The internet, for all its vaunted “connectivity” has actually de-skilled us. Even in apparently group digital settings, you can only address one person at a time. We are not conversing face to face in real time. Instead we are coming out of communion to compose uninterrupted messages at our own pace, giving human interactions a stuttering, alienating disconnection, and denying us the chance to build up interpersonal skills of fluency, patience and flexibility.
So, conversation is no longer a way of making connections, of being with other people. Modern, online discussion is typically clumsy and aggressive, a clash between two wholly opposed and entrenched individuals, who don’t know each other, who have never met, and thus have no investment in maintaining a relationship. It is an exchange of gunfire; a drive by.
This amplifies the politicos’ misapplication of the ways society’s problems can be solved and differences reconciled. They believe they are fighting back, that conflict is good and that a willingness to indulge in it is a sign of strength and courage and self-belief.
They also believe arguments can be won. Think of the ubiquity of the phrase “Changing the world, one conversation at a time.”
In fact, you can only converse or argue with those who agree to argue or converse with you, an example of mutualism in apparent conflict. Arguments involve the collaboration of two involved sides and the darkest most malign groups on the right rarely agree to engage. For someone who thinks of discussions as head-on collisions, competitions to be won by one combatant and lost by the other, you can only triumph if your opponent agrees to be vanquished, or with the consensus of onlookers, who are likely (in practice) to be supporters already: those who have already invested their reputations in your success.
In other words, you can avoid “losing” simply by refusing to admit your opponent is right; you can only “win” with their agreement, in which case they are being more reasonable and rational than you are.
Perhaps this is why Critical Race theorists have turned against their own allies. Allies can be prevailed upon to admit their errors because that reinforces their commitment to an even higher cause, Liberal Humanism, and demonstrates their underlying, fundamental virtue. The Theorists, in their turn, can finally register a satisfying win as their white friends hang their heads in shame.
However, if you are too accusatory and condemnatory of your allies, as Critical Race theorists tend to be, you run the risk of driving them away, increasing division and polarisation. In which case, we must ask, “what is the purpose or advantage in arguing, rather than reaching out, for the arguer?”
Undoubtedly it is about preaching to the choir: winning the admiration of your own tribe, consolidation your position among them. Perhaps, for some activists, advocates and protestors, it’s not so much about changing your world for the better, which would mean changing your enemies’ minds. Perhaps, for some (not all; not most) opponents are shadowy and irrelevant figures and it’s about proving your righteousness to yourself and to your own people, about personal gratification and advancement.