Debate is the cornerstone of free thought. A vision of a utopia that pervades in the minds of Americans and people the world over believe it will mean an end to arguing, that peace in conversation will lead to a cessation of physical violence. But that isn’t true–the more advanced our technology becomes, the greater the possibility for misinformation searching to stymie scientific and societal development. Debate is the only weapon we have to lay out an idea and decide on whether or not it’s logically sound and coherent. Without that simple luxury, an entire populace will be reduced to a bunch of chickens running around with their heads cut off.
And such, to some degree, is where we find ourselves today. Undercutting someone’s beliefs with the notion that they stand on a morally shaky foundation is nothing new, but there was at least evidence to support or denounce whatever criticism was leveled against a person, idea, or institution. Now, we have an overabundance of precedent for any theory, outlandish or otherwise, so whichever comes to ascend the lofty title of “fact” is left largely up to a popularity contest, contingent on celebrity endorsements and high-concentrated word-of-mouth.
“Fake news” and “alternative facts” are the scourge of modern society, but they aren’t necessarily the world-ending hurricane of apocalyptic devastation everyone believes them to be. Misinformation is a tool, and we all have to buy into it for a profitable outcome. What I’ve come to call the Antifragile Argument–that will destroy the world in one way or another. Antifragility as a concept was created by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and is used to describe something that grows stronger when attacked.
The Argument, essentially, is a method wherein a person not only denounces a person’s character, but further corrupts any argument they may make going forward by implying they’re slaves to an agenda. The Argument grows stronger the more someone on the opposition tries to fight against it, feeding into the lie and systematically unraveling any hope for civil discourse.
A harmless example of this phenomenon would be this article from xoJane, wherein the writer argues that Game of Thrones is sexist, and anyone who disagrees is simply brainwashed by the show’s creators. Whether you ascribe to her sentiments or otherwise is totally besides the point: in trying to defend a contentious opinion, one becomes a rallying point for the author to cry “See! See! Look at the sheep!” and only further her claim. Furthermore, sticking to her side feels like the “right,” almost noble thing to do because it implies that you came to the decision all by yourself, rather than some high-level form of bullying.
A much, much, much more severe example would be pretty much anything Sean Spicer or Donald Trump says about anything. From the liberal media out to get him or climate change being a myth, Trump makes everything a debatable, political circus where he is the only one brave enough to speak freely while simultaneously hurting the fanbase he worked so hard to take advantage of. He’s shaking hands with the left and lobbing punches with the right.
Now, standing up to boldly claim “Hey, I think this Trump guy’s not that great” would be as useful and warranted as saying the War on Drugs was stupid and Middle Eastern intervention was flawed from the beginning: it’s obvious enough to border on condescension. And bad as Trump is, he’s one facet of a larger epidemic that can and often does, when utilized correctly, lead to totalitarian rule. Impeaching Trump won’t make it easier to breach an Antifragile Argument, which is founded and propagated through emotional manipulation.
So how do we stop the Argument? Well for starters, always hear someone out. Even if their ideas are ludicrous, what they’re saying may not necessarily be as important as why they’re saying it. Set an example for your ideas so that in the event of you raising a contentious opinion, the person you’re arguing against might find a new emotional foundation in your words. Be sure to call someone out the next time they try to use the Argument against you, that their tactic is flawed in much the same way they wish to decry you a puppet. And most importantly: think critically, maintain a level head, and speak with conviction. In the end this might not be enough, but it’s better than giving in to hopelessness. And that, I think, is worth something.