not just doing it for pride, making sure there’s an adequate response made so readers will not be influenced by the enemy’s voice, and realizing that the pig-headed adversary probably won’t be moved by anything I say.
Giving up out of fatigue or humility is not ceding ideological victory but merely prioritizing that a blog post should not cost this much.
A blog is like a news column. I write to share my ideas and my insights or to share things I come across that I believe are significant to the purposes of this blog. This is not a scholarly research journal, and I don’t claim it to be. If I am going to take the time and energy to do scholarly research, I am certainly not going to waste the research by posting it here without trying for professional publication first, and I owe no interlocutor the time of day to do that.
I posted a hand-out, made to give my students a general guideline on what to consider when they want to write about controversial issues, and this individual launched into a full-fledged assault, which, having responded to, I am considering deleting from the comments (and closing comments on that thread) to keep the original intent pure. It was not meant to be a dissertation nor a comprehensive list, but merely questions to consider–questions that, if properly considered, would have led to the points this person raised, anyway.
There are two clear remaining possible ends, and those are the ones where some sort of victory or stalemate can properly be claimed on intellectual grounds, rather than simple exhaustion:
4. The question that can’t be answered. This is sort of like situation 3. The main differences are that it often comes early in the discussion, and the discussion may proceed without it, and it has more to do with logic than information.
It’s the question that gets dodged. The opponent’s response is to ignore it, throw out a red herring, or something. For example, I retold the “peas and carrots” last week, and a commentor threw out a red herring about starving children in Africa. Then, when I asked the question why an atheist would care about starving children in Africa, there was no response.
I know how troubling it is for me when I’m presented with a paradox I haven’t considered, or evidence I haven’t considered, and I need to regroup and reorganize it. Therefore, I know when I’ve hit a nerve with my interlocutor because he or she refuses to even address the question. Even a snark, an ad hominem or a half-hearted challenge shows some level of retained confidence. Silence says to me, “I really have no idea how to begin confronting that question.”
That lead, early on, to what I call the “three strikes” rule: I make a point three times, and, if it’s not responded to, I give up on the discussion.
5. True victory is achieved only when you get the other side to admit to the paradox. For example: Getting the pro-abortionist to get beyond all the superficial rhetoric and get to his or her fundamental belief that some people are more worthy of life than others. I phrase this, when I’m trying to be purely Socratic, as the “is it OK to kill blind people” question.
In other words, the unborn baby is lacking in some quality that makes it “less worthy of human rights.” Ultimately, for any pro-abortionist with a brain, this gets to dependence on the mother for survival. So I raise the qusetion if it’s OK for parents to throw their kids outside and abandon them, since the kids are totally dependent upon the parents for survival. Or the question of people with disabilities.
And, of course, for a truly consistent pro-abort, there is some level of disability at which they will deny people the right of human dignity, for the same reason they deny it to unborn children. I once had an interlocutor admit, after a long Socratic exchange, that she believed it was OK to kill anyone on life support.
Such a moment constitutes an impasse but at least gets beyond the other side’s veneer.