It’s Difficult to Debate Most Conservatives

I love to talk politics and religion and other contentious topics with people. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and should be an essential element of a functioning democracy. With Facebook and Twitter and the like more opportunities present themselves, which should be great, except some people seem to treat social media like email: forward political messages around to an echo chamber and nothing results except reinforcement of these dubious ideas. I find when I engage with these posts on Twitter or Facebook, it often leads to trouble. Even good friends in the family threaten unfriending #shun as a punishment for disagreeing, rather than offer counterarguments. You know, like being “social”. Interacting, and as a result perhaps even growing and learning.

I’m prompted to write this because I just checked a similar posting’s activity. I see another Friend had taken up the cause, posting well-reasoned and factual rebuttals to the original post. The commenter is even a respected educator using perfectly acceptable language (and spelling and sentence structure #bonus) to explain the opposing point-of-view. And, being a closer friend or family member, the commenter could weave the poster’s other oft-trumpeted beliefs into a more comprehensive narrative, to help explicate a more nuanced and reasoned position.

In response to this eloquence, the poster replied with a few new, easily countered bumper sticker remarks. As expected these counterpoints were quickly answered in a polite manner, along with helpful links and analogies attempting to keep focus on the larger topics and shared values. The poster follows this additional reason with (essentially) “BUT GOD!” and the meaningless “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. So, responding not by gathering more facts, resolving cognitive dissonance with improved arguments, or (gasp) perhaps even modifying opinions. Those would be good choices. Opportunities for positive response abound. But the most likely course of action is to ignore, change topic, withdraw, block, unfriend. And then these kinds of things cause trouble at holiday gatherings, create rifts and keep family members from talking, but most importantly, they stop people from being smart and informed parties in our larger cooperative system.

After one more halfhearted closing statement from the commenter, a new commenter chimed in, simply indicating agreement with the original poster. Because, of course. Why would this person enhance the debate with counterarguments? They shouldn’t have to, because in these minds beliefs count the same as facts. To some everything has two sides, both equally valid, with truthfulness and merit decided only by sincerity of belief and not empirical knowledge or well-constructed reason.

It’s difficult to debate conservatives – especially religious conservatives – primarily because they deal in belief and lack facts and information, but also empathy and the skills to effectively communicate their prescribed ideas. Worst of all they demonstrate an alarming lack of critical thinking. Lazy baseless beliefs that are clung to by the nearly illiterate masses without any evidence and then enacted into legislation is the bane of our great democracy and I applaud those who attempt to fight it. Even if it can seem pointless.

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