Twitter: having the same arguments since 360BC

I have noticed that Twitter exchanges follow a predictable pattern.

Person A posts something about X,

Person B says what about X-Y or don’t you mean X is actually Y?

Person A says No, it was X and Y is not what I was talking about.

Person B says well I thought you meant Y because X does not make sense.

Person A then usually calls B a name and the exchange ends.

What we see is that people come to Twitter either have their views confirmed or find views to attack. Rarely do we see people trying to understand an issue. We may think that Twitter has a problem. The reality, though, is that this approach has been around since Plato in 360BC. Consider this selection from the dialogue Gorgias.

 You, Gorgias, like myself, have had great experience of disputations, and you must have observed, I think, that they do not always terminate in mutual edification, or in the definition by either party of the subjects which they are discussing; but disagreements are apt to arise-somebody says that another has not spoken truly or clearly; and then they get into a passion and begin to quarrel, both parties conceiving that their opponents are arguing from personal feeling only and jealousy of themselves, not from any interest in the question at issue. And sometimes they will go on abusing one another until the company at last are quite vexed at themselves for ever listening to such fellows. (Plato, Gorgias, 457d)

In that day, people would listen to wise men talk so that they could learn from them. In the dialogue, Socrates and Gorgias are talking before an audience and they are trying to understand what rhetoric is. Gorgias is a well known rhetorician and Socrates is well known for being wise and asking what appear to be awkward questions.

On Twitter we rarely see exchanges that are edifying or that help us understand a topic. In many cases, we see people who do not understand an issue holding forth with their opinions. Instead of trying to understand whether their opinion is informed or even right, they doggedly refuse to discuss it. Any attempt to question it or becomes either a circular argument or simply degenerates into name calling.  In extreme situations one person blocks the other.

One wonders if Socrates would still be alive if Athens had the ability to block him. Then again, perhaps they did block him in the only way they could.

So the next time you are on Twitter consider whether you are open to the possibility that how you understand your views may not be as well understood as you believe. If you do get asked to clarify them, how are you going to respond?

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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