Monday, 2 June 2008

Five minutes or the full half hour?

I've recently taken part in a debate on an online forum on the subject of global warming. I've taken a somewhat politically incorrect viewpoint; in short, that we should not necessarily be focusing all our attention on worldwide agreements to minimise CO2 emissions, but we should be working on coping with possible increases in temperature in practical ways that are likely to yield local results.

But the details of my view itself are not important to this post. I'll probably expand on it in the future, as it is something that I feel is very important. What is important is the reaction that my stance provoked. Within a few hours, it had been suggested that I was:

- lacking in intelligence
- lacking in education
- blinkered
- merely debunking
- naive

My actual opinions were not dealt with, nor were the various factual inconsistencies that I pointed out in the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. Fortunately, I had already seen the comments by the Bishop of Stafford and had commented that:

"This is what upsets me about this debate. Either you support the MMGW hypothesis, [...], or you are an acceptable target for personal attacks."

So it was, ahem, quite satisfying to point out the ad hominem attacks.

Eventually, some links were provided which were intended to convince me that AGW is real; in fact, these simply supported my concerns, and showed that the person posting them had not actually looked at them critically. But it made me think about what is happening to the very process of argument. Maybe I led a sheltered upbringing, but 15-20 years ago, if I said something that people didn't agree with, they would leap onto any deficiencies in my argument and try to reason me out of my opinion. Eventually, either one would convince the other or we would accept that we were both resolute. OK, sometimes the latter option would take days (/weeks/months...!) but at least we were addressing the argument.

We don't see argument today. Nowhere - not even on the Today Programme. The only responses we hear are either personal attacks, or a longwinded answer to a different question, or a blizzard of irrelevant statistics. Listen to a minister sometime, and think about their answer. You'll see what I mean.

Is this the real legacy of Blair? Have years of spin taught us a new style of “debate” where we just repeat out view ad infinitum until our opponent gives up or the programme slot runs out? Or am I just pining for my youth, a brief period in the 1980s when there was genuinely a clash of ideas?

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