From top: New Yorker cartoon; Dan Boyle
Debates no longer seem to about content. It’s the stylistic difference that now determines whether an argument is being won or lost.
Dan Boyle writes:
The Argument would be one of my favourite Monty Python sketches. Michael Palin having paid for his argument session enters a room to find John Cleese sitting behind a desk.
Apropos of nothing Cleese says “I’ve told you once,”. Palin somewhat taken aback responds “No you didn’t,”.
There then follows a ping pong of Yes I did/No you didn’t, until Palin stops the dialogue to express his annoyance. “This isn’t an argument,” he says. “It’s just contradiction. Contradiction isn’t argument,”.
Cleese pauses, having been countered, he then says “It can be,” after which volleys of No it can’t/Yes it can follow.
I now see this sketch as something of a harbinger of how debased debate would become.
Inconsistency isn’t hypocrisy. Correlation isn’t causation. Dúirt bean liom doesn’t constitute an authoritative source. The only rule on debates that now applies is that there are no rules. We have been Games of Thronesified.
Debates no longer seem to about content. It’s the stylistic difference that now determines whether an argument is being won.
By way of illustration let me identify some of the sparring types I come across. First there is The Anal Retentive. This person only ever has one point which is repeated again and again and again. Even when that point has been proven wrong the first time.
Then we have The College Debater. This person don’t really hold any opinion, but is nostalgic at having almost gotten into King’s Inn, looks for alternative arguments to be made.
A near relation is The Hypothesis Buster. This person detests any statement that is confidently asserted. Their intent is then not only to undermine the confidence in the argument, but the confidence of the argument maker.
These catagories at least continue with the point/counterpoint structure given to us by Aristotle. Much more prevalent these days are those for whom a debate is something of a distraction.
Take The You’re History Buff. This person ignores any point being made in an argument because you are the person making the argument. Each counterpoint has nothing to do with any salient point being made, but is rather a statement of their opinion of you, who you are, or what it is you have been.
A variant of this would be The You’re A Langer Boy. This is a Cork version that has several more offensive counterparts. With this approach each counterpoint again ignores the argument, and instead inserts any and every offensive comment possible.
There is a myriad of other types who would need a book to properly explain. There’s the My God Is Better Than Your God Believer. These people can expound in a theological detailed way on politics or on sports, as much as they do with religion.
I keep getting sucked in by these types. I’ve even been accused of exhibiting many of these traits myself. Of course I would say that is arguable.