Thomas Metcalf

Stories from Thomas Metcalf

Debate in general has three uses: entertainment; persuasion; and knowledge. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but I’ll explain each of the three uses separately. Then I’ll tell you what I know about how to be successful at them.

To begin with, almost all media discourse about politics and ethics is about entertainment. This is what cable news, talk radio, and much of social media are largely for. People generally watch not because they expect to be persuaded, and people produce these media generally not because they expect to persuade anyone. Instead, it’s pure entertainment. We enjoy feeling good about ourselves. We feel good about ourselves when people tell us we’re correct about things and that the bad people are wrong and evil. And some of us enjoy being in the middle of these debates; we like to show off, or we just like the feeling of competition. Talking about political topics is also a major source of social bonding; people use political discourse to strengthen their social relationships. We get together with our friends and family and talk about how the other side is evil.