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Justin M. Stoddard

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Debate is no Longer Any Fun
January 23, 2004 — 11:45 pm

I’ve come across a strange phenomenon these past 7 months. Ever since I exited the Army, I have noticed that the general public (at least the people I come into contact with on a day to day basis) really has no tolerance for debate.

Case in point. The other day I brought up a story that, for whatever reason, has had quite a bit of air time in the state of California. Basically, the story goes like this. A dog escapes from a couple’s back yard. The couple searches for the dog every day until it is found at the local Humane Society. The Humane Society adopted out the dog to another person that very morning. The original dog’s owners contact the adoptive “parent” to let them know, hey, that’s our dog. Adoptive “parent” refuses to return dog to original owners citing a technicality in a California state law. You can read about the story in depth here.

Now, really, there are plenty of things to talk about regarding this case and each side has their valid points. My point, if anyone is really interested, was that regardless of the original dog’s owner’s carelessness, or any technicality in the law, it was pretty damn heartless for the adoptive “parent” to keep the dog even after proof of ownership had been provided. It was, and is, my contention that the better angels of our nature manifest themselves in the form of empathy, a trait I find sorely lacking in human transactions.

I cannot believe how fast the conversation degraded from that point onward. Within two minutes I witnessed enough ad hominem attacks to make Ann Coulter blush. My simple thesis regarding empathy prompted the opinion that not only was I some kind of bleeding heart Liberal (for listening to anything to do with California, I presume) but I was also a peculiar view on personal responsibility. (After all, if the dog’s owners hadn’t been so careless as to let the dog escape, none of this would have happened).

I defended myself as best I could, which only led to more attacks against my character. Although my argument ignored any argumentive fallacies, I feel that there were hard feelings at the end of it all.

I don’t know where, exactly, I’m going with this but, I found the whole experience rather odd. While in the Army, I had hours upon hours of discussions with friends and co-workers on subjects much more dangerous than a lost dog. Indeed, our topics of conversation were usually abortion, free trade, immigration, religion, politics, drug policy, gun control, what constitutes art, literature and popular culture.

Even after countless hours of these debates, I never walked away with any hard feelings. I never got the sense that others left the conversation with anything other than amicable feelings towards each other. Sure, the conversation got heated from time to time. The line “you just don’t get it” was even thrown in occasionally for effect. However, ad hominem attacks were rarely, if ever, used. In fact, if we felt the debate was headed in that direction, we would politely remind the person talking that the line of argument being used was not effective. In short, everything was pretty much always civil.

Now that I’ve been released into the general public, I find a weird kind of mental malaise has settled upon many of the people I come across. People use platitudes to get their point across, or worse yet, parrot what they heard on the news the previous night. I also find that some people are pretty quick to put a political label on those they disagree with. I have been called a leftist more times than I care to recall, which is interesting since, as a libertarian, my ideas are much more conservative than your run-of-the-mill democrat.

I’m not trying to be an elitist here, I’m really not. I’m just trying to reconcile my differing experiences talking to people.

Brian, if you’re reading this, give me your opinions. (I served with Brian in the Army and, even though I got mad at him from time to time, it had nothing to do with our conversations). Greg, you too. Have you run into this? Does anyone out there have any idea what I’m talking about or am I making much ado about nothing?


— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)

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