Online debates happen both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ve had my fair share of ’em, in fact I’ve had too many debates to keep track of. Many are on the free will topic, and many are on other topics. I still have them but only when I can find the time, something limited. They are a great tool to get feedback and to provoke other thoughts or ways to go about addressing a topic of concern. They can also be a great tool for spreading information to others.
Some of these debates can be pleasurable experiences – in particular when neither side is hostile. Many online debates, however, turn into something else. They can often lead you down a dark alley of consistent frustration, defensive attitudes, and even drive out emotional responses that in hindsight are often regretted.
When that happens, we need to recognize that the person on the other end has just as much of a compulsion as you. Understanding that we lack free will means we should understand that no matter how someone on the other end behaves, there are factors driving them to that. If you were them atom for atom, you would behave the same way.
This could give you more compassion over their variables, and potentially prevent you from going down that dark alley. But this is easier said than done, even with the understanding that people lack free will.
It is often the case that both sides start out friendly and courteous toward each other. Something happens, however, once a person is told by another that they are wrong. At that point a chemical reaction happens. Their mouth seems to protrude and their eyes turn dark. Hair follicles rapidly grow hair where they never had it before.
Suddenly you realize that a grueling monster has taken hold of you by your feet and is dragging you, your head scraping down a concrete road. After a few moments the monster lets go and seems to change back to a person.
But it is too late. The infection has begun. Something is causally happening inside of you as well. Fangs protrude out from your mouth, your back curls up, and your claws elongate. It is now your turn to drag your opponent down the road!
Temporarily, this perhaps makes you feel better. You may even be under the delusion that there is no way they will get up after you have dragged them a mile. But that is what they had thought when they dragged you. “No no no, you won’t get the last drag”, they say. That might come off as if you got the better of them, or as if they conceded your point.
Suddenly you are grabbed by the ankle and pulled from your stable position. Thud, you crash to the ground. Your head scrapes along a long bumpy road. One in which you see the holes and flaws in before your head hits each of them.
This continues on and on, and it turns polite conversation into a war zone of hostile text. This is all regardless of who is correct and who is not. Keep in mind that it is almost always the case that, when this happens, each side see’s the other person as wrong. But regardless of who is correct or incorrect, the actual debate is no longer one that is productive or focused on the topic. It has created two ego-driven monsters that cannot be seen as not getting the last word in…because they know they are right!
There is one defense against this infection, but it too – is easier said than done. That defense is to try to prevent the “monster” infection before it ever even begins. The idea is to change your understanding about the psychology of the person you oppose.
Understand that even if you know another person is wrong, and even if you can prove it, for them to admit it in a public online forum is something that goes against human nature. Do not force their monster nature to come out. If you see it happening, the worse thing you can do is show your fangs back.
Instead, focus on something good that the person has said. Something that you agree with. Then, when you begin to focus on what you disagree with, you won’t seem as attacking. Text debates lose much of the inflection that real conversation has. You need to attempt to add some of that calm inflection in.
And when you disagree, don’t simply assert the wrongness of the other person. I know, I know, this is difficult – and I am guilty telling others they are wrong as well. But the way we do so is of great importance if we are concerned about productive discourse. “Isn’t X problematic for Y?” has a completely different feel than “You are totally wrong about X due to Y!” One puts a person in attack mode, the other does not.
And people even make this worse with insults or attacks. Look at the difference between these sentences:
- “Isn’t X problematic for Y?”
- “It seems to me that X would be a problem for Y.”
- “You are wrong about X due to Y!”
- “You are totally wrong about X due to Y, idiot!”
- “Ummm, no, you are wrong about X due to Y. Wow you are really dumb. You really need to educate yourself before you talk about these topics.”
Number 1 poses a question for the person to ponder and answer and number 2 says that “this is how I see it” rather than focusing on the wrongness of the person, and keeps the conversation productive. The rest shut down the conversation and create a defensive attitude back, and the more insulting, the more defensive the opposition gets. Of course.
And these often create escalations. For example, it might start with “You are totally wrong about X due to Y”, which will get a response of “No, you are wrong, idiot!”, perhaps with an explanation afterward, but it’s too late for explanations at that point. The infection has begun and a worse response almost inevitably will follow. This is anything but productive, and it is difficult if not impossible to ever get back on track once something like this starts.
Try to inflect a sense of inquiry and calmness in to your text, and make disagreements about how you are seeing things rather than how dumb the other person is being. If you still see the fangs come out, try to ask them to avoid certain types of language and just focus on the topic in a courteous fashion. If you still see the fangs come out, that may be a clue that this conversation is not for you. End it before the real monsters come out to play.
And yes, you can also use an occasional emoticon even if it makes you cringe. Just don’t let emoticons grant all of the inflection – as that’ll just come off as fake. Most importantly, keep in mind what types of causality drives a specific type of reaction. If you have ever been frustrated with another person in a debate, then understand that the frustration is most likely not a one sided event.
If, however, you enjoy being a monster and don’t care about what your online presence looks like to others, you may have some disconcerting psychological tendencies. If you actually care about changing minds, spreading information, or even learning, just know that debate monster battles will be unconvincing to the readers who do not already share your understanding (no matter how logically strong your arguments are), and ultimately unproductive. And you will almost always not have any impact on the person you are debating.
You don’t agree with me about this article? Well, you are totally wrong! Just kidding, put the fangs away. 😉
Looking to debate the lack of free will with others. Prepare yourself with the sorts of arguments people will make to inject in “free will”, and the responses to these arguments:
Obtain a copy of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind (book) and subscribe to the BtFWI Blog for articles about the lack of free will, and a lot of philosophy and psychology that surrounds the topic.
Also, if you are just interested in rambling philosophical thoughts, I’m gonna be practicing my off-the-cuff (impromtu) talking in a podcast I’ve created correctly titled “Thinking Out Loud Podcast”. There is only one podcast there right now, but more will come and hopefully it will get better with time as my impromtu speaking improves and I correct for my horrible upstate NY accent (something I didn’t realized I had until I move to Canada). I’m more using this as something to help with my public speaking, something I’m not good at but working on.