Wilful ignorance; or, why debate is often useless

So today I quote-tweeted a thread on why anti-racist people like me don’t bother debating Nazis (full thread here) and I particularly focused on this:

I’m home now so I’m just going to elaborate a little on it – particularly as this is still a sticking point with many of my friends and acquaintances.

I – and many others like me over the years – have TRIED the debate route, over and over again.

This is because we want to desperately hold on to the hope that people will recognise truth when they see it; that if we manage to present *this fact* or *that scenario* in the right way, they will suddenly realise that blackface is racist/Muslims aren’t terrorists/women are people etcetera etcetera.

Spoiler alert: they don’t, ever. For them to listen, really listen to you, they have to be willing to be wrong. That is a very very difficult thing to accept.

This is especially true if it’s in a public forum, like the internet. They have their pride to think of; plus, for a lot of people, their kneejerk reaction to being criticised for anything is to become defensive rather than listen.

Not just that, but they don’t actually care about the truth. Most people care about what makes them feel better and what is easier to believe for their peace of mind.

Consider these two statements:

“Maybe I’m being racist” vs “This person is misinterpreting my words!”

Which is preferable? You know the answer.

So I don’t get involved now. At this stage, I can predict every single talking point – and the fact that everyone thinks their “reasoning” is absolutely original is also very irritating.

If you want to continue attempting to convince people (not out-and-out Nazis) through rational discussion, I absolutely understand that and wish you the best of luck. But I advise you to look out for one or more of the following tactics, because they’ll give you an idea of whether you’re wasting your time or not.

– I haven’t seen any evidence of it, therefore it doesn’t exist

They will ignore or attempt to discredit any evidence you provide, or request more and more and more until you’re exhausted. This is usually used by white male university students who think they’re very clever. Extra points if they’re studying philosophy.

– You’re biased because you have x characteristic

One very memorable instance of this I had was a BNP supporter saying that of course I thought that way because my surname sounds like “Gold”, which is a Jewish-sounding surname, and therefore I was guaranteed to be a leftie.
It can be anything, though; maybe you went to university or have been known to date different races or live somewhere else.
Remember – they can never be biased for any of these reasons!

– You’re being angry/emotional

This has been discussed a lot elsewhere on the web, particularly in regards to feminism. I’ll just note that this is a form of deflection – the person you’re talking to is probably feeling emotional (mostly angry, I find) and so they’re accusing you of it instead.

– What about this and this and this and this and this and…

They will fling hypothetical after hypothetical at you and not respond to any of your explanations apart from asking more questions. This is just to waste your time and get you away from your main point.

– If you say x, then what about thing-not-at-all-similar-to-x

Typical escalation to absurdity. A common example would be conversations on gay marriage – “if two men can marry, what about a man and his dog?!”
Don’t bother responding to the ridiculous suggestion.

– You hate me/you’re doing this to hurt me/you’re making me look bad/you’re trying to control me!

An example a friend gave me recently was when they were talking about the lack of POC in film awards, and somehow the person they were talking to ended up saying “You’re telling me what to think!”
Another example would be saying gently to someone “I don’t think all Muslims are terrorists. How come you do?” and then they say “OH SO YOU’RE CALLING ME RACIST NOW?!”
They do this in order to paint themselves as a victim, make you justify yourself, and (again) distract you from what you were originally trying to talk about.

If you do want to enter into these conversations, I recommend asking them first: “Is there anything I could say or any evidence I could provide that would change your mind?”

If they say yes, ask for specifics, and then provide them. If they continue to disagree, then disengage. They weren’t being honest with you and they won’t be honest in any further discussion.

If they say no, disengage instead of taking it as a challenge. You’ll only exhaust yourself. There’s no point in debate if one side isn’t in good faith (even if they don’t know it).

That’s all from me. On a personal note, I’m still working on poems, so you can expect another one of those in a few days.

H x

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