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The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

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COLUMN: Debates will not change your mind

Jason+Farias
Sia DeyKoontz
Jason Farias

Anyone who has ever debated, either formally or informally, knows one thing: it is not what you say but how you say it. 

In a debate, perception is reality. Facts alone do not change our mind because we find ourselves more honestly influenced by our initial beliefs, cognitive biases, emotional attachments and an endless number of social and cultural factors. 

Despite this, our culture glorifies the debate stage, reveres the “marketplace of ideas” and devotes significant media attention to political faceoffs. 

Of course, debates can be fun and entertaining, but for the most part, they are just that: fun and entertaining. A skilled orator understands this and is conscious of their use of performance, theater and drama just as much as their use of logic, rhetoric and convincing arguments. 

Last week in my U.S. Constitution and the nation class, we simulated the 1788 New York ratification debate of the U.S. Constitution. We split our class between the federalist and anti-federalist factions and debated a number of issues concerning representative government. 

By the end of the game, I had the pleasure of shooting Alexander Hamilton myself. 

But beyond the historical role-play and recreation, the determining factor between winners and losers was obvious. In our game, the winners were the ones who talked– or yapped– the most and yapped the hardest. 

It was a game of yappers take all, meaning winning debates were based more off of speakers’ perception rather than content knowledge or, dare I say, logical arguments. And yes, studying the reading materials went a long way but not as far as a silver tongue. 

Despite research suggesting that arguments are not very effective at changing minds, we tend to place a lot of cultural significance on debates. In reality, debates are just popularity contests. 

They are a measurement of rhetorical talent, perception of confidence and, in more nefarious cases, one’s ability to rationalize logical fallacies. 

Furthermore, if you are not careful, a gifted speaker will have you thinking you are thinking when you are really just being entertained. 

Today, we interact with endless avenues of online content, streaming and news media, but we should always be critical of the ambiguity between information and entertainment, especially when they come to us in the format of a debate. 

That is to reiterate that debates can be fun. They can be informative, test our rhetorical skills and even, in a few cases, change our minds. I am not discouraging the virtue of debates, but I am encouraging a critique of its medium. 

At the end of the day, every debate is a piece of theater. 

  

Jason Farias can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]. 

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About the Contributor
Jason Farias, Culture Columnist
Jason Farias is a senior history education major and can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].

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