The most outrageous cat fight ever to have aired on reality TV can’t compare to the showdown that occurred in Lecture Hall 14 on Tuesday night.
Stephen Moore, an editor at The Wall Street Journal for six years, had been warmly invited by the College Libertarians to share his thoughts on tax policy and the economy. He was met by a room of men and women, students and faculty, Republican, Democratic, independent and in this case, socialist.
The night started off with a friendly autobiography about Moore’s extensive experience with the newspaper and the government, including a few modest gigs with Reagan, Bush and Schwarzenegger.
Only when he began to express his opinions about the economy — wait, check that — before he even began to really speak, a zealous young man angrily demanded to know how capitalism could be used to explain the unemployment of his father. As a self-proclaimed socialist, he wanted to know how Moore planned to solve America’s socio-economic inequality problem.
Throughout the rest of the night the incredibly eloquent and level-headed student entertained everyone with a series of snide remarks, red-faced exclamations and endless interruptions. He didn’t leave much room for others to get a word in — he was too busy frantically accusing all of us of being blind to the evils of capitalism.
I could take the time here to share my Republican political take — to make up for everything I left unspoken that night — but I think I’ll leave that job up to people like Paul Ryan. Instead I’ll write about a life lesson I gained from attending the event, which was actually greater than the knowledge of taxes or the effects of sub-prime mortgages:
Never before this event have I understood how crucial it is to exercise basic etiquette in a debate.
Call me a product of an uptight society, but I think I’ve got down pat a few Golden Rules to keep in mind that help facilitate a productive exchange of ideas:
First: Screaming, shouting, yelling or even raising your voice at an opponent will not lead to a conversion of beliefs of any sort. Standing on the streets yelling “REPENT OR GO TO HELL!” isn’t going to lure all the pagans of the world into church. It will probably send them willingly running into the arms of Hades.
Likewise, screaming about all the flaws of Reagan and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans won’t make the investment bankers on Wall Street say, “You know, I think tax cuts are a bad idea after all.”
Be passionate or cynical, sure, but in an objective disagreement, try to refrain from any emotional catharsis — it takes away from the legitimacy and sophistication of the argument.
Second: Chortling or scoffing at someone is the rough equivalent of a “fuck you.” No, you’re not clearing your throat; no, you don’t have any phlegm in there. If you want the respect of your opponents, don’t mock them or obnoxiously sigh. It only makes you look like a petulant, angst-ridden teen.
Third: Don’t interrupt whomever is speaking, even if your point of information is desperately important and world-shattering. If you aren’t willing to listen to someone else, he or she most likely won’t be willing to listen to you.
Fourth: It always helps to acknowledge a flaw about your belief or party. You don’t have to wave a white flag, but admitting a small flaw in your ideas can be refreshingly humbling and an invitation for further discussion and exploration of thought.
Stephen Moore’s event was surely enlightening, but because of the lack of civil debate in the Lecture Hall, the night turned into a scene from “12 Angry Men” — over-confident yet fact-deficient people argued back and forth in a partisan battle about every topic brought up, while the few with legitimate arguments only had a few words before being trampled over by the Sonny Corleone in the room.
So considering that the majority of us will probably go on to have business conferences, meetings, panels or speeches during and after college, let’s practice a diplomatic method of communication.
Unless, of course, you’re dealing with Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, in which case you might want to be a little more aggressive.