Those of you who were here for the last US presidential election cycle may remember how heated the arguments on ATS became in 2008. The problem got to
be so bad that ATS established the "political madness" forum, originally intended as a kind of "hair catch" to keep the issue from burbling over into
As we enter another major election cycle (not just in the US but in many nations all over the world), it might not be such a bad idea to revisit the
issue, and to think about how we can engage in constructive conversation
without degenerating into shouting and polemics.
this has big implications even in non-political discussion.
First, what does "polemics" mean?
po·lem·ic noun pə-ˈle-mik
1a : an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another b : the art or practice of disputation or controversy — usually
used in plural but singular or plural in construction
2: an aggressive controversialist : disputant
— po·lem·i·cist -ˈle-mə-sist noun
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
A polemic ( /pəˈlɛmɪk/) is when an argument, debate, or opinion leans toward attacking the other person as opposed to the discussion at hand.
That is, an argument or rhetoric becomes polemic when it has pejorative implications of the dignity of opposition. This is most common in a heated
debate, where frustration or a sense of righteousness promotes hostility. The word is derived from the Greek πολεμικός (polemikos), meaning
"warlike, hostile", which comes from πόλεμος ('polemos), "war".
In my own mind, I tend to think of a discussion
as people talking with each other
while I view polemics
as people talking at
In a discussion:
-People have an open mind and are willing to modify their positions based on what the other person says.
-The listener is treated with respect, as somebody on the same level as the speaker.
-Both parties come away (hopefully) having learned something.
-Good discussions bring nuance, complexity, and a feeling of personal and intellectual growth.
-The speaker has a closed mind and has already decided the end goal (to convert the listener to his views).
-The listener is treated as being on a lower level than the speaker.
-One party (the listener) MAY come away with new ideas, but the the speaker will not have modified his views.
-Polemics are crazymaking!!!!
Or, think of it this way: In a good discussion, the speaker and the listener are like two people looking at a work of art together, a work neither of
them have ever seen. They comment together in an attempt to learn more. In polemics, meanwhile, one person is displaying his artwork to another and
lecturing the other on what how he should perceive it.
The desired end result of discussion is more discussion and personal growth for both. The desired end result of polemics is the silent acquiescence
of your "opponent" to your worldview. Discussion opens minds, polemics closes them.
Are you a polemicist? When you argue, do you sincerely respect the people you are arguing with? Do you leave room for new learning in your own mind,
or do you come to a discussion with the attitude that nobody else with different views has anything to teach you? How do you deal with polemics when
you are at the receiving end? How can we shift polemical arguments back to more open-minded discussion when we find ourselves in the midst of a nasty
argument? How can we communicate in a way that preserves openmindedness and dignity, and helps us all to grow? How can we deny ignorance together
rather than ram ignorance down each other's throats?
Something worth taking a moment or two to think about, both on ATS and in life in general, in my humble (and non-polemical) opinion.
edit on 3/6/12 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)