Debate the idea, don’t attack the person

Over the past few days, my social media timeline has been full of angry people, predominantly in the UK and predominantly attacking people of note within the UK1.  This is, sadly, nothing new.  However I have noticed a further decline in the quality of debate, perpetuated by the strong emotions of what has happened in the world.  People whose opinions I respect and who normally make reasoned arguments have posted some pretty vile language that is literally “[person] is a [expletive]” in regard to Brexit, the NHS, Southern Rail and a whole host of regional issues.  If this was directed at someone with whom they agreed, then there would be, legitimately, outrage.  Name calling someone is never a valid argument.  Didn’t we all grow out of this at school? Apparently not.

I get that emotion leads to expressive language and sometimes there is the need to let that out and we don’t always choose the correct words.  I also get that media, social or otherwise, is driven by attention and emotive posts get that attention.

It’s frustrating  seeing the decline of debate into sentence soundbites that continue to polarise and be divisive:  you are either on the left or the right, you are either leave or remain, if you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.  We are complex beings that don’t sit neatly into binary checkboxes, although have a tendency to classify what we see in a binary way, but it’s not that simple2.

The most sense I’ve seen today has come from my 17 year old niece who simply liked the following so it appeared on my timeline:

Wendy from South Park
Original shared post here

As I’ve written before, think critically. Don’t just repost name-calling abuse.  Don’t make ad hominem attacks on people with whom you disagree. Make a better argument.

The world needs us to step up.

  1.   While I do see a lot on what is going on in the US, I’ve seen input from both sides and, while the debate may be fallacious at times, the people whose opinions I see haven’t resorted to simple insults.  There are many people I know who are making straightforward insults, but I don’t pollute my information sources with what they have to say….
  2.   If you haven’t heard Tim Minchin’s excellent “The Fence” it’s on Spotify at the ones on YouTube are copyright violations, please don’t give them revenue.

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.