Saturday, February 26, 2005

On Racing Calves

This old lady I knew (well, ok, my grandmother) said that debating a fool is as profitable as trying to have a speed race with a calf. (If you find this mysterious you have never tried to catch a calf who doesn't want to be caught. The calf zigzags and kicks you with its hindlegs.)

This has hidden relevance for the next post about turds and trolls, because trolls are defined by their very inability to debate logically. To enter such a debate is foolish, yet to stay out of it is very hard if you are a competitive know-it-all type goddess. But out of it you must stay if you want to stay sane, because a troll will not follow any of the usual debating rules such as presenting actual evidence to back arguments or accepting your evidence in return. Trolls also turn the issue upside down in the middle of the debate or move on to some totally unrelated topic. If all else fails trolls attack you for saying something you never said or for being responsible for everything a certain ill-defined and possibly nonexistent group of individuals has ever done. Or they accuse you for not having explained everything that ever happened.

It's very tiresome and utterly pointless. It's also pretty similar to the O'Reilly show or Limbaugh's tirades or Ann Coulter's writings. None of these have much to do with real debates. Real debates can be interesting and even enlightening but trollabates are neither. Sadly, though, real debates are getting increasingly rare.

Many so-called debates are pre-orchestrated to come across as prize fights: pick an issue and then find two people with extreme and opposite opinions on the issue. They must express strong emotions and bombard each other with their absolutist messages. The audience is then supposed to conclude who is right and which side won.

This is rubbish, of course. It's quite possible that a middle-of-the-road position would be the most correct one or that the person who seems to win is just a better debater or that the whole issue is framed badly. It's even possible that such an adversary setup will not enlighten us at all, whereas a cooperative "fill-in-the-missing-pieces-of-the-puzzle" approach might get us somewhere. In any case, I'm very sceptical about the ability of an uninformed public to learn anything from most debates the way they are currently run.

Not that education is the objective of most staged debates. Rather, the idea is that the audience will relish the fighting and not get bored. Debating as entertainment.