The Best Debate is Forgiving and Uplifting - Not This

The biggest problem with discussion on these issues is how We as North Americans have lost the ability to allow for someone to change their opinions, at least on the internet. No one wins when you put someone up on the stake. I believe the reviewer was mistaken, but I believe this can be communicated without harm.
What harm?
It happens time and time again. People are shamed and figuratively destroyed for voicing an opinion, when really we should be using language such as " please correct yourself, this is why the opinion you hold may be untrue, or possibly immoral."
This happens, except that when someone sits in a pool of opinion, such as reviewer at the economist, they become easy targets for ridicule.
Then while people are at it, they slash all business owners.
The real reason that this person reviewed as such is that they knew no better, they, for whatever reason (probably unease) thought about slavery so little that they would mistakenly propose it might have been a healthy human condition.
Now this is demonstrably false, and very much so, but that opinion comes from ignorance.
Educate Boing Boing. Do not hold a whip.

…and in this way we can attack all criticism and defend the right of the privileged to blather on without their suffering any consequences.

The strength of dissent and criticism, the extent to which shame or approbation is applied, these are issues of art and manners, not morals. The larger ethical issues are about power, violence, and privilege. Quibbling about form, grammar, and language is a distraction from ethics, not a guide. If people care more about the ethical issues than the form of the debate, this is a good thing.


This of course seems fine (using shaming) when we are ethically correct, as in this case (the ignorant review of slavery), but Amdy, how long has the “left” had to endure a like shaming from the “right,” who have had to endure scathing buckets of hyperbole, and none so prevalent as during elections and the debate on the second Iraq war. My own “friends,” (no more) were only too eager to espouse George the time, saying things they now regret, as does the World.
For Andy, is the niceties in which we treat each other, and the smallest niceties that make humanity worth saving, or not, in my opinion.
You are welcome to disagree.

That is where it is important to point out the hyperbole as hyperbole and reject it flatly (even impolitely) rather than let it pass. I’m not sure what you are proposing as the solution. Engaging on real world issues is important, adhering to arbitrary rules of engagement is not.

While I was growing up, the rules of genteel civil debate only applied to the outlets I learned from: public radio, my teachers, the books allowed in the library. The real world is not that way, and the only people allowed to show their (often fake) outrage were bullies, fascists, neo-confederates, anti-tax “activists”, religious saviors guided by God to save our pee-pees from the gay, or novelty acts like Valerie Solanas who were allowed to smear dissent by being mounted on a stick as dissent’s representative.

Fascists could occupy that realm of outrage only because, to be blunt, the people who owned the media in the 70s, 80s, and 90s forced anti-fascists to conform to a fake standard of discourse. Fake causes were given the sole right to affect real emotion while real abuses could only be responded to with “respectful dissent.”

Civil disobedience worked only because the people being thrown in jail were carefully selected to show no outrage, no disrespect, because if they didn’t abase themselves they could be shot with impunity and would make the movement look bad. To prove that we’ve moved beyond a world of casual killing and widespread censorship, we need to be able to demonstrate our impolite anger without being shot or swept under the rug for “violating standards”.


There can be harm in that, too. For instance, various people have stood against rights for people like gays, women, ethnic minorities, or what have you. And other people get upset at them and shout against those opinions, and I have seen them get told they shouldn’t, they should debate things in the subdued fashion you describe.

But that sends a message too: it tells gays, women, and ethnic minorities their rights are on the level of things we calmly discuss. Something akin to marginal tax rates: something we might think is important, but nothing shameful to disagree on. And I’m reasonably sure the harm done by subtly saying again and again that their humanity is open to negotiation is far more than shaming even people who only inadvertently trample it. There’s a reason concern trolling is a thing.

The Economist piece you refer to was a piece about it wasn’t really that so bad treating black people as property. Whether intended or not, that sends a message to black people today; and so does focusing more on whether our disagreement is sufficiently gentle to the author. I think there is less harm making it clear we think that sentiment is unworthy of civilized debate.


Derailing to post this link (thanks to @OtherMichael):


The Economist piece you refer to was a piece about it wasn’t really that so bad treating black people as property. Whether intended or not, that sends a message to black people today; and so does focusing more on whether our disagreement is sufficiently gentle to the author. I think there is less harm making it clear we think that sentiment is unworthy of civilized debate.

I agree that this was worth of ridicule. I think we’re in trouble though, real trouble from a growing militant attitude towards the middle class, and that we need to elevate the debate to that of the constitutional fathers as written argument, or we’re in danger of being dismissed as “rabble (if that hasn’t happened already).”

Sooner or later, this whole situation (the one percent, whatever you want to call it: ferguson, etc), is going to come to a head, and as usual cooler heads will prevail. Sitting on steps and yelling didn’t accomplish much.

I admit that I might be in danger of being completely wrong and too idealistic, but I really think that a lot of this needs to be carried in courts. I also worry that people will run out of steam if they yell so much.

What are you talking about?

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He means white dudes, I think. White dudes who aren’t poor or gay or whatever. We all need to sit down and shut up because white dudes need to speak in civilized tones about what’s best for the rest of us who might not agree with them.



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I’d say it depends on what they actually say. Some factors that will affect the response you get to an expressed opinion include:

  • Is what you say intuitively (obviously) wrong?
  • Would your opinion have a severely negative impact on a whole class of people if used as the basis of policy?
  • Is what you say clearly wrong to anyone educated in the subject matter?
  • Is your opinion one which is generally held for political reasons rather than on the basis of factual, scientifically analyzed evidence?
  • Are you implicitly claiming expertise by, say, writing for a major global publication?

So saying “I believe that anchovies should not be allowed on pizza” in this forum is going to get a more polite response than writing an article in a major newspaper that says homosexuals should all be rounded up and sent to the gas chamber.

The Economist author was on the wrong side of all five of those factors, and maybe a few more also, hence most people deciding he didn’t deserve a politely educational response.

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I’m still in paying-out-the-rope mode. Whoever it is, they haven’t made it completely obvious that they’re playing at culture-jamming-Republican-intern. With a handle like “Khal Shariff” they couldn’t possibly be a lame troll.

Go ahead and Google me (if you like or have time), I’m pretty much what you see is what you get. correct. For what it’s worth I cried for like 10 minutes when I watch 12 years a Slave and I am not afraid to admit it.

Trust me, I am a lot like you guys in opinion ( probably almost the same), but I am encouraging taking the high ground as much as possible. That is really my only point.

I would hope that " the growing militant attitude towards the middle class is pretty obvious."

You could call me “half-white” if you wanted, but that’s not very helpful in today’s world. Not helpful at all.

I am going to sign off now. Thanks for keeping it civil.


It isn’t actually, it sounds kinda ridiculous. Give me an idea of where you are coming from.

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Upper Class = 0.1%
Middle Class = 1.0%
Working Class = Everyone else?

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I sort of assumed that’s where this was going, but I’m still willing to hear him out.

Oh - I mean the use of force and the arming of police with para-military weapons that get used when people are bored or want a fight.
It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I am sure this debate is happening at some level, but unless the general public gets taken seriously and uses the law as much as civil unrest to press a point, we are going down the tubes as a society. The same exact thing happened in Canada during the G8 summit, and that blue line is taking on a character that is in itself disrespectful of society and people.
But you know, I think people generally get this after watching the Ferguson video (I am actually too busy with the software to watch the news a lot these days, but I assume it is as bad as it ever was).

You do realize that the laws are written for the elites by the elites, and civil unrest is a tool of the underclass, right? The law is not equitably written or applied and that’s a major part of the problem - the masses also do not have access to mass media, which, despite the internet and it’s possible democratizing applications, have less of an impact than the corporate media on shaping public opinions (and also, I’d argue the net can be a tool of disinformation). There isn’t a level playing field, and mockery, civil unrest, and other ways of showing that the emperors have no clothes are the weapons of the weak. the militarization of the police is not a reaction to civil unrest, it’s a major cause of it.

At some point, you really got to say enough is enough and stand up to the bullshit being fed to you. You think that we need to do that with polite discourse, fine, I, as an acedemic am certainly part of that discourse. But I’m in a privileged position. Not everyone has the same access to the sorts of resources I have (and there are people who have better access to larger audiences than myself). how do you propose those voices get heard, when they are always going to be rejected for not being the “right kind of people”?

Edited to add: so many people called that review out because it was pure unadulterated nonsense, masquerading as public discourse about an historical issue. the economist is not some shady blog, but it is a magazine that has a wide audience and some measure of respect as a publication. Yet, here they are, publishing slavery apologia. Mockery is exactly what they deserved for it.