My View From The Country

Today’s Lack Of Debate Hurts Our Chances For Progress

Rather than sharing and discussion, there seems to be tendency these days to avoid viewpoints that are oppositional or different.

I love a good debate, because I usually learn a lot about the other person’s position, as well as even more about my own. The trouble is that it’s getting harder and harder to engage in debate these days.

Today’s modern technology should be conducive to more discussion and enlightenment; after all we can interact with folks instantaneously across the world. However, in many ways, all this technology has only made us more insular.

Rather than sharing and discussion, there seems to be a tendency these days to avoid viewpoints that are oppositional or different. More and more, it seems people are choosing to withdraw into their own circles and associate only with those who share their views or are in agreement with them on certain issues.

  Last weekend, I read an article about various commencement speakers who had their invitations revoked. These folks were from all sides of the political spectrum, and included individuals like former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde, and Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

Their shared sin was that they said or represented something that someone or some vocal faction didn’t agree with; so, the resolution was to not allow them to be heard. It seems that today, in our vaunted age of tolerance, many of us are only tolerant of those whose views agree with our own. We have created ideological worlds where outsiders are considered threats, and anyone who steps out of line is ostracized.

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Thus, instead of debating the issues of today, there’s a tendency to stifle discussion. For instance, a global warming disciple recently said that anyone who questioned climate change should be jailed; the scary thing is that such sentiments are becoming more and more prevalent.

Politically, the result is that the major issues of our day remain largely unaddressed. That’s because the opposing sides find it impossible to forge a compromise because any leader who strays from the dogmatic position will be pilloried by his or her base, and the base is what elects politicians these days. Disagreement isn’t bad, and while we may not agree with someone’s opinion, that doesn’t mean they aren’t defensible, much less unintelligible or immoral. 

Social media, the Internet and the information era was supposed to make the exchange of ideas more commonplace, but it seems to have many made it easier to reinforce held beliefs and ignore others. The plethora of blogs, the cable news sites, the sum total of the Internet, and even what is referred to mainstream media, are increasingly becoming less receptive to opposing views and more dogmatic. This is a prescription for disaster.

With my Sirius radio, I can tune into a channel dedicated to every side of the political spectrum, but I’ll never hear the ideas debated in an open context. We’ve seen this mindset at work in the beef industry – where people reject any version of reality they don’t like. It’s resulted in much more congenial meeting rooms and conventions, but far less progress for the industry.

Management experts decry silo mentalities, but that’s exactly what our society as a whole is becoming. Even in the seedstock business, the camps are drawing their lines and woe to the individual who crosses them. Perhaps it is just because I miss the debate, but it seems like the goal these days is to prove who is the most ideologically pure; that, of course, means that conversations only occur with the already converted.

In some ways, I’m guilty of this, too. I’m a conservative, free-market, independent-minded person, as most of us in the cattle business are, and I gravitate toward the ideals and concepts that adhere to them. Hanging out with like-minded people may be comforting, but it is more difficult to think outside of the box. And to challenge paradigms and achieve radical improvement, you need to do so or you are relegated to incrementalism, which demands that whatever you believe to be the case is correct. The goal then becomes not to challenge but to confirm.

The plethora of information sources we have today have forced us to be selective with our time, and our very nature has led us to being more myopic instead of extended in our vision. My goal for the upcoming year is to write at least one thing that every reader disagrees with vehemently. If I do that then maybe, just maybe, it’s worthwhile. But, of course, feel free to disagree.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Jared Decker (not verified)
on May 23, 2014

I'm all for discussion. But, you will see me vehemently oppose "debates" when the same trite catchphrases are repeated which are not factual but misrepresent the evidence. it has come in vogue in some circles to distrust and dislike scientists. The opposition to science comes from both sides (Left opposes GMOs, industrial and agricultural chemistry; Right opposes global warming, evolution, etc). See
Science really isn't up for debate. The policy decisions based on sound science can be debated (as in do we implement cap and trade or do we use nuclear energy to address carbon emissions), but science really isn't up for debate.
This segment comically expresses my views on science "debates" (warning contains profanity)

Jared Decker (not verified)
on May 23, 2014

Sorry, one additional comment. Science is not debated. It is either supported or refuted by further scientific research and evidence. The arsenic life story is a great example of this.

In other words, stop debating whether or not global warming is "real" and start debating policies and practices to deal with the issue.

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on May 26, 2014

Of course global warming is real if it wasn't we would still be covered with ice. What caused the ice to melt? Not carbon from power plants, or gas emissions from my cows.

on May 26, 2014

Rules for Debating: 1. Do not get into a pissing contest with a skunk. The results are always disapointing. 2. Do not start a writing debate with people who buy ink by the barrel, It only encourages them to buy more ink. 3. Silence is an argument, with few good rebutals.

Also consider this. When a prediction model is wrong for 17 years in a row that model is inadequate and probably wrong. Actual results are not debatable.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on May 26, 2014

I appreciate this insight; "The opposition to science comes from both sides (Left opposes GMOs, industrial and agricultural chemistry; Right opposes global warming, evolution, etc)." Well said.
A key to useful discussion is listening. This actually is preferable to the concept of 'debate'.
And I have seen scientific certainty turned on its head several times over a 58 year career in medicine. In 35 years of chairing a Continuing Medical Education meeting every other Thursday, I found asking why a couple of times always led to "I believe"!
But we want public policy based on the best we know out at the edge of knowledge, not "I believe" that is grossly ignorant. It is crucial that we eat the apple on the tree of knowledge as a starting place for belief, not a sin that gives false belief.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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