Monday, December 10, 2012

The decline of debate

Steve Sailer has an excellent post up over at his blog.  He writes:

Much of the intellectual progress the world has made over the millennia is due to men managing to turn argument into sport rather than either a test of popularity or of physical strength.

Two points here: 1) this attitude is rare, both historically, in that few periods of time have treated disagreements as other than a personal affront; and 2) men here should be read in the exclusive sense, i.e. excluding women.  Anyone who has attempted to discuss things with women is familiar with their tendency to personalize every issue. 

This second point is made more clear when Steve continues, quoting Alastair Roberts:

Granted immunity from this process [of debate as sport], sensitivity-driven and conflict-averse contexts seldom produce strong thought, but rather tend to become echo chambers. Even the good ideas that they produce tend to be blunt and very weak in places. Even with highly intelligent people within them, conflict-averse groups are poor at thinking. Bad arguments go unchecked and good insights go unhoned and underdeveloped. This would not be such a problem were it not for the fact that these groups frequently expect us to fly in a society formed according to their ideas, ideas that never received any rigorous stress testing.

For confirmation, I suggest reading the sycophantic drivel bouncing around the echo chamber of your favorite feminist blog.   It would be unfair to blame women entirely for this; many men are similarly ill-equipped to handle the rigors of debate.  Still, I think we could fairly categorize the sensitivity-driven approach as feminine, while debate as sport is essentially masculine. 

Roberts does a good job of highlighting the shortcomings of the feminine approach.  I think it would be instructive to examine some of the benefits to the masculine alternative.  The fact that ancient Greece and ascendant Britain perfected this model of discourse is probably not an accident.  One may still find it this type of discourse in strange corners of the Internet, and in small circles of people, if one is fortunate enough to know enough holdouts to the dictates of the Zeitgeist, it has become exceedingly rare. 

This is all very befuddling to me because I have a hard time imagining that debate could be anything other than sport.  Taking offense over a difference of opinion is, in my estimation, petty and absurd.  This would not be the first time I have discovered that what I perceived as transparently true is almost universally doubted, but it is unfortunate all the same.  Sailer, who no doubt came to this realization many decades before me, is to be commended for expressing so clearly what I had only half grasped:

In general, the contemporary mode of emotionalism and herding is the human default. The great ages of intellectual progress via debate were rare social constructs, and it's not surprising that they easily break down.

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