As a Society, We Have Lost the Ability to Argue Humanely

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Owen Biniecki, Editor

When you think of the word “debate,” what image does it evoke? If you are anything like me, it sparks thoughts of heated discussion, insults and lies. This hasn’t always been the case.

As debating societies first emerged in the late 1700s London, and the art of debate began to be popular, it was considered to be an art form for the most erudite of high society. In these societies, renowned scholars would contemplate philosophical, ethical and political issues of the time. According to London Debating Societies: 1776-1799, by the London Record Society, the venues of debate societies at the time would commonly raise the price of entry while debates were being held, further gatekeeping this scholarly pastime from the general public.

Now, in the age of the modern internet, debate and argumentation are no longer an art for the most intelligent and well-spoken. Public forums, comment sections and blogs have all opened the floodgates to a sea of discourse that can be accessed easily by the public and are subsequently home to unbelievable amounts of relatively pointless arguing.

Not only have we given anyone access to an indefinitely large audience, we have also lost the standard of grace that was held in high regard by the first debate societies. Within most debate societies, it was a basic expectation for both sides of the argument to be cordial with one another and, in many cases, attacking the character of the oppositional speaker was widely considered taboo. 

This lack of etiquette during argumentation can easily be seen across American society; it has even spread to the highest offices of politics, where legions of politicians can be seen attacking each others’ character and completely disregarding basic kindness regarding their opponent. (If you’ve watched any of 2020 presidential debates, you know exactly what I mean.)

However, this doesn’t mean that formal debate has ceased to exist. Debate societies continue to exist around the globe. Societies such as the Cambridge Union continue to practice the formal rules of debate centuries after the practice became popular. The art of debate still thrives, even in the modern era, but it has ceased to exist in a respectful way in the public domain.

If you frequently find yourself in the comment section of Youtube, in public forums such as Reddit or really any social media platform, you know this to be true. It doesn’t take much searching to find people on the internet going after one another, and these public displays of aggression are rarely well-mannered. 

It is the simple lack of attention and etiquette where we begin to lose our humanity and give into outrage. By failing to recognize valid points of contention, and focusing solely on the character of the person or group of opposition, one runs the risk of losing sight of what it is they actually disagree with, instead lending to the already deafening cacophony of meaningless and heartless arguing many of us have already sunken into.