Is there a problem with debate in University?
Most contrarians, like myself, are known to be people who just like to argue, but I feel disagreement and the ability to effectively present and defend your points are as equally as important as the ideas behind the belief.
To me, disagreement is not only a vital part of democracy, but also an important aspect of our lives. To me, an intense debate is not chaotic, but rather, a sign of someone’s passion.
The art of debating allows its participants to open their minds to different points of view and critically think about controversial issues from every angle rather than a narrow standpoint.
Recently, I experienced backlash during a class discussion when I suggested an oppositional stance to a seemingly open question. Instead of my peers digesting and trying to understand my stance, it felt like a gladiator arena where everyone was trying to eviscerate my arguments.
I applaud disagreement, but when nobody tries to understand where I am coming from and instead launches attacks, then there is a problem.
University is supposed to be a place of learning and critical thinking about an array of subjects with a diverse group of thinkers; therefore, there should be assorted perspectives.
But out of a group of over 20 students, I was the only one who presented an idea different than everybody else.
For one, this shows a lack of comfort with disagreement in a group setting. It could also be a lack of critical thinking. But the foremost issue is a matter of originality.
People today want to show off their knowledge in the conquest of being the smartest idealist in the room.
The lack of originality in debating is frightening.
The idea of an opinion in our classroom is based on the author of an article, a popular figure in the media or our beloved political leaders. An original, well-thought-out point of view on an issue is an uncommon endeavor in our undergraduate academic environment — a contradiction to the purpose of a university degree.
There is also a lack of substance in the words hurled during a debate. Again, instead of finding a convincing way to disagree with my point, I was the victim of the good old strongman.
Now I am not here to wallow in my pities of being the target of disagreements by my classmates. Instead, I argue that debate has developed into strawman arguments and ad hominem attacks.
Snappy comebacks and scoring points on someone are more important than the substance behind the words themselves.
If I am right, that does not mean you are wrong, and if I am wrong that you are right. An individual who “wins” an argument achieves nothing; that is not the reason for debate and disagreement.
Debates and arguments are a tool for opening our minds and seeing how other points of view are shaped.
There is a reason that debate competitions are not won based on the ideals of the debate topic itself, but rather, by the ability to effectively get your point across and “defend” your point of view.
The further we stray from civil discussion and debate for the purpose of feeling morally and intellectually superior, the more our society will fall away from democracy and into an authoritarian loop where only one set of ideas are acceptable.