I’ve noticed a pattern in online discourse lately. There are a lot of people whose argument goes like this:
“I’m right, and you’re wrong. I’m not going to explain why I’m right or why you’re wrong, I’m not going to provide proof, or data, or anything to back up my claims. I’m not going to read the proof, the data, the studies and essays, or any of the other evidence that you’ve used to back up your claim. I disagree with you, because it goes against my gut feelings, or what I think is true, even though I can provide nothing to substantiate my claim. I will poo-pooh your evidence, and say that it is all lies and wrong, and that you are stupid for believing any of it. I will ignore any requests for clarification to understand my point of view, I will not try to help you understand why I feel this way, I will simply argue again and again how you’re wrong and stupid for not seeing things my way.”
Of course, this isn’t new, but it seems to be getting much more frequent. I have encountered several such conversations in the last few days, from both self-described conservatives and self-described liberals. Some are from the U.S., and some are from other countries. And these people obviously think they’re being perfectly rational, arguing their point like a seasoned Debate Team pro, and they’re baffled as to why I don’t abandon my carefully researched hypothesis and jump on their bandwagon.
Not only can I not understand their point of view without ANY form of evidence to support their hypothesis, I cannot fathom how or why they think they’re debating effectively. Apparently there’s an enormous movement among people, not just Trump supporters, but even his greatest detractors, that feel that evidence and data are unnecessary, that objective facts are no more reliable than opinion.
I’m not sure it’s just a matter of “we need to teach debate in schools again” – I never took a debate class. I also didn’t take a statistics class until college, and it was by choice (to fulfill a math credit, and I think Statistics is one of the most valuable math credits, or any credits, people can take). Yes, I think schools should, in some way, teach rational discourse and critical thinking skills. But I’m not sure that’s the problem here. Saying all of these people “just aren’t educated” seems to over-simplify the situation.
Honestly, the whole thing makes me want to disengage from the conversation. There’s no point in talking to people who ignore data, ignore facts, and insist that their gut instinct is the only Right Way to think. There is NO convincing these people. You can’t even agree to disagree with them (which I’ve tried), because they then resort to name-calling and insults, just to make sure they “win” the conversation.
But disengaging won’t solve the situation either. Sometimes I’m able to provide enough data to at least make people stop and think. Maybe it doesn’t change their mind, but it doesn’t have to. I just hope to broaden the context of the conversation. And sometimes, it works. And I guess that makes it all worth it in the end. Right?