The Nature of Online Debate
I have been wondering a lot about the tone of online debate, especially in forums, and particularly in faith-based forums.
Today I read this on the Ekklesia Forum.
“The left claims to be so tolerant and politically correct on the one hand, but they can’t seem to tolerate the views of millions of people in this country. They are ready to flee the country en masse to Canada or wherever. How tolerant is that? “
Here’s something I don’t understand about internet forums. Two people will be having an exchange, a conversation, then it turns into an online debate. One of the people will resort to a third-person kind of voice as if they were addressing a gathered crowd. Then, in this third-person voice they’ll launch into a speech that links the person they were addressing paranthetically with some undersirable group, like criminals, racists, or war-mongers.
I used to experience this often on places like the Christian Musician Forum. Most of my posts on any topic from religion to what brand of guitar strings I used would be met with comments like “what liberals always say is,” or “some people have been brainwashed by the media,” or “the problem with the left is.”
But, these comments weren’t addressed to me. They were using me as a placeholder for some demon that lived in the head of my interlocutor.
Online Debate Isn’t Helpful
This was all very confusing. Whatever liberal tendencies I have a marginal at best. Sure, I agree with John Locke that we should not burn people whose theology is different to our own. Does that make me a liberal? And, as for being some sort of leftist. Well, you could no more confuse my politics with leftism than you could confuse a watermelon with a whale.
Very few people neatly fit into the stereotypes they are labelled with in online debates. This feels particularly odd for places that discuss artistry, creativity, or spirituality. These topics require us to be honest, specific, and willing to engage in meaningful self-reflection. If anything, that’s the opposite of what we so often see in online debate.