Is the age of debate dead?

I was driving through West Huntspill the other day (a charming and very ancient village should you ever stray onto the Somerset levels!) when I saw the attached signs up in someone’s front garden.

I was intrigued so stopped to have a look.

The guilty party spotted me and came over to have a chat and ask what I thought.

Here was an elderly but, as it transpires, very wise (I thought) old gent called Julian. It won’t surprise you that I ended up chatting with him for ages. A kindred spirit I would say! Fellow “grumpy old git” others may say.

The poor bloke, it seems, has been vilified, ostracized and bullied for daring to speak his thoughts by many of his fellow villagers… so he resorted to placards to voice his (obviously strong) opinions. 

If you ask me, we need people like him.

Whatever you might think of Julian and his ideas, the world would be pretty beige without him and his ilk. It’s already moved a fair way towards that shade of brown come to think of it.

He said the neighbours won’t discuss… they just get angry and call him all sorts of “ists”. He used to be on the local council, but debate and discussion was replaced by angry accusation, finger wagging and pointing. So, he gave it up.

Sounds a lot like modern politics to me.

The world we now live in seems like a series of different bubbles – or echo chambers – where people only hear what they want to hear from people who think just like them. That is reinforced by social media and the fragmentation of the broadcast media, so you can spend your whole day only hearing or reading views with which you agree.

Anyone with alternative views is from a different tribe – to be shunned, vilified and ignored. The result is a nation (make that, a world) walking around with headphones on, tuned in only to its favourite channel.

Watch Question Time on BBC, or listen to two people from opposing sides arguing on the Today programme. No one is listening to each other. They’re just getting in their carefully prepared soundbites, each designed to make their supporters clap or cheer while the other side boos.

And yet, does anyone have all the answers? I don’t think so.

And is it really a surprise that the Brexit issue has become so toxic?

So many people these days refuse to have a frank exchange of views and carefully listen to the other’s perspective so they can then logically (if passionately) counter the arguments. It’s just an adversarial or confrontational approach. As a last resort, you can always call them a name with “ist” at the end.

No wonder Julian has resorted to sticking up posters – it’s the only way for someone who thinks the world could be a better place can engage with his neighbours.

Debate: a dead or, at the very least, a dying skill / art? Or am I just getting old?


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