End the debates

Maybe there must have been a grand era of debating in public, but I have not experienced a mind-changing debate in my life.

I think all of us have become better at understanding the structure of an argument, and can pick out facts to prove whatever you believe in. What is the debate meant to achieve in a “post-truth” world? How do you argue about gender or oppression in the woke political climate? There are so many facts to prove a bigoted point, and such a leftist “bias” to reality. You can’t convince them; they can’t convince me.

I feel bad and even cautious about making this statement, because as a teacher, I really understand the importance of scrutinising your beliefs. Debates seem like a good arena to do that. But, I feel discussions are a better space which can lead to changing minds. I really want everybody in the classroom to feel safe enough to be loudly stupid. Most people do learn from discussions more than they do from textbooks. Only if you have some prior knowledge/experience does a subject pique your interest.

Debates come with the connotation of a winner and a loser. Whenever I have an online debate, there is a sense of “wanting to have the last word” on the matter. So mostly, my tactic has been to let the person have the last word, but let it be obviously stupid exposing their assumptions.

In the classroom, I avoid having the last word but encourage students to summarize the thoughts that were brought up, or end with something sane that we could all agree on. If I have an opportunity for longer after-hours conversation with a curious student, this “Socratic questioning” tool helps me direct them.

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Source: “Socratic Question Sheet” tes.com

I would rather discuss deeply, than indulge in debates to change minds. I am very loud about what my stance is, and it is a joke amongst my students how predictable my positions can be. I have thought about how I cannot be neutral, because there is no apolitical education, just transparent political education. I am not trying to convert anyone. You can dismiss what I say and I will not waste my energy to prove to your how right I am. However, I am sure that if you give it a serious thought with empathy, your conclusions will be similar if not as radical. When you think about issues, and are not alienated to the stakes, you know where you stand.

I know this is a passive, non-urgent stance. Like, education is urgent because if you don’t speak fiercely, a Nazi would do it for you. Sometimes, I feel like I should be invested in winning the argument. The truth is I have been more apathetic about entering a reactionary maze than ever. Debates simply mirror the beats of an intelligent conversation. It is an ego-high.

I think that true learning happens over time. Very few get an aha-moment in a debate and take a 180 degree turn. The aha-moment indicates the tipping point, not the journey of conversations, doubts and reflections. So, I would rather provoke with a good question or a compelling story than dump statistics to win. [Statistics are important, of course. Facts are important. It just seems that they are not compelling anymore, and I have never been a resourceful trivia person. I don’t have a list of talking points to counter the other talking points, because I don’t read talking points.] If you are a good listener and can spot the thought leap, and ask the right question, you can make the unapparent bias apparent.

However, sometimes I do succumb to telling people off by telling them to read more social theory. But most times, I wish people had more empathy and self-awareness.

Basically, an whole essay to tell you: don’t try to start a debate with me. I may come off as a stubborn person. You can ask me my opinion, and I will give it to you in beautiful prose. Ask. Joke. Share. Discuss, instead of debate. Otherwise I will only wait for your last word to ring stupid…

Won’t rule; Won’t be ruled,
tame shewolf.

PS: Waiting for the day when everybody knows the labour theory of value as a talking point.

Do people really change?

So, I have made quite a few observations recently, and my pessimism has found that no one really changes.

Belief: Reading makes you empathetic.

I find nowadays that people who identify themselves as readers, are too proud and vain about reading. They become “grammar Nazis”, getting pissed at people for not knowing what they know. There are so many popular memes making fun of common mistakes, and all the while being patronizing about it. There are also who identify with the hobby of reading so much, they take pride in their identity, and beat themselves up about not being able to read or not being able to control their book-buying/hoarding tendencies. I feel upset at this kind of elitism displayed. I sometimes also find that people are empathetic only to the characters in the fictional world, and in the real world, they switch back to their views. Actually, it could even be with non-fiction readers, really.

Reading has just become a passive activity. No more is reading an active back and forth with the book. It has just become passive consumption of knowledge.

Belief: Travel helps you grow

I never really understood of travel made people grow. I have never had a life changing travel experience because I am stressed while travelling. I stressed about how the bathrooms will be, if I lose anything, if I miss the train/bus/flight. Plus, I find it difficult to just loaf around in any place.

Out of curiosity and being the one completely disconnected to the allure of travel, I have always asked people who identify themselves as “travellers” and romanticize being a nomad- what is it that they gain from travel? They tell me: you get to experience culture of different place, you get to be in the rhythm of that place, and you get to rejuvenate and to reflect.

Fair enough, I say. But then, none of them return home with “experience”. The travel is so limited to being “touristy”. In terms of “change in world-view”,  there is a complete lack of empathy or even, awareness to the disparity of wealth one sees in smaller towns/larger cities, the privilege or lack of privilege you have while going to certain places.. Everything is just accepted at face value. Not to be mean, I also think after the travel is over, one just falls back into the same personal rut. I just don’t accept that travel changes everyone.

Since watching vloggers Damon and Jo on YouTube, I am vicariously living the travel experience through them, and again I have realized, like reading, travel has to be an active engagement with local culture, studying the history of the place and not just visiting the touristy places.

Belief: Persisting with people through rational discussions will change their minds

There is so much online discussion going on, about every issue there is. I like to read comments. That’s one of the time-wasting things I enjoy. But sometimes the comments are so ignorant and hateful, I really have to make an effort to stop myself from trolling old uncles or cursing at young people.

When in a discussion, I am open to what the other person if trying to tell me. But then, I have also realized it has become a game now;  a game where you win or lose, you convince or you give up. It really frustrates me that views have to be so polarizing. I have tried to argue rationally and tried to argue emotionally, but I have failed both times and many times. Not to say that, I am always right but I feel people are unncessarily staunch. Their beliefs are entangled to their identity. I have accepted that I don’t have answers many times. Once, in one such “discussion”, my “friend” argued that capital punishment was is right, even necessary, as convicted terrorist are a liability to the nation, and gave me some examples in defence, and I didn’t have an argument against that specific point, which I accepted. (I mention this because I am scouting for a good defense for this point.) But I feel disappointed that people don’t have the same sincerity and the debates continues with circular reasoning and bitterness.

Today, I saw John Oliver’s argument for “pro-choice” abortion laws, and there were still people in the comments being self-righteous. I mean, what else do you need? Someone just made a serious topic accessible, funny and informative and you’re still unwilling to even pause and reflect?!

People don’t change.

I am so bummed out.

Signing off,

Tame SheWolf

PS: I couldn’t find any quotes. Everyone famous believes that other people do change.