Why I don’t debate on Facebook (and you probably shouldn’t, either)

Back in the day (my college days) I loved using Facebook. I also loved writing rants in the notes section. Furthermore, my politics were neo-conservative, pro-war, and pro-George W. Bush when his approval rating was 35 percent. I also joined the Facebook political groups to torment people with my beliefs.

Even today, sometimes I lie in bed at night and cringe at some of the stupid, inaccurate, uninformed, and ignorant things I wrote with such certainty. If my writing sometimes contains a trace of precaution and tentativeness, it’s  out of a natural act of contrition, for too often I find myself criticizing someone espousing the same views I did not too long ago.

Later on, when I became a paelo-conservative/constitutionalist, I created a blog and wrote on a variety of topics including politics. I posted the links to Facebook. Frequently someone would debate me. Frustration almost always ensued.

My readers post links to my articles on Facebook, which I appreciate because whenever they do the number hits for the article always jump. But I don’t post anything to my personal page, because it would inevitably produce comments from people itching for an argument. I’ve given up Facebook arguments and adopted what you might call a non-interventionist social networking policy.

Here’s why:

1. It’s a waste of time

I’ve got too many other thing to do. I could read a book by Conrad, one of the Barrack Room Ballards by Kipling, or an insight article about economics on Mises.org. I could be reading a post at the Art of Manliness on practical life skills. I could watch a documentary on the history of the British Isles. I could be editing my soon-to-be-published novel, the sequel I recently completed, or writing the outline for the next novel I intend to write as soon as possible.

Instead, I’m wasting my precious seconds of the day with someone who is under the impression that the South was Republican during the Civil War, nullification was used to defend slavery, the Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate everything we do, or responds to every thing I say about the evils of government with a political ex cathedra pronouncement on how we need government or else there’d be chaos.

If you walked into a hospital and saw a doctor trying to revive a dead man while surrounded by patients in critical condition but could be saved, you would probably tell him to quit trying to fight scientific fact and save those who can be helped.

The same thing goes for people who are politically dead, or zombies. Nothing short of a miracle will save them, and if libertarians could work miracles Ron Paul would be president right now.

2. If I make a good point I can’t link back to previous work.

If I make a particularly profound statement, or at least delude myself into thinking so, it’s impractical or impossible to track it down and repost it when I find myself in yet another argument with someone making the same point. One can spend hours trying to formulate a clever response, which makes it all the more waste of time when they write a hackneyed reply demonstrating their lack of familiarity with the issue in any manner.

With a website or blog, however, you can respond to objections or questions and then simply link to it whenever someone exclaims for the ten billionth time “But who will build the roads?”

3. I consider it a social networking faux paus

I was completely oblivious to this until I started seeing people’s posts that contained inflammatory rhetoric, ad hominem attacks, or just plain stupid remarks. It came off as extremely confrontational.

I didn’t have to be interested in the topic or have a personal involvement. Finding a prolonged argument on Facebook on your news feed when you log in is like walking into your living room to find a group of strangers bickering over something. Yes, you can control whose statuses and comments you see, but it also means you won’t see anything they post, be it good or not.

When people go to Facebook they go to see pictures of their friends, life updates (dating/engaged/married/pregnant/birth/death/) and other noncontroversial stuff. It isn’t the place for political bickering because it’s not designed for dialogues that historically took place in a pub or tavern over a glass of stout.

Perhaps if the discussion is confined to a Facebook group or page designed for the subject at hand it might be appropriate, but even then how often does the conversation remain civil?

A few months ago I gave in to the temptation and engaged in an argument with people who were so clearly wrong the argument was over before it began. But I still felt embarrassed about it, because that wasn’t the intent of the person who posted the blog link.

Just today I came across a bunch of arguments in response to someone linking to a blog post. I cannot tell you how hard it is for me to not jump in and point out the fallacies in blogger’s points, correct their factual mistakes, or introduce some deductive logic to the discussion. I have to keep telling myself that it is not worth it. Not worth it.

Too many Facebook conversations are best reserved for personal and direct meetings that are typically meant to be private. There are people whom I will have a conversation with about religion, but not politics, or economics but not film. With Facebook, you’re not speaking in the privacy of your living room or man cave. You’re shouting in a public space.

If people want to argue, they can take it elsewhere. Write them an email. That’s what one friend did after reading my inane Facebook notes. It was the tactful way to handle it. Rather than make his rebuke public, he did so privately. Afterwards, I realized how I came across to people and stopped.

4. Nothing is accomplished

Chances are you will never actually change their mind. You might, but economically speaking it’s not cost productive.

No one has ever convinced me to change my mind on Facebook. No one ever changed my mind about neo-conservatism, war, drug prohibition, and all the other things I believed because they eloquently argued their point.

There’s a reason why. People who argue on Facebook aren’t there to listen. They comment to speak and be heard. In the day of instant gratification, constant distraction, and limited attention spans, comments amount to no more than a verbal drive-by shooting. The commenter swoops in, makes a comment, then leaves. Or, they leave 2,000 word responses that took two hours to write that no one bothers to read.

And they also don’t know how to discuss something. One of the worst things about Facebook arguments is what I refer to the “shotgun” tactic. Like a shotgun discharging a shell containing dozens of tiny pellets, a person makes as many declarative statements (we need government, we need taxes, everyone has a right to healthcare) as possible, which makes it impossible to refute them all without writing a dissertation. A person trying to debate them will stick to one point, and their opponent will simply duck the issue and turn to the next one.

It’s also a matter of pride. Very few will ever concede the point. And it’s not even about converting someone.  It’s about winning the debate, which is not the same. I may win a debate with someone about libertarianism versus progressivism, but if I don’t convert them what’s the point? They might withdraw to read up more and then come to the conclusion on their own, but the more I speak to people the more I begin to think that the libertarian movement is comprised less of converts than they are of the Remnant; that is, people who were born predisposed towards freedom and are naturally drawn to the liberty movement.

5. I am not interested in speaking to people who just want to argue

I’m only 27. Yet I’ve already grown weary of debates and arguing with people who do it just because they love the conflict or to play the devil’s advocate (doesn’t that infer they’re arguing on the side of evil?).

I know this is not always the case, but more often than less playing the devil’s advocate is another way of saying the following:

I’m completely ignorant about this particular subject matter, yet I don’t like the confidence with which you articulate your views, as it makes me feel insecure about myself. Nevertheless, I’m too proud to remain silent and go and research this topic before opening my mouth. Therefore, I’m going to avoid defending any position and instead attack you for actually taking the time to learn about it. I will insult your intelligence by asking a bunch of patronizing questions or making worthless declarative statements that require no evidence to back up and try to place the burden on you to refute them all.

Debating is just as bad. It is for two people who are so fully committed to their beliefs that nothing the other person says will change their minds. Usually, they will duke it out until they either resort to violence – especially if they’re drunk – or cease because they’ve caused too big of a scene. Facts don’t matter, so they will inevitably lob below-the-belt remarks or try to get their opponent to make a logical error or speak an unspeakable truth, known as hatefacts.

One of the greatest tragedies in our education system is the total lack of discussion. Students are trained and conditioned to think a certain way and never deviate from it. As a result, people do not know how to converse in a civil manner with someone who is diametrically opposed to their ideas on politics, economics, religion, science, or even entertainment and arts. They also don’t know how to make inquiries or simply speak with people, rather than attack them.

A lot of this stems from the violent nature of our political system. If someone believes they have the right to use violence against you to force you to comply with their beliefs, there’s no reason for them to be civil, or even attempt to persuade you. All they have to do is make a snarky “this is how things are” remark and then gloat in their status among the majority.

Try mentioning in the most discreet, subtle, and cordial manner some obvious problems with State-run schools in front of a public school teacher, or the unconstitutional nature of the U.S. military occupation of foreign countries with a member of the military, or the immorality of the legal system while standing next to a lawyer.

All’s well that ends well, but I promise it will not end well for any hope of a mature discussion.

This national-wide childishness permeates Facebook debates, albeit it’s just as bad on websites through Disqus accounts and on Twitter. It’s why I cancelled my Disqus account and communicate with people on Twitter on a minimal level. But for some reason people can’t resist the alluring appeal of Facebook debates.

I’m far more interested in listening to someone whose opinion I value than debating them. There are things that are simply not up for debate with me; what I mean by this is that I’m not going to debate someone, but I still want to hear what they have to say without the conflict inherent in a formal dialectic. That’s why I spend my time reading what people have said and giving it some thought. I am under no pressure to write a witty answer or refute them, and my silence is not a tacit admission that I have lost.

My journey to libertarianism involved almost zero time in debates. It was confined entirely to reading libertarian writers, who had far more informative perspectives on politics than the immature 28-year-old Boobus Americanus on Facebook whose primary concern in life is which football player’s knee is injured and which actress is sleeping with what actor while getting a boob job.

I first read the Politically Incorrect Guide to American History in 2006, and it took five years for me to fully accept the fact that Lincoln was one of the worst presidents in American history. Had I simply argued with someone on Facebook, I would still think to this day that he was the Great Emancipator.

If in spite of all this you are actually capable of having a polite discussion or civil discourse on Facebook, then by all means do so. But I’m not taking the chance.

My advice to you is this: Read as much as you can, maintain neutrality when you come across a debate, and disengage when confronted by someone looking for conflict.

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11 Responses to Why I don’t debate on Facebook (and you probably shouldn’t, either)

  1. SwittersB says:

    Great points…I have gone through much the same things: angry, frustrated, offensive, raging, losing ‘friends’. I get no where and realize I am wasting my time and mental health. I recently reduced my FB friends from 1200 (I know, I know) down to under 200. Most of them are friends and liberal/progressives. I value their friendship and we agree to disagree.

    Like

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  5. I think you accurately describe the poor way many people approach debating public policy on Facebook, however I would offer four personal observations that challenge the notion it must necessarily be a waste of time. First, I learn a great deal from my interlocutors by debating in this format, that is if they are well informed which obviously is not always the case. When discussing things in person, the time constraints prevent much reading along with the interchange. When debating on Facebook, you can stop and read up on a subject before you reply. Like the popular proverb that necessity is the mother of all invention, the need to quickly research a topic to make an intelligent reply can be a catalyst for more efficient learning than simple casual reading.

    Second, I’ve had my mind changed on many things due to my interactions with people who disagree with me. If you approach life with an equal joy of being shown you’re wrong as we all naturally enjoy winning an argument, debate in any format can be enriching. This is true in more than just debating; people who are ultimately successful in sports and business learn more from their defeats than their victories.

    Third, you rightly point out that human nature being what it is, few interlocutors will ever conceded a point, but this is true of debating privately in person as well. In the right Facebook format, like an appropriate group (as you mentioned), the people you are trying to convince are the folks who will be reading the conversation. If you’re a civil, clear, and persuasive writer, there’s probably no better opportunity to change people’s minds than a good Facebook discussion when compared to the alternatives.

    Fourth, even if my previous three points were not the case, there is another value to this kind of debating: it’s like a writer’s work-out session. To use another sports metaphor, as a writer I budget time to interact with people on social media the way an athlete budgets time for training. A Facebook debate requires you to make quick, short, but intelligent replies to be persuasive which tends to act like an intense training session for those that want to improve their craft.

    Everything you said is true if the Facebook debtor approaches it in the way you describe, but that need not be the case. If you genuinely love to learn, listen to what the other person is saying, do actually want to persuade some persuadable people, and want to constantly improve your writing skills, a good disputatio on Facebook is not necessarily a waste of time.

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    • The Question says:

      Everything you said is true if the Facebook debtor approaches it in the way you describe, but that need not be the case.

      Unfortunately it usually is. You can logical, reasonable and willing to learn from them but if they don’t reciprocate it’s a waste of your time.

      Like

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  8. I agree with all of your points in “Why I Don’t Debate on Facebook,” but there is one other concern with that: I am adamantly against what Leftism has done to our history, culture, morals and attitudes toward our very founding principles. But something else is going on: Many people are fearful of Liberals, so they either quietly nod in tacit agreement, or they remain silent. They generally do that because they do not want to be bullied with charges of “racism,” “phobia,” having emotional problems, being bigoted, lacking compassion, and so on. So, even in mixed social situations, the Liberals make pronouncements, and people do not speak up. That only encourages and emboldens the Liberals, albeit almost at an unconscious level. In other words, by the silence of the receivers, they feel vindicated in their pronouncements. This actually results in their getting more power. This is why, although you are right in that time is wasted, people will not change from brief Facebook posts, and so on, people must start speaking out to Liberals without fearing them. I believe that this is the primary reason that Donald Trump got elected and beat the other Republican candidates.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Question says:

      Debating on Facebook is a little different than debating in person, for various reasons. I once argued with a girl I was initially flirting with at a wedding because she insisted on discussing her political views. It happens.

      It’s all about choosing the right environment.

      Like

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