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Civil Discourse

Travels of Discourse Through Time


Discourse and conversation is all we have to traverse the landscape of differing ideas, ideology and through changing mindsets along the time dimension. It is the only possible way to persuade someone into or dissuade someone out of a particular train of thought. There have been many observed ways of having a conversation or a debate, and we maybe reaching a conclusion of how to go about it. <h2>Provocation</h2> Does provocative behaviour help in persuading someone? This has been tried and tested and I feel that it always leads to more separation. Polarization happens at a level where the people who are at the expense of the provocation go more against the idea of the provocateur and maybe to the point of no return. The only time it affects someone is when he or she is not ashamed to be ridiculed in public, which is definitely diminishing in number, and wasn't even a majority to begin with. The rate of people agreeing to the opposing point of view is not quick enough to stop the polarization. The being stomped on in an aggressive manner and then being able to say that you were wrong is generally never the case in serious discourse. The reason for provocateurs not being as effective as they can be, if they are right, is that their past discussions haven't traversed well through time to the present, which is hindering the person who is trying to listen to an opposing point of view, and that too in a hostile manner. <h2>Media Debate</h2> Media style debate with many people participating, has been the most mainstream way of discussing differing opinions. People tune in to listen to these and may or may not have been convinced to some kind of an opinion. With the advent of technology and alternate forms of discussions, the podcasts, longer form discussions or one one one discussions have started to become very popular. Mainstream media allows a person limited amount of time to unpack a complicated idea, which devolves into a space where the idea can be opposed using wrong arguments and make it look as if it wasn't worthy of further discussion. Furthermore, the talking past one another is such a common event, especially in India, that it becomes more of a comedy act and it travels through time as a slapstick comedic event which everyone remembers it by, rather than trying to get the gist of the topic being discussed. <h2>Podcasts and Longer Form Discussions</h2> Podcasts are becoming the norm these days and are a gigantic threat to the mainstream media style of discussion. The number of people listening to podcasts and live streams, done especially on YouTube, is increasing and ideas are becoming more and more clearer to people as a result. Two hours or sometimes three hour discussions can take place on a podcast which allows people to clarify a complicated concept. This can help people get another point of view and do with it what they please, with the presenter of the concept feeling satisfied that they could present all the information that they could, to cement their proof. There is no scope for talking past each other, as people get time to talk and these discussions are travelling to the present with a much improved sense of clarity and good objections to it, rather than the usual mischaracterization of views. There are different types of podcasts, relating to politics, comedy, sports, etc. through which we get to know the person who is in participation. I would like to mention the very popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast, which features an array of different personalities having a conversation on all kinds of topics ranging from comedy to politics, philosophy to sports (especially MMA) and whatever you can think of. It is so heartening to go through the journey of listening to that kind of discussion because the guests are allowed to present their case. <h2>The Steelman Approach to Discussion</h2> The Steelman approach is the principle which should be applied to all debates and discussions for more fruitful results. It is the opposite of strawman, which is the mere fact of refuting a claim which was not even made by the opponenent, but was the low hanging fruit to bite on. The first time I heard the term was on another great podcast called Waking Up, which is hosted by Sam Harris, and the guest was the insightful Eric Weinstein. This concept is a ray of hope for a much better and enhanced form of discussion, where a convergence can be noticed. The core concept is to understand your opponent's argument to the point that you could summarize it to their liking, or even do one better and articulate it in a much more impacting manner. The objections which come will now be based on the actual argument rather than some weak and modified form of it. The Steelman definitely traverses to the present very well, as it has no other way of traversing, but this. We could be closing in on civil discourse after all.

- Shubham Anuraj, 0:54AM, 09 July, 2018


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