Give up the game of Extreme Rhetoric – let’s talk instead

A funny thing happened to me on Twitter yesterday: I had a really interesting conversation with a bunch of tweeps about GM crops and food. It was interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly it was respectful. Secondly, it evolved naturally over the course of the conversation and explored several dimensions of the issue. And thirdly, I learned something new and my view adjusted as a consequence.

Perhaps the other interesting thing is that the conversation sprang, dare I say organically, in response to a rather snarky tweet from me about the science of climate change and the science of GM crops. Despite the tone of my initial tweet, there were ten people nevertheless willing to engage me in a serious and respectful manner on the issue.

Two weeks ago it was a different story. I participated in an online event that discussed the same topic. While some people tried to have a sensible conversation, others turned up merely to troll. The event ended up as something slightly less edifying than a shouting match.

Similar shouty behaviour last night (concerning the relative wisdom of nuclear power) and this morning (concerning the relative wisdom of Andrew Bolt) have led me to think it’s such a shame we don’t use the amazing platforms provided to us by Twitter and blogs to respectfully explore each other’s views.

As a blogger I’m familiar with the online writers’ creed that one must never read the comments for fear of losing oneself in a spiral of self-doubt and despair (or some such).

But I WANT to read the comments: they show me what other people think about the issues that are of interest to me. Sadly, much of the commentary is shoutiness too, which is a sure-fired way to make me retreat and hold even more firmly to my own point of view. Nonetheless, there are other comments that help me better understand and evolve my own views. I value that exchange because I’ve realised that “In the act of blogging, I am written”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m surprised most of us like to indulge in a game of “Extreme Rhetoric” on the twitters every now and then. Even I do.

You don’t have to be a sociologist to understand how or why this game has emerged. It’s a natural extension of the he said/she said dichotomy being deployed by mainstream media outlets to create fodder for the insatiable 24/7 news media cycle.

While on the one hand we deplore the distortion and disunity that this tabloid journalistic approach wreaks, we’re not above using it ourselves to score a point or two when engaging online.

So, what to do, what to do? Perhaps we should stop getting so angry for a start. Shouting at or about someone is never going to change their mind.

Instead of bemoaning the diminished state of so-called “discussion” programs like Q&A, The Insiders and Contrarians, let’s just accept them for what they are: political Punch and Judy shows.

Instead of clenching fists, gritting teeth and sending shouty tweets about the latest bout of Extreme Rhetoric, why not laugh and enjoy the staged pugilism for what it is: tabloid entertainment and nothing more.

Don’t look to those platforms for genuine exploration and discussion of the issues – you’ll not find it there. Look elsewhere, and if you can’t find it, then do it yourself.

Just start a civilised conversation and take it from there. There’s a whole world of interested people online just waiting for you to do so.