Another Rant

Okay, this one I gotta get off my chest.

Has the Socratic method just fallen by the wayside? Does no one use it anymore? Does debate no longer follow this excellent system whereby one’s compatriots maul and mangle and attempt to locate exceptions in one’s thesis, and if said thesis weathers the slings and arrows of outrageous whatsit, it emerges, shiny and polished, on the far side?

Do people not know how to debate anymore?

I am, as most of you know, a forum junkie. I love ’em. And they are a good place to witness people being stupid, god knows, so I’m not prepared to lose my faith in humanity just yet. But in this past week, I’ve seen some dreadfully stupid behavior, much of it stemming from a total failure to comprehend the Socratic method. In one comics forum I lurk at (though I don’t post), a professional author, who’s had comic books published by very large companies, fer cryin’ out loud, was totally unable to defend his premise (one of those ID4 hey-look-the-aliens-use-Windows things, although in this case it was dinosaurs who’s computer systems were magically accessible by modern laptops, and their language was magically decipherable into English using binary.) And rather than admit inherent silliness, or even come up with a worthwhile enough reasoning that one could suspend disbelief, this gentleman, who was presumably a grown man, fell back on the come-out-flashing-credentials ploy, followed by the “Well, I make more money than you, so there!” gambit, which as we all oughta know by now, guarantees that your credibility drops to that of an injured flatworm and buries any point you might have had under a wallowing mountain of suck.

Now, I expect this sort of thing from young teenagers. (Sorry, to any teenagers reading.) They probably haven’t been exposed to the niceties of civilized discussion yet, since they don’t teach the Socratic method until somewhere in high school, assuming they haven’t cut it from the curriculumn yet. But not from adults. I mean, really. “My paycheck is bigger than your paycheck” is right up there with comparing people to Hitler for show-stopping stupidities.

Was over on the VCL forums, say, and we’re debating the meaning of art. This is always fun, because I hate (and have stated boldly on many occasions that I hate) overly broad meanings of art. Tell me that everything is art, and I will begin frothing at the mouth. But that’s the fun of it! Someone tosses out their meaning, and you immediately attempt to find the holes in it, because that’s what you DO in a discussion. If I say “Art is anything made by conscious intent for reasons other than survival,” then it’s practically your job to rip into that statement and point out that a mass produced hummingbird feeder has nothing to do with my survival, but was made by conscious intent. S’not art, though. If I say “Art is any form of expression,” you’re supposed to ask if this puts flipping someone the bird on the same footing as the Mona Lisa. This is how debate functions. If you’re not fighting like two genteel, civilized cats in a sack, it’s just not fun.

Increasingly, however, I find that debate just isn’t. People state their premise, and you say “But what about…” and they come back with a slightly better phrased form of “You’re a poopie-head!” Or they go off on some tangent that leaves you going “Um…? And your point?” or drop some polished gem of inanity that makes you sit on your hands because they’re obviously an idiot and your mother taught you that it wasn’t nice to go around brutalizing people with a superior intellect if they’re at a serious operating handicap. I occasionally find myself wanting to take over for my opponent in a debate just because they’re making such a complete hash of it. “No! This is the weak point! This point here is the one you should harp on!”

I mean, if this were a fist fight, it’d be obvious. Defend yourself, and try to hit the other guy. Don’t suddenly begin barking like a fish and chewing on a chair leg. Don’t declare that the enemy is really the light fixture. (Well, I mean, this might work if you’re hoping your assailant will give it up out of pity…)

So what is it? Did the vast majority of people on the internet never get exposed, even in passing, to the Socratic method? Is this some secret thing that only those of us who minored in Classics or Philosophy and have a copy of the works of Plato on the shelf do? Am I expecting too much of people? Is debate dead?

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