Unless you’ve been living underground as a mole-person, you’ll likely have noticed that the world has had quite a wild couple of years recently. Britain voted for Brexit, the USA voted for Trump (well, its electoral college did, but that’s a discussion for a different day), and to top it all off the Conservative government decided to hold a snap election. One constant thread throughout all these frankly bizarre occurrences has been the sheer unwillingness to debate from both sides throughout the campaigns. It only takes a few seconds browsing ‘#brexit’ on Twitter to find a suitable example of this:
— Dom Bardill (@DomBardill) October 18, 2017
I hope I’m not alone in loathing the use of ‘lecture’ here. After all, Woolfe (you know, the UKIP leader that never was, and famed victim of Hookem’s hook in European Parliament) berates Clinton for ‘sheer contempt’ yet I think accusing somebody giving their view, particularly a prominent and experienced member of the field, of ‘lecturing’ positively oozes contempt. The general impression you get from browsing such hot tags on Twitter is that people simply don’t want to listen to their opponents anymore. You’re either a ‘fascist liar’ or a ‘liberal snowflake’, to quote some favourites from Twitter.
— Dawko (@SCDawko) October 18, 2017
Whatever your view on the Brexit process, it hardly helps a reasonable debate when apparently one side is ‘deluded’ and the other is ‘lecturing’. Such petty insults and squabbling have characterised recent political campaigns, and they even characterise certain US presidents. In September this year, an actual fistfight broke out during a live broadcast of Ugandan parliament. Which begs the question – is it even possible to hold a civilised, decent debate anymore? Is there a place in 21st Century politics for consideration, or are we trapped in a festering swamp of vile insult-spewing?
The question is almost rhetorical. It’s certainly possible; the British Parliament doesn’t dissolve into Black Friday sales every time Prime Minister’s Questions is on (though if somebody does see Jeremy Corbyn lacing up some boxing gloves, do notify us). Ordinary people with access to the internet, however, just aren’t interested in such a calm, controlled style of debate anymore. In a way, that can be a good thing – they have passion for their causes that they feel cannot be expressed in conventional discussion. Trump’s base voters really do believe in Trump’s ability to make deals and, you know, ‘Make America Great Again’. Similarly, I do think that those who desire a ‘hard Brexit’ actually believe it’s the best way forward, just as those who want to stop Brexit ever happening do. We’re humans, we grow attached to our banners and sometimes we get to a stage where we can’t imagine ever giving them up. How many of us have stayed in a relationship with somebody despite knowing, deep down, it hasn’t got a hope in hell of working out and frankly isn’t working anyway?
However, it isn’t all excusable. Another factor of modern politics is the construction of echo chambers – we’ve all heard that our social media news feeds only tell us what we want to hear. When you’ve only 140 characters (or 280 if you’ve been deemed worthy of that figure) to make your point, who has time or space to see the other side? It’s much easier to slap a quick slogan on the side of a bus and parade around the country with that, or to go on national television and promise doom-and-gloom if you don’t get your way! Ten-second soundbites win people over better than pages and pages of reasoned arguments, even if the soundbites leave out relatively vital information. “Post-truth” was chosen as the word of 2016 for a reason – people don’t need facts to decide things anymore.
I accept we’re not about to lose our democracy simply because people angrily curse at each other on social media. Perhaps you think the style of debate is unimportant for this reason – as long as the views and opinions get out there, who minds how they’re sent? Yet the problem lies within that question – ‘views and opinions’. What about experience and fact? At the end of the day, somebody ranting and raving and calling somebody some horrendous thing or other isn’t going to have a factsheet to hand, they’ll just be insulting the other side, which is no way to decide massively important political issues. Such schoolyard attitudes are acceptable when it’s over which football team is better, yet they’re a little less okay when it’s over the future of the nation. Honestly, everybody could do with chilling out and hearing stuff they might not want to hear now and then.
What do you think?