Monday, February 05, 2007

On the Purpose of Debate: Part 3

* I think the notion of the purpose of online debate is important, because I think that among the internet's great powers is that it's a medium for greater understanding. I don't believe that a group of people have to agree on a whole lot in order for them to get along, or at least tolerate one another better.

It was long believed, and still is in many circles, that if you think you have "The Truth", and you speak like you're right, you're an agent of discord, and potentially, of war.

So people have renounced the notion that they have "truth". They don't want to be seen as arrogant and potentially divisive.

However, that does bear true in my experience. Of course there's something to be said for discretion, prudence and just not rubbing your "Truth" in people's faces. You can think you have the Truth without being abrasive or rude.

Nonetheless, people of very different ideological leanings can get together, talk, have a debate, think the other person is still wrong, and still appreciate each other.

I would like to apply this notion to the abortion debate, although I fear that it is almost an impossibility.

People who care about this issue tend to be very emotionally invested in it. Especially women. Women also have a tendency to not make abstraction of their beliefs. They take things more personally. I'm not saying women are incapable of neutralizing their emotions, but they do have a tougher time.

Another big difference between the abortion debate and religion, is that whereas religion is understood to be a free choice-- and those choices are respected, if only nominally, the abortion debate centres on coercion-- either coercing women to respect her unborn child, or coercing the fetus to die.

But if proper conditions for such a discussion could be created, I do think it would have the advantage of at least humanizing the opposition. And this cannot be a bad thing.

The interpersonal dynamics of the culture war is something that crosses my mind from time to time. I don't think there's any way to carry on the struggle for unborn rights without being perceived as offensive by the other side; and I don't think the legalized abortion crowd can not be offensive either. It's the name of the game.

It'd be nice if we could all be really nice about it, but it's unrealistic. No matter how one phrases the expression of concern for the pregnant woman AND the unborn child, this sentiment will always be perceived as hate by supporters of legalized abortion. Why? For one thing, it's been a politically effective tool, so far. So why stop? Secondly, for the liberal mindset, the notion of love consisting of acting for a person's well-being, is ridiculous. If you love someone, you act nice. You project nice feelings about them. If you don't project nice feelings about them, then you automatically don't love them. Since pro-lifers sometimes say nasty things about abortion, and the women who have them and the doctors who perform them, that automatically means they hate them. For them, love is a feeling, not a choice.

Since feelings are central to left-wingers, debating opponents without being nasty is really difficult. I'm not saying that it's easy for pro-lifers, either. But a liberal-minded person tends to make judgements based on his feelings, since he generally lacks a philosophy of universal truth, and an absolute morality.

That need for feeling as a source of judgment renders it almost impossible for them to make abstraction of the situation. If a statement makes them emotinal, they shoot off a knee-jerk reaction. That's how they judge. They don't coolly sit back and type out an emotionally neutral reply.

Am I saying that all pro-lifers are not emotional? No. However, I do think the possession of an absolute morality and a worldview that contains absolutes helps some pro-lifers take a step back. I also think the philosophy of dying to oneself is also helpful in this situation-- you're not arguing to vindicate your self, but to simply put forward an idea.

It would be useful if this situation could change, but I doubt it. I think it could create a little bit less discord.

Previous sections:

On the Purpose of Debate: Part 1
On the Purpose of Debate: Part 2