Because of the decision by Donald Trump to fixate on the NFL players who are protesting social injustice by kneeling for the National Anthem, my social media feeds and Facebook have been dominated by threads on the subject.
However, I am disappointed by the general content, tone and usefulness of the resulting discussions. Calling them discussions is a misnomer. In most cases, the interactions seem to mostly consist of people yelling, ranting and shouting at each other or past each other.
I can tell this is true, since my measured interventions in several threads have been ignored in favor of more and more aggressive comments along the lines of “this is what I believe so SCREW YOU”.
I am seeing a number of pathologies that are pretty much guaranteed to zero the chance of any useful debate or discussion. Specifically:
1. Leading with abuse and ad hominems
When you begin a comment by describing NFL players as “jerks” or “punks”, that is a pretty good clue that I am about to read a denunciation, not a useful contribution.
When you tell people who disagree with you that they can always leave the USA, that doesn’t make you look “strong”. It makes you look like an intolerant dick. Ditto informing people that the actions you dislike are un-American or that people who disagree with you are un-American. Who the hell appointed you to the role of judge on who is an American? That’s just a piss-poor attempt at a shut-down.
2. Use of irrelevant fallacious diversions
Complaining that NFL players are “privileged” or “overpaid” might well be true. However, it is irrelevant to the points under discussion. If you feel obliged to major on that complaint, you just disappeared down a rathole marked ‘logical fallacy”.
3. Use of ALL CAPS in words, phrases and sentences
This is shouting. Capitalizing words, phrases or sentences does not magically make them true, profound or well-argued. In my own personal world, it merely tells me to activate my bullshit detector, since if you capitalize, that tells me that you are most likely trying to convince yourself that your words are useful. Of course, you could also be shouting because you are angry or emotional. However, being angry or emotional seldom leads to well-argued writing.
4. Inability to distinguish between dissent and disloyalty
A lot of people out there need to learn that these are two very different things. One can disagree with a proposed action without being disloyal to a group or country. Labelling dissent as disloyalty is exactly what happens in totalitarian dictatorships.
5. Support and uncritical deference are two different things
You can support a policy or a group of people while accepting that they are not perfect, and that changes need to be made. If you don’t understand that, you are locked in binary thinking patterns amd that is your problem to solve, not mine.
(HINT: making statements like “this is a black and white issue” also causes me to activate my bullshit detector. Most likely you are about to convert a complex issue to simple, superficial binary answers.)
The only people that demand and expect uncritical deference are authoritarians and demagogues.
5. Demanding “respect”
Demanding that people “respect” an idea or a symbol is another rhetorical device that causes me to activate my bullshit detector. It is usually an attempt to duck the more fundamental question of why the idea or symbol deserves respect. In most areas of life, respect is not given, it has to be earned. Demanding that people uncritically respect them or respect symbols is exactly the sort of demand made by totalitarian regimes the world over, or by pathologically insecure whiny adolescents.
In short, a lot of the postings and comments I have been seeing in the last 72 hours are poorly structured, full of fallacious assertions, incoherent, angry, and nonconstructive.
You need to learn how to discuss issues in a mature and constructive way. If you don’t, you will undermine your cause and viewpoints, and people like me will find better things to do. I have no interest in arguing with people whose interaction style resembles that of a petulant, incoherent 12 year old. Life is too short etc. etc.