This is not an article about the political debate that was on last night, but it does have implications in that sphere. This is about “debate” in the generic sense – a discussion when two or more entities/people/parties disagree on a certain topic and decide to talk about it.
It seems like the majority of discussions (debates, if you will) fall into one of two categories:
1. Politically correct, staid, excessively “civil”, no trace of passion
2. “Your mother is a $!*&# because you don’t agree with me”
Now the first category tends to a bit boring because people are afraid to articulate their true thoughts or emotions for fear of being misjudged or labeled the wrong way. The second, while it makes for interesting television, evokes the wrong set of sentiments. How often does a discussion quickly step out of bounds because one or both parties get carried away with an unnecessary comment or judgment call?
Now, if the purpose of a debate is to understand the other side(s) and achieve consensus, neither of these two extremes achieves it. The first, as I mentioned, is overly civil, and the true reasons and thoughts of the parties involved are not known. Each side simply wants to appear to do the right thing, so the public face is quite different from the private one. Hence it is extremely unlikely that the participants or onlookers will put aside their prejudices and beliefs and achieve results.
The problem with the second category is obvious – name-calling and personal insults do not go hand in hand with understanding, compromise, or consensus. Once this route has opened up there is pretty much no going back. Insulting one's mother as in the example above invokes Godwin’s law: once someone likens you to a Nazi/Hitler or insults your mother, every statement that you made before, no matter how well constructed or how logically or fundamentally correct, is open to question and shaded grey. The best way for someone to belittle your cause or opinion, even if you are the most fervent proponent of the viewpoint, is to let you hang yourself with statements such as these.