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'Debate me!'

The problems with online ‘debate me’ culture

Donna Zuckerberg, writing in The Washington Post:

Anyone who regularly expresses ideas on the Internet — especially women who express ideas critical of men — has encountered that bane of online discourse, the man who appears seemingly out of nowhere to insist on a debate. He disagrees with the sentiment expressed and is certain he can overpower the author with his superior logic and knowledge. So he takes out his metaphorical white glove and offers a slap, showing up in Twitter mentions and issuing an invitation to his YouTube channel or podcast. If you refuse, the “ ‘debate me’ dude,” as the journalist Miles Klee memorably dubbed him, spends the next week tweeting about how terrified you are of his massive intellect.


A call to debate may seem intellectual, even civilized. In theory, well-structured and respectful debates are an ideal opportunity to reach an audience that isn’t fixed in its views. In reality, however, most “debate me” types seem to view them mainly as a chance to attack their opponent’s credibility. Their model is not Lincoln and Douglas, but rather Socrates: By needling their interlocutors with rapid-fire questions, they aim to reveal, as they see it, their opponents’ ignorance and stupidity, and their own superior intelligence and logic.


These modest men also identify with Socrates, the original “debate me” troll. The Platonic texts show Socrates pulling any number of Athenians into debates, and although some are eager to argue with him, others can hardly wait to escape him by the end of the dialogue. Plato’s “Euthyphro” concludes with Euthyphro insisting that he has to leave, while Socrates calls after him, complaining that they haven’t yet figured out the nature of piety. Many of the dialogues end when the interlocutor has been bludgeoned into submission and seems to find it easier to agree with Socrates than continue further — every “debate me” man’s dream.

Well worth reading. I saw this sort of thing in the past when I first became an atheist, as it's a favourite tactic of Creationists and evangelical Christians. Sadly, as Donna Zuckerberg documents in her article, it's also the weapon of choice to deploy against outspoken women online. This is why I stayed an atheist, and not an Atheist; because I saw that many high-profile Atheists, mostly older white men, were quite happy to adopt the very tactics of the Creationists and Christians they despised in order to force out those, mostly women and minorities, who dared point out the lack of inclusivity within the community.

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