by

Nitsuh Abebe, from a piece in the New York Times titled “Why Have We Soured on the ‘Devil’s Advocate’?”:

The types of arguments we once venerated — the kinds of critical-thinking dialectics that educators tell us hone the brains of students — make sense in orderly, deliberative settings, places like classrooms and courtrooms and Platonic dialogues. But that is not where online speech takes place anymore. Social-media platforms knocked out the walls of an infinite series of salons, turning them into one gigantic city square teeming with protests and counterprotests, each faction equipped with slogans and banners, each trying to command space and crowd out the opposition. They turned all speech into public pronouncements, and thus all conversation into a strange form of activism, part of a zero-sum battle over which ideas will find a foothold in our collective attention. In the midst of an information war, to express any opinion, sincerely or not, is seen as giving it space and therefore material support. Nobody stands in the middle of a march holding a sign that says, “What if One of Our Demands Is Unwise?”

It’s often argued that this makes our conversations increasingly polarized, dogmatic, intolerant of complexity and logically sloppy. It’s less often pointed out that this might be because they aren’t really “conversations” in the first place.