Up until about mid-2013, I used to engage in political discussions with people on social media, especially Facebook. I enjoyed debating people, and I still do, provided there is a mutual respect. (I abide by the idiom that you don't learn anything from people who agree with you.) I even won a few converts to my point of view on certain issues. However, I've stopped. Every now and then I'll read an ignorant statement or a regurgitation of official government propaganda and I'll be tempted to throw in my two cents. However, I usually come to my senses and exercise some self control. (Usually.) So why did I stop? There are several reasons, and I'll share my top five, here.
(As usual, my blog is written in a stream of consciousness style, and there may be a few errors and non-sequiturs. Please alert me to any you find, in the comments. Thanks!)
5. It's a Waste of Time
Memento Mori. Life is short and precious. Time is the most valuable thing you have, and when it's gone you'll never get it back. Also, none of us know how much of it we have. Now that I'm approaching my mid-30s, I can appreciate how fast time really goes, and I don't want to waste it yelling at people online, some of whom are undoubtedly trolling me.
I constantly found myself wasting hours on a back-and-forth debate about the topic of the moment. Sometimes I'd spend an entire evening researching and crafting a "perfect" reply, just to have the other party change the subject or to ignore my comment completely. (I enjoy a debate if there is a mutual respect. Ignoring a point your debate opponent makes is not respectful. If it's erroneous, address it!)
I realized that I do not want to spend my (precious) time arguing online. I'd much rather spend my time making art, so that's what I'm doing. (This doesn't mean that I don't care about issues anymore or that I've given up. I am still very passionate about the subject of human liberty and I am still opposed to government and corporate abuses of it. I just think there are better ways to go about it, which I'll discuss in point #3.)
UPDATE: Here's an interesting conversation between a libertarian talk show host and a social psychologist who claims he used to be a progressive and now he's "nothing."
It's about the psychology and brain chemistry involved in how people are persuaded, and it supports my claim that social media debates are fruitless. (And that people who flaunt their political beliefs on social media are mostly just "peacocking.")
I think you might find this interesting whether you're a progressive, a social conservative, a libertarian, or somewhere in between. It will help you in your quest to change minds.
4. I Lost Respect for a Few People, and Vice Versa
When you're talking religion or politics, the zealots and the gullible really come out of the woodwork. In my online debates, I came across several conspiracy theorists and the "my political party is always right" party adherents.
First, I'll discuss the conspiracy theorists. I never realized there were so many until I starting discussing politics online. Often, I would tell someone that I don't trust government, or that I think Obama/Congress is lying about X, Y, and Z. Before I can catch my breath, I'm being "educated" about the alien lizard overlords that rule us. (I have actually met a couple of David Icke believers. If you don't know who he is, consider yourself lucky.) This has happened to me several times in person and online. I've already discussed why conspiracy theories are harmful to your position, and a waste of time here so I won't belabor the topic in this post. There's a long chasm to jump from not trusting government to believing in conspiracy theories. The first is healthy skepticism; the second is gullibility.
Next are the party zealots. I have zero patience for people who toe their party line as a gut reaction. To me, this shows a lack of critical thinking and a lack of consideration of other people's viewpoints or beliefs. It's very selfish and very lazy. This is true whether you're a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, liberal, conservative, anarchist, communist, or something else. If you can't even entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, why even converse with others? If you already know everything, what more is there to learn? Of course, this point of view is absurd.
Respect is a two-edged sword, and several people lost respect for me, too, and I'd be dishonest to say anything different. It's my own fault, though. When you start throwing around words like "anarchy" and "fascism" and start criticizing police and the military (as I did, and still do), you're going to get a backlash. I expected a backlash, but I severely underestimated what it would be. As an example, one of my uncles had read some of my blog posts supporting anarchy. I don't see him often, so when I did see him in person he was eager to chat with me to make sure I hadn't lost my mind. I'm happy to say that I think I was able to assuage his fears and support my reasoning.
3. Sound Arguments Need a Better Format
We live in the age of sound bites, Cliff's Notes, and tweets. American attention spans have been constantly dwindling for the last couple decades. This isn't totally our fault; partly it's because we're constantly bombarded with more news stories and advertisements than ever before. Most of us are also busy with more than one job just to support our families in the new "bailout the rich at the expense of the middle class" economy. Decreasing one's attention span is a survival mechanism, of sorts. We simply don't have the time or interest to thoughtfully consider most of what's shoved in our faces on a daily basis.
However, this is bad news for debate and critical thinking. Political issues are usually very complex with more than just two sides to any debate. Take the climate change debate, for example. For the most part, the American right dismisses the scientific evidence and calls man-made global warming a hoax. The American left argues that man-made global warming is an emergency and government must step in to prevent it. What if the reality is that there actually IS scientific evidence for man-made climate change (sorry right-wingers) but a government solution is the worst possible solution? (Sorry, lefties.) After all, the US military consumes the most oil of any organization and the US government is the top polluter worldwide. How often do you hear this argument? I'm not surprised if I'm the first to put it forth to you.
Most issues are not neat "left vs. right" dichotomies. Being well-informed politically requires a knowledge of current events, world history, philosophy, economics, business, and more. (Frankly, I don't think anyone on earth is up to the challenge, but some are certainly better suited than others.) Facebook political discussions usually consist of someone reading a source that already suits their bias and stating it as fact with no background, no arguments, and no counterpoints. Worse yet, they just post a meme. (I'm not just pointing a finger, I'm guilty of this too; I talk about it here.)
Intellectual debate needs more than just a meme or a sound bite. Debate needs solid arguments, which are built from facts and the appropriate application of logic. Even then, sometimes what the debater thinks is a solid argument is subject to one or more logical fallacies. This very article probably contains a few. (Please find them and let me know!)
If you enjoy debate, join a debate club. You can debate people on Google hangouts. If you think X makes sense, make sure you do a web search for "X debunked." All of these recommendations will make you a better debater. Who knows? You may change your mind about a few things. I have.
If you're arguing without a foundation, you're just blowing smoke and wasting time. I won't do it anymore. I don't want to waste your time, or mine.
2. I'm Smart Enough to Know that I Don't Know
I have to address the painting, first. I don't think I'm as smart as Socrates, but I put his picture in this post because of the story of the Oracle of Delphi. If you're not familiar with this story, here's a brief overview: The Oracle at Delphi told one of his friends that Socrates was the wisest man in the world. To try to prove her wrong, Socrates sought out other wise men whom he thought must be wiser than he. At the end of the story, he understood that what made him wise was not how much he knew, but it was his ability to identify and admit what he didn't know.
We should all learn a lesson from this story, philosophically and politically. So no one can call me a hypocrite, I'll start with myself: I consider myself to be a fairly educated and logical person. I have thousands of hours of reading about history and economics under my belt. I have worked in the government, arts, mortgage, marketing, and entertainment sectors, and I've had administrative, artistic, and sales jobs. (I have a wide variety of experience, in other words.) Yet with all of this experience and learning under my belt, I am still clueless about many, many things, and I know it. The world is complex, and the only problem that can be fixed with a slogan is the problem of needing a slogan.
As smart and educated as you may be, you cannot foresee the future. No one can predict with 100% certainty. It's impossible because it's impossible to know everything. Since it's impossible to base one's actions on guaranteed future outcomes, one must base his actions on principle. For me, that principle is the non-aggression principle. I have no idea how you should live your life. I don't know how much food you need, how much money you should make, what kind of doctor you should have, what kind of job you should have, how many lovers (or of what gender) you should have, etc., etc., etc.
Since I don't know the answers to these things, it is wrong for me to use the violence of government to force you to live the way I see fit. Don't kid yourself, government is force. As George Washington (supposedly) put it,
"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."I don't know how you should live your life, and I certainly don't believe self-serving politicians know how you should live your life either. If we disagree, am I free to go my own way in peace? Or do you prefer a man in a government costume drag me to a cage or steal my money because I disagree with you? Is it not better to have a marketplace of ideas, goods, and services in which each unique person can determine what makes sense for his own life? For me, any other position assumes too much.
1. I Was Constantly Angry
This is number one for a reason. Arguing politics can be frustrating, tedious, and useless, all at the same time. I became very angry at a few people whom I otherwise admire and respect very much. There's enough negativity in the world without adding to it. Anger can be useful, but you know what's more useful? Action. Learning. Cooperation. I'm channeling my frustrations and anger in different, more productive ways now that I'm not arguing on social media. I'm reading more. I'm writing and creating artwork. I'm working with people instead of against them. And I'm a happier person.
I'm still very angry about what's happening to the United States, and to the world. At least now I'm not angry at my fellow man.
Again, just because I've given up arguing on social media (Facebook, mainly) doesn't mean I don't care, or even that I've given up arguing. I'll still write about political philosophy and issues occasionally on this site. I still enjoy a spirited debate, and am happy to debate in another format. Just don't try to suck me into the soul crushing and fruitless black hole of Facebook debates. Thanks for reading!
Originally published on Feb 5, 2015 on DigitalTyrants.com.