It's really quite pathetic that many of my friends and family are utterly unable to engage in polite, fair argumentation when we disagree about something. This has become even more evident during this election season. Being pretty liberal, socially, my ideals clash with those of my religious friends and families on a regular basis. I am not afraid to engage them in discussion about these differences, I usually (not always) do so politely and in the hopes of having a thoughtful, well informed discussion. The problem is however, a great many of them simply cannot do so, they are totally unequipped and unprepared. They have such firm beliefs and they state them so very passionately that it appears they know why they believe what they believe. However, when I challenge them to substantiate or defend their beliefs, the conversation usually implodes. Accusations of "hate speech", ad hominem, red herrings and straw men begin flying about like farm animals in a category 5 tornado. I hear things like "get off your high horse" and other indicators that these people feel like their being talked down to. What this indicates to me is, is that they're not very well informed and their ideas and opinions are not well supported. It indicates fear, insecurity and ignorance regarding their beliefs, opinions and positions.
What follows is what I would like to say to my Facebook friends specifically, and a few of my Twitter followers as well, I would do so, but I'm afraid I'd be left friendless by the end of the day... So here it is for all of you to enjoy! I'm sure many of you have had similar experiences as well, so I hope some of you find this encouraging.
My hero, Christopher Hitchens said this while doing an interview and discussing writing in a journalistic sense, he was speaking to "Bloggers" when he said this: "Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."
I subscribe to every idea of Mr. Hitchens' stated here. Particularly the portion in the middle which says - "Don't be afraid to thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence."
Hitchens was rarely silent, it's one of the things I admired most about him. He engaged in almost constant debate and discussion with those he disagreed with or that disagreed with him. He refused to let ignorant, evil or vacuous assertions slide when others might have looked the other way for the sake of avoiding conflict. When he said "seek out argument and disputation for their own sake", he was acknowledging that there is inherent value in these things. You can gain a lot of perspective, learn something new, recognize flaws in your own thinking, persuade someone to adopt a better, healthier or more beneficial position, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on. However, for whatever reason people seem to conflate disagreement with disrespect, or "hatred" or other negative motivations that they aren't, necessarily. Even if a conversation becomes heated, it doesn't have to digress into something negative or harmful, though it certainly can.
Far too few people these days are brave enough to engage, and far too many people take disagreement personally. Folks, we're all adults here, we should be able to share our ideas and disagree with each other and walk away from it knowing that we're better off for it in most cases. For those that can't engage in a disagreement without resorting to ad hominem (attacking the person making the argument instead of the argument or the facts contained therein) than maybe it's time to grow up a little bit? Read a book on logic and critical thinking, try to avoid emotional, knee jerk responses. THINK before you speak. These are all things adults should be able to do.
Lastly, as a disclaimer and in the interest of holding myself to the same standard, I should acknowledge that I am not perfect at exhibiting all of the traits I've listed as valuable or virtuous when it comes to conversation, arguments and disputation. I have biases, I recognize that fact, and I do everything I can to minimize those in my arguments. I am also rather quick to anger, some people know this about me and they use it against me, which isn't fair. However, in the end the impetus is on me to be able to control that frustration and respond in a fair, polite and even manner. I also tend to get defensive, which is fine when it's applied properly, it's not fine when I do the same thing I'm criticizing other people for and take a comment that isn't meant to be personal, personally. Some of you who engage me more often than others may have noticed a shift in tactics, I have begun to demand that the conversation stay on topic and if at all possible deals in facts. Preferably facts derived empirically and from sources that are as objective as possible and not prone to hyperbole or promoting propaganda. This ensures that an exchange is fair and valuable and allows two (or more) people to flesh out the facts and come to an actual conclusion. At that point, it's the responsibility of the "loser" for the lack of a better term to admit defeat, graciously.
Now having said all that, I'd like to point out that all gods are imaginary, Jesus is the result of a compilation of pagan gods/myths (and did not exist) and the Bible is unreliable and demonstrably false. Discuss.