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Gladiator Pit

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5/10/2014 12:23:24 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Hey. This is really more of an intro post to me, but I have a couple of specific concerns I'd like some feedback on.

So I want to be involved and informed in debate, social issues, politics, etc. but, to be honest, I have no idea what I'm doing. Few things are more uncomfortable for me. And there are a few specific things I'm pretty sick of running into.

I kind of see the way we do debate (in general public, layman's terms, etc.) as some sort of cultural gladiator pit; It's not about what is right, it's about who is right, and the criteria for that are ridiculous most of the time. (Obviously, these are generalizations, and I'm speaking of the extreme; but I can usually see elements of this in most venues.)

You have the professional sphere, where you're an actual contender in the pit. Maybe you've got skills. But in most arenas I've seen, it's all about who can tear whom apart the fastest and most efficiently; who looks the smartest, who is the most persuasive. It's not about understanding or education; the 'winner' gets to be right.
Entry and participation is exclusive here, there is no learning curve aside from sink or swim, and the risks of entry far outweigh any understanding or leverage you might gain in important issues.
This works for some people, but for someone who is only interested in being informed on pertinent issues and building their own view/skills, the expectation is usually to "get in the pit and figure it out, or get out of the issue and shut up". Which is a little unreasonable.

You then have the spectators - the casual sphere, (e.g. facebook, media coverage, some forums, etc.) where it's a free-for-all ruled mainly by whomever can shout the loudest, the most insistently/belligerently, the most sensationally, and the longest. It's rife with personal attacks, and there is a predefined cultural winner; It doesn't matter who is right or argues well. There's already a culturally accepted answer to the debate, and a culturally unacceptable opinion to hold, at the penalty of being publicly lambasted.
"Don't like the idea of [Insert stance here]? That's just unacceptable! How dare you hold that opinion?? Let alone express that opinion, or (gasp!) heaven forbid, act or associate based on that opinion!"
Again, it's an extreme. But for someone who isn't interested in opinion wars and is actually interested in understanding more than one side of an issue, there is very little of value to be found here. You can get interest and activity on an idea, sure; but it's usually only a 'flame-war', and in many cases serious discussion is actually discouraged and attacked.

And then there's the Elite viewing box. This is the high-profile media coverage, the political runnings and issues, etc. I'm not one to spout conspiracy theories; but I doubt many would disagree that much of the official, governmental debate isn't actually about the debate or getting down to issues; it's about public image. It seems like it's like a bunch of aristocrats sitting in the viewing booth, making decisions and placing wagers on who should win in the arena, and how it will affect their standing, etc.
Again, heck if I know anything about political process. It's just that anything I find here is devoid of any digestible information that allows me to make a clear, informed decision on issues that are important to me; at least, not without being involved in the intellect wars and the opinion wars.
Possible involvement here seems kind of slim, and the elites here do serve a purpose; as well as holding extreme stakes in the outcomes. The way things seem to work here makes sense. It's just it doesn't seem that useful for the average interested layman.

I think the point for me is that I'm not interested in the competition or conflict. Honestly, I don't think there's any benefit to that. Yes, dissent and debate and contradiction are crucial. I specifically want to understand the different viewpoints under the same lens. But the important things for me are to be informed and involved, in a way that a newbie (or ignoramus, or layman, or whatever) can be involved. Of course I want to learn debate skills, but debate for the sake of it isn't meaningful for me.

Now I understand that there are a lot of legitimately useful sources and venues for generating discussion, gathering content, or consolidating relevant interest feeds. But how much of that is reliable, valuable, and widely accessible? How many discussions result in useful, accessible content, and don't get buried under trolls and threads? How many communities spout sensationalist crap instead of relevant insights?
The amount of crap to sludge through is ridiculous and overwhelming; and so much so (I feel, at least) that it wards away far too many interested but inexperienced people, who might otherwise have invaluable contributions. And most importantly, it does this to an extent that is completely unnecessary. Would it be hard? Sure. Convenient? Nope. But what ideal is completely practical, doesn't require some determination and 'pragmatic idealism'?

So with all that in mind, I've been researching, ranting, and trying to come up with exactly what I'm looking for, what I need, and finding a place to access that. Honestly, most of what I've got is 'This doesn't feel right'. Which doesn't exactly fly. But I've hit on a few points.

1) I want a place that involves a community, discussion, and content. Discussion alone will just get buried, content alone will be irrelevant and/or unreliable, communities alone tend towards sensationalism and 'consensus-ism'.

2) I want a place that portrays both sides of an issue, and does so in such a way that is clear, concise, and correct; that doesn't require a doctorate to understand, but is based on reliable, credible reasoning.

I've run into a few awesome arguments that fit this description and have greatly expanded my ability to be involved and informed on issues; I don't think it's that unreasonable. Obviously, it takes a lot of work. But I think it's absolutely crucial if you want debate to be more than just a spectator sport.

One particular paper I love is called, "What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense" by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson. Link here.
Whether you agree with their argument or not isn't my point, what really helped me here was how they described their argumentation process, and put it in a framework that really helped me understand it. There are a few other sources that use this format but usually they're all sciencey and not written for understanding.
a) First, they summarize the issue, what they believe it's about, and the prevailing viewpoints; including a quick bullet-point summary of premises and arguments.
b) Second, they dive into an analysis of those points on each of the viewpoints. To me, this includes support, critique, questions, and premises/implications.
c) Third, and to me most pertinent, they compare the viewpoints, highlighting any shared values, core differences, knowns/unknowns, implications, etc. And based off of that, they then extrapolate what is the most crucial question to answer, and then work their argument off of that.

This is my interpretation of what they do, but I want to see more issues laid out like this; and based on more public discussion. If all else fails, I might even be willing to build such a place where this is the goal. (Despite having no clue what I'm doing, of course.)

Anyway. I've ranted enough methinks.
Thoughts? Criticisms? Pats on the head?
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5/10/2014 1:10:27 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 5/10/2014 12:23:24 PM, duckwagon wrote:
I skimmed your essay, here, and I will say this, if you pay attention and seek out those who know what they are talking about, you will likely be satisfied by the result.

There are people here who troll.
There are people here who are hacks.
There are people here who tow the line.
And there are people who think. Be open minded and hear what those people have to say.

Especially with politics, there is often no short answer, no simple solution, and the discussion can be heated. But, there are some that give sources (or will upon request), or will expand on their thoughts. If they don't, then take what they say with a grain of salt, just like in real life.

Avoid confirmation bias, and avoid relying on sources to speak for you, as both will destroy your credibility.
Be aware that there is always misinformation and misunderstandings.

In the forums, you can always challenge someone to a formal debate, but some don't have the time/ability to formally debate.

Enjoy your time here.
This site is what you make of it.
My work here is, finally, done.