The art of the argument is dead

David Fong TDN Columnist

I used to love a good argument.

No, seriously; I really, truly did. You don’t believe me? I’ll gladly debate you on the matter.

See what I mean?

I spent the better part of my life arguing. As a child, there was nothing my parents could possibly say to me that didn’t engender some sort of protracted debate. If my parents asked me to clean my room, I could come up with a list of reasons why I couldn’t and shouldn’t clean my room.

Albert Einstein had a messy room. Messy rooms are a sign of entropy — nature’s gradual decline toward disorder. I can find everything in my room where it is now — cleaning it will mess with the system, causing my to lose much-needed items and chaos to ensue.

I was too tired. I was too hungry. It was too hot to clean my room. It was too cold to clean my room. I didn’t actually make the mess in my room, but the aliens who visited me last night did. If I clean my room, a butterfly in New Zealand could possibly die, bringing down our entire ecosystem.

Truth by told, in the time I spent arguing with my parents, I probably could have gone ahead and cleaned my room.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always win these arguments. As a matter of fact, if the argument was with my parents, I pretty much never won — mostly because the phrase, “If you don’t like it, you can get the heck out of my house” is a pretty powerful trump card in any argument.

In my mind, though, it was rarely about winning or losing. Sure, it felt great to win, but that was never the ultimate goal. I always enjoyed the intellectual give and take and the spirited banter that went along with a lively debate. I appreciated the fact that in some arguments, I was able to learn a thing or two, while at the same time teaching others a few things myself.

I’ve always felt as though it was our ability to communicate with one another that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom (well, that and indoor plumbing). When animals have disagreements with one another, they battle to the death, preferably with a little background narration from Marlin Perkins.

Humans are able to discuss our differences in a mature, intelligent way.

Well … we used to, anyway.

I don’t love arguments anymore. This election cycle has made me hate them. And it’s not even so much the politicians who have made me dislike the art of a finely crafted debate — although don’t get me wrong, I can find plenty of loathsome politicians in both parties — but it is their supporters.

Social media — which once occupied large portions of my day — has become little more than a minefield of insults and accusations — and I can assure you, my friends on both sides are guilty of this, at least from time to time. There is no back and forth — only a series of attempts to more crass and more hurtful than everyone else on Facebook or Twitter.

Very rarely do I see a well-crafted argument in favor of one’s preferred candidate. What I do see a whole lot of is are pointed — and often personal — insults levied against the other candidate. And that, to some degree, is to be expected, I suppose. I can live with that — and hopefully, so can any candidate who is running for the highest office in the land.

It’s become much more than that, however. The insults don’t stop at the candidates. Now they are being aimed at their supporters, as well. I’ve seen more than a few people referred to as “idiots” or “morons” (and those are just the names I can use in a family publication) for supporting one candidate as opposed to the other. I’ve seen friendships disintegrate over social media because of this election.

People no longer seem interested in expressing their viewpoints and then listening to the other side. This election has turned what once passed for civil debate into a game of who can yell loudest and who can sink furthest the fastest.

Is this really what we’ve come to? The same country that once produced the Lincoln-Douglas debates has become just a step above a Jerry Springer episode. It’s tragic, really.

Which is why I find myself spending less and less time on social media. By the time the election rolls around, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve logged off entirely. I simply cannot take it anymore.

I guess the good news is football season is right around the corner — so at least we can argue about something that truly matters.

Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong

David Fong TDN Columnist Fong TDN Columnist
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