It’s uncontroversial to state that we live in what may be the most polarized political environment our country has ever faced. Pair this with our current level of technological advancement that affords every average person a ‘voice’ and you have a recipe for chaos. With this greater tendency for every conversation to become politically charged, there has been a rise in dishonest discussion tactics that is leading to a degradation in our exchange of ideas.
Our current political climate has radicalized many into distinct ‘political tribes’ that have no interest in learning from those who they may not agree with. Therefore, many discussions between these groups have the unsaid goal of ‘winning the argument’, not resolving the disagreement. With this clear objective in mind, it is more common to see individuals attempting to discredit their opponents by painting them in the worst possible light. People will associate their opponents with the absolute worst group or person who also disagrees with their position (Nazis, racists, etc) because their opponent now must distance themselves from said group or risk giving this imagined association validity, thus taking the focus off their position in the disagreement. The people that propose these links don’t truly believe that their opponents are associated with these groups, but do so as a debate tactic because their objective is to win the argument.
Worse yet, modern technology provides a record of everything a person has said over social media sites which is available to the world. Because these ‘receipts’ are available, dishonest debaters will ‘research’ their opponent’s accounts for any unsavory viewpoint that may have been said in the past. They will hone in on three or four words and stretch them to extreme hyperbole to make the opponent out to be a vile, abhorrent human being. It is much easier to force your opponent to defend a statement made five years ago than it is to explain why your position on the issue is better than the opponent’s. Again, this is a tactic used to discredit your opponent because, as stated earlier, the goal is to win not learn.
These tactics are incredibly damaging for two reasons: shutting down the discussion reduces your exposure to alternative viewpoints and removing the necessity of defending your own viewpoints prevents you from fully exploring what you believe and why you believe this particular position. Setting your sole objective as ‘being right’ limits your growth and results in intellectual stagnation. When you view opposing viewpoints as ‘wrong’ opinions that ‘need to be defeated’ you further reinforce your current positions and view anything outside of those positions as ‘enemy’ positions. It is vital that we abandon these dishonest tactics and return to a climate where disagreements can take place civilly and decently. Our future growth depends on it.