This post is the expansion this tweet.
On the question of - is it pointless to debate if there will be no actionable outcome?
Here’s why I think engaging may be worth considering…
The Socratic method - Socrates coined the approach of debating simply to grow in knowledge, not necessarily to produce an actionable outcome, and that has underpinned much of philosophy and science for millennia. This is abstract but to make it concrete - what if an idea emerges during the debate that isn’t hostile and turns out to be a net benefit to humanity?
- Regarding “if society agrees on the answer, then why debate?” - debating how absurd the other side’s
argument is will always be an important way to keep the lessons of history alive. I’ll channel Angela Merkel with this
except from her Davos
Today, when Europe is very much the focus of the discussions at this Davos Forum, I would like to recall that the First World War ended 100 years ago, in 1918. It is described as the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century. Worse catastrophes followed it. Like sleepwalkers, the politicians of the time blundered into a terrible situation. Today, 100 years later, when there are fewer and fewer surviving eyewitnesses to the Second World War, we need to ask ourselves if we have really learned from history or not. I think the generations of people born after the Second World War will need to prove whether they have really learned something.
If reasonable people don’t debate the question then it will solely be left to the radicals to debate and control the narrative.
- The originating Twitter thread itself is, at some level, proof of the value of debating what was presented as a taboo topic in the tweet initially quoted. I learned a lot from the pressure put on my position. It’s crystallised many fleeting thoughts as written words and there’s a clearer understanding of each person’s position, with many ambiguous points clarified.
Regarding the questions relating to the Fox News piece, asking “should we have an ethnically diverse population in a country?”
This is a good example of when decisions get tricky. Should we be afraid of this question being asked? No. I haven’t seen the rest of the Fox News piece other than the clip shared but I suspect Japan could be used as an argument for the pro-low diversity argument (NB: do not take the mentioning of that argument as an endorsement of that point of view). Would the act of putting together a counter argument to this make the pro-diversity argument stronger? Yes. Is there something else in Japanese culture that we should consider reflecting on to see if we can isolate a way to improve Western society? Maybe. Could some (not all) people be talked out of taking a radical point of view by engaging on the topic? Probably.
However, there are caveats. To start with, one needs to be very wary of engaging with “bad faith” actors. It is wise to err on the side of not engaging - unless you’re…
- Confident of success despite the other parties bad faith tactics and
- There’s real value in having the conversation.
In other words the “threshold for engagement” goes up exponentially. When making the decision, care must be taken that you don’t end up being part of a crude platform for destructive speeches. And having a firm moderator to ensure points are backed up is also a likely requirement. These are all things that will need to be weighed up depending on whether/where you believe the other party falls on the spectrum of bad faith actors.
One final point is that if you do engage be aware that you may be misquoted based on what you say long into the future. You can end up having audio or video content re-edited to negatively reflect what you say out of context. There may be little you can do about that and it might be something that you will just have to accept as a price for engaging. It is entirely reasonable that you decide it’s a price not worth paying - the takeaway is that the decision is highly context sensitive. There can be a lot of nuance to the situation, and to how you may approach it, and it is unlikely that a “one size fits all” solution of “never debate” is a satisfactory recommendation.