I recently got into a debate on Facebook regarding the Koch Brothers.
My opponent was a typical "Free-Marketer" who argued that the Koch Brothers' attempts to create a Corporate Feudal Aristocratic Oligarchy in this country was somehow a good thing -- using the usual "well, they're not the only ones" argument -- and that any protections for the average person by the government -- such as raising the minimum wage -- was somehow detrimental to the general welfare of the nation at large. Obviously, this became a days-long, protracted nightmare of untangling false equivalencies and teaching remedial civics and economics to someone who clearly should know better.
"But, FUP," you might ask, "Why on earth do you continue to debate these people who either lack the ability to do their research or have a vested interest in promoting Regressive talking points?"
It's a good question, one that my girlfriend asks me whenever I get into these debates. I usually end up glued to my screen and in a foul mood until either my opponents shut up or I throw my hands up in disgust. I'm obviously not going to change anybody's mind or have any real impact on the audience who probably has long since stopped reading the back-and-forth.
But that's not why I do it.
I continue to debate in these online forums for myself. The practice of these wordy head-butting exercises helps me hone my arguments into something that can't be easily picked apart. It educates me on things that I might not be otherwise aware of, as I usually am also going through several search engines' worth of research to back up my arguments with verifiable and certified facts.
When 9/11 happened, I was 20 years old and had a tough choice to make -- to join up and defend my country through force of arms while it was under attack or not to join my friends in enlisting. Thankfully, I'd had a very good education -- probably the last class of my generation to attend a public school where critical thinking, particularly about politics and history, was drilled thoroughly into us. I'd already learned how to read between the lines of political talking points and to do my research on what the talking heads on the television were saying.
I realized, very quickly, that joining up and fighting in a foreign land that had officially no real connection to the tragedy of those days was not going to further my goals as a patriotic citizen. It was already public knowledge that companies like Halliburton, Exxon and the rest that had strong ties to the new Bush Administration were chomping at the bit to use the American Military as a tool for their own profit.
Having already read authors like Sun Tzu and Julius Caesar's commentaries on conquest, having already a strong familiarity with American Revolutionary writers such as Thomas Paine and having done my homework on the situation at hand, I decided that, instead of becoming canon-fodder for the profit of interests that were trying to turn my country into a one-party state, I could better serve my country as an informed citizen, on guard at home against the forces that would erode our national systems from within. To me, that was always the gravest threat of all.
To me, engaging in debates with those who disagree continues to be my form of exercising and defending the Free Speech that is the quintessential American Right. As a free-born citizen in what still claims to be a democratic republic, I take it as a civic responsibility to debate the issues facing my country with my fellow citizens. As these debates progress, I become a better informed citizen and learn tactics that might help others in better positions than I am to make a positive difference.
And, if nothing else, these debates end up creating wonderful source material for posts in here. What could be more definitively American than to continue Ben Franklin's tradition of self-publishing into the 21st Century?