We as Americans live in a society of competing ideals. A quick look at your Facebook page or twitter timeline will confirm that. Whether it’s obvious or not, every status or tweet someone posts tells you a little more about their personal philosophy. But these ideas aren’t released into a vacuum. Like the forums in ancient Greece, different ideas jostle up against one another on the World Wide Web.
Conflicts are inevitable in this high friction environment. You see them daily, I assume. A lot of them are petty personal things. Such sniping is what we like to call “drama” – cheating boyfriends, annoying roommates, awful piano teachers, etc.
But occasionally political arguments pop up too. And while there are usually winners and losers in online drama, the whackjobs who argue politics never seem to win, lose or change sides. So we ask ourselves: Why do they argue with people who they’ll never convince?
On the surface, it sure seems like an annoying waste of time. After all, people log on to Facebook or twitter to see what’s going on in each other’s lives. Nobody wants to be bothered by unwinnable policy fights. The internet is supposed to be fun, not boring…
But wait! The primary purpose of the internet is to share information. New ideas fly all over the place because of it, and social networking sites like Facebook and twitter are the great big incubators in which the eggs of these ideas hatch. But each little idea-chick is born with an evil anti-chick counterpart; an idea and its opposite can’t both be right!
Unfortunately, these chickens aren’t born wearing signs around their necks that say “I’m evil” or “I’m good,” so we need a way to figure out which ones to keep and which ones to throw out. Debate is the process we use to weed out the good eggs from the bad ones. We argue politics, policy and philosophy for one reason – to prove who’s right.
We also argue knowing we’re not in a vacuum. Partisans and pundits pretend to want to woo each other, but in actuality it’s the moderates or “the persuadables” they’re going after. Most of America is moderate – win the middle and you win the issue.
For many of us, winning the issues is more important than disparaging or bashing the other side. That’s why we’ll continue the prizefight long after most of the crowd’s gone home. The true fans will always stay tuned to watch the last round of a boxing match, even when everyone else has changed channels out of boredom. The true fans of debate are the open-minded people who really care about the issues and genuinely want to see which side has the better solution. And in elections, it’s not the votes of the fair-weather fans that make the difference – it’s those of the true devotees, those who watch on ‘till the final bell, waiting for the knock-out blow.