The poor level of modern debate is not only a reflection upon our poor educational system, but it shows the spirit of the debaters and the standards in public life.
Our poor educational system
The inability of public speakers to define their terms, to interact meaningfully with opponents without misrepresenting their views, and their inability to tell the truth demonstrate that they have not learned critical thinking, probably because they have not been taught it either socially or educationally.
Phobia, in homophobia, transphobia, etc., continues to be used as ‘hatred’ instead of ‘fear’. The debate on definitions has even reached the Oxford English Dictionary.
Politicians continue to repeat mantras in spite of clarifications that should correct these mantras. Truth has fallen in our streets.
Interviewers and interviewees have their set line of questions and answers rather than interacting with the debate, although Lisa Nandy in her Labour leader’s interview with BBC’s Andrew Neil demonstrated that she was capable of doing so. There are many examples in public life of proper debate, but they are far from being in the majority. Some good listeners and debaters on different sides of the political and philosophical debate are Jordan Peterson, George Galloway, Peter Hitchens and Daniel Hannan.
Media loves emotion so that newspaper headlines use emotional words. Similarly, it is reckoned to be ‘good television’ to see people attacking each other. This merges into talking over each other far too often. It simply means that the audience does not hear the debate.
The debating spirit
This speaking over each other and interrupting other people’s views manifests the spirit of the speaker. It shows a readiness to shut down debate and close down other opinions. Richard Dawkins wants no more debate on evolution. The National Secular Society wants to stop debate on religion. No platforming is increasing at all levels.
The serious point is that this is a public display of what happens in private. These people put down others and close down debate in their social circles as surely as they do it publicly. They are controllers and this behaviour is displayed and supported by public broadcasters who will not call time on it.
There are frequent and regular examples of this behaviour, even on the BBC that is meant to be in the forefront of maintaining standards of public debate. An example may help. Those who witness Alastair Campbell in public debate will know that he contradicts everything with which he disagrees before it has been fully articulated. He interrupts almost every opponent. This gives insight to how he behaved when he was Tony Blair’s spokesman, campaign director and Downing Street Press Secretary and Director of Communications. He is not alone with this fault and this blogpost will allow me to add incrementally to it with the worst examples as they arise.
Today’s BBC Politics Live was another of many examples and which finally prompted the publication of this blogpost. BBC Question Time is a regular example of poor debate. Before this day was out, tonight on BBC Newsnight Labour-leader hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey said that she wanted to “end debate” on transgender rights. Talk about having the last word!
18 Jun 2018: how modern debate proceeds.
7 Sep 2018: an example of reframing debate.
9 Feb 2021: punishment for lies.
11 Feb 2021: identity debate.