Without contraries is no progression

Without contraries is no progression. William Blake.

What do I mean by quoting William Blake? It is very simple really; I am applying his precept to the art of debate. You cannot have a debate if everyone agrees; that would be a consensus. For this reason we have the device of the ‘devil’s advocate’, a person who expresses an opposing opinion in order to provoke a debate. It is only through debate, after all, that we can test the strength of an argument.

People who have experience of debating ideas understand all of the above. When they raise a particular opinion on a certain topic they expect to hear a contrary argument. Indeed, they want to hear it so that they can gauge if their own interpretation of the facts is correct. It can be uncomfortable, even painful, putting our ideas for debate, but it is also necessary. William Blake did not consider himself an intellectual, he was for the most part self-educated, but he understood the necessity of contraries in advancing our knowledge.

Social media is largely a public forum. There are certain groups who limit their membership to like minded individuals, of course, but they tend to preach to the converted. When someone posts an opinion in social media then they are inviting a response. If I choose to make such a response then it does not mean that I am opposed to that person, or even their argument. It does mean that what they have said interests me, that I might want to clarify my understanding of what they have said, or the topic raised, or correct what I see as an error, or provide information that I might infer from the post is not known to the person who made it. If crafted properly, which is what I do try to achieve with all my posts, my response should not be seen as a personal criticism or even an aggressive attack. In the early days of debate on social media this seemed quite easy to achieve. Then again, back in those days you had to actively join a forum and it would be one that interested you to begin with. Social media platforms like Facebook have changed all that.

I used to be a member of several forums reflecting a diverse interest in subjects, but no longer. To be honest, I originally joined Facebook to promote my novels. Invariably, I began to participate in the debate of subjects that were posted there and were nothing to do with writing. I quickly found that Facebook is a platform where debate is not really indulged, personal attacks are common, and few people seem to be bothered by the facts of a situation. Facebook has reduced debate to a simple dichotomy represented by the speech given by Roald Dahl’s character, Harry Wormwood, to his daughter, Matilda:

‘I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. And there’s nothing you can do about it.’

This has led to people who hold a contrary view being labelled as ‘deniers’, often without regard to the validity of the argument that they are putting forward. A new tactic that has come into common usage, particularly concerning the Covid-19 pandemic, is accusing people of misinformation. Personally, I think that it is quite arrogant of an individual to make such an accusation if they cannot support it with references to facts that prove their opinion is actually correct and valid, and the argument that they are opposing is incorrect. In most topics few people can do such a thing. Very little of what we think we know is actually proven. As I said earlier, however, facts do not carry much weight in social media today. Why should they? Politicians openly lie to the electorate almost everyday and, as long as they do not see it as concerning themselves, most people are apathetic about it.

As an act of self-discipline, I am going to try and resist posting direct responses on Facebook. If I feel the need to comment on a topic then I am going to do it here, on my blog, where I can give a reasoned response that has been researched, edited, and carefully considered. If ever I do post a response to something that I have seen on the wider social media that you have either originated or commented on then I hope that you will not see it as a personal attack or a mindless muttering of some conspiracy theorist on the fringe of wherever. I am just looking to better understand the things that interest me.

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