I suggested on Monday that there are some ground rules that are necessary for having debate. I began by saying that an echo chamber is not conducive to debate because one side is literally shut out from the discussion. If you only hear one side, it is not going to be very much of a debate.
Another effective way to kill debate is by dehumanizing your opponent. This goes beyond simply disagreeing with someone on a policy position. This goes beyond the level of having a heated conversation about gun control and regulation. This goes to the level of one side believing that no decent human could take the other position. If you take that evil position, it is literally impossible for you to be a decent human being.
Let’s put this into a very familiar modern example. There are people who argue that Christians are bigots; I’m sure you have heard it before. Clearly, being a bigot is a bad thing, and no one wants to be a bigot. Therefore, if you are of the belief that all Christians are necessarily bigots and that no decent person can be a Christian without being a bigot, obviously you are not going to be interested in debate about the truth of Christianity. No matter how true Christianity might be, you will not want to become a Christian because you have effectively dehumanized Christians in your mind beforehand.
When approaching a debate, the appropriate mindset is to assume that the other side might have something of value to say. As a Christian, I do believe that the Christian worldview is the correct one. I do not believe that Hinduism for example is correct. If I was attending a debate between a Christian and Hindu, it would not be useful for me to come to that debate with a preconceived notion that no decent person could ever believe in Hinduism. Rather, it is better for me to come to this debate with the idea that this Hindu participant is a decent human being who sincerely believes what he or she is professing.
At the end of the debate, I would almost definitely still disagree with that presenter. I know that I have very little interest in converting from Christianity to Hinduism, but when listening to debate, I owe both presenters my consideration.
I can reject their proposals without a doubt and believe that their ideas are absolutely false. I’m certainly not advocating for some type of worldview where you can define your own truth and there are no wrong answers. I believe there are wrong worldviews.
However, I do not want to come to a debate with the idea that only absolutely evil individuals who might even be subhuman take the position opposite mine. In our polarized political environment right now, we hear a lot of dehumanizing language that talks about the evils of the left or the right. I don’t think that is helpful at all.
Instead, it seems to me that a better approach is to come to debate, treat both sides with dignity, listen to the evidence and come to a conclusion. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to do this, but the human race continually amazes me with its ability to complicate the simple.