The Junior High School Experience I'll Never Forget.

Authored by Panos Vasilopoulos, 27 Apr 2021

Should schools do more to protect their citizens-in-the-making from demagogy?

Imagine being me. I had to participate in a debate for English class, and my teacher, knowing that I was relatively vocal about environmental issues, assigned me to the team that had to debate against renewable resources, because, as she said, we will have to advocate for things that we don't agree with at some point in our lives.

You see, I was horrifically unprepared. I had approximately 10 minutes left before my turn arrived.

"I should use ExxonMobil as a source, since their lobbying that's primarily meant to shut down concerns regarding the climate emergency and transitioning to renewable sources is arguably the best in the world!".

They are, in the real world, particularly because lobbyists don't tend to face immense pushback when they're under the spotlight, and not sharing their pedestal.

Some of the arguments I tried to regurgitate got quickly shut down, particularly because my arguments all seemed strictly focused on wind and solar power and emphasized on the lifespan of solar panels. The rest got overshadowed by very good arguments as to why renewable energy sources are more sustainable; The other team had prepared very well. Hell, they even brought up a renewable source of energy that I wasn't even familiar with at the time! Wave power.

There was an audience, after all. This didn't feel like just a silly high school debate, but the very subtle and indirect fierceness and ad hominem fallacies that eventually got involved in the conversation led me to believe that this was a game involving chasing after a specific status. The clock's ticking, a war has been waged and I have less than 5 minutes left.

A random, but very helpful idea suddenly made its way in the front lobe of my head! "Wait, waves are involved? Doesn't the moon affect the tides?".

I tried to look up the effects of the moon on the output of wave energy. I even used the keywords site:*.edu and type:pdf on Google (which limits search results to PDF documents from educational institutions only, it's amazing for very quick research on a topic), yet I found nothing.

I just kept on looking. Still, nada. Nothing useful. The clock's ticking. Even if I did, however, claiming that we have to use up a lot of fossil fuels because a particular source of energy isn't 100% efficient 100% of the time is not a good idea! This is hopeless. (Dang, I wish that debates weren't divisive by nature and making compromises could've been a reasonable alternative instead. I can't remember the exact style, but it can't have been the British Parliamentary Style, as I got two turns in total.)

I stopped listening to what the other side had to say. "Wait, I'm overthinking, I can just ignore all of this!". The clock's ticking. I have to tear the script apart.

"What if I just did what Ben Shapiro did?". I could just ignore all of my previous concerns about what was true and what wasn't and just stop arguing in good faith. I was genuinely curious as to how my experiment would play out and whether I would be called out for it, so I completely threw off the opposition by not acting in the eloquent, passionate manner as I normally would and did not back up what I said with citations of studies and research conducted by well-established research institutions.

What I did was something that I saw a lot in conservative media produced in the United States, Ben being one of the most profound examples that I could think of. After all, they have such huge audiences. If their goal is to be heard, they must be doing something right, just like ExxonMobil does with the lobbying! (I just misapplied their strategy.)

I basically heard nothing that the person said, but it's okay, I can just stick on the arguments that they brought up earlier on. How will I do that?

I stood up and took a deep, slow, confident breath and smirked in a very caricatured manner. I controlled my voice. I made a lot of remarks directly at the audience in order to invalidate not only their arguments, but their mere presence in the room. I was very sarcastic and arrogant. I've done it before, because I've found myself in some outrageous situations before that concerned sensitive topics such as homophobia. But this was different: I engineered this. I treated the people that were advocating for renewable energy sources as idiots and controlled the tone of my voice to portray them as fools. I remarked at the audience a lot. I took advantage of a lot of generalizations made ad hominem fallacies in return. I presented absurd scenarios that were effectively nonsensical if analyzed properly...

"... So, now, imagine, hypothetically, that there are a few people living in a remote village, and people were using waves to generate power. You see, the moon affects the waves, so if there's a full moon, there are more waves. What if there isn't a full moon and a village depended on waves? They wouldn't have power. This wouldn't have happened with fossil fuels, which are reliable..."

It went on for a bit, and I said some other things that I thought on the spot. Everyone applauded, a classmate approached me later on and asked me "how I knew so much for my age". I responded cynically and said that "everything I said was a lie". The opposition could not respond to my arguments, because they were far-fetched misinterpretations of reality or straight up lies, pretty much.

It felt downright disgusting, to the point where I wonder how Niccolò Machiavelli didn't just rise from his grave and track me down, just so that he could give me a supportive hug. I've heard of politicians that are focused on a career, rather than a public, that just turn from communist to neoliberal and the other way around over the span of less than a half decade and adopt every single point of view that helps them progress that said career. (It's populism at its worst, after all.)

Damn, do they really have to live like this? Just yammer all day, in the right way, until they manage to get people to rise and clap at their ineptness, as they're trying to absolve themselves from the guilt? (If any: it's opportunism, after all.)

It's tasteless, it's spineless, it's vain, it's in bad faith. There are so many problems that affect the world right now, and crowd manipulation for the sake of self-promotion and exposure solves none of them. But it must be okay for some people, as long as they get their fair share of the meal at the end of the day.

This should have never worked out to begin with. I wonder how I could have been prevented from doing what I did. Maybe the other team shouldn't have assumed that I'd argue in good faith. I mean, they definitely seemed to have been caught off guard, after all? Finally, why are audiences still instructed to remain passive and silent as the clowns that lost their way to the circus are now some of the people tasked with representing the public?

We may not have a timer that counts the amount of time left to solve those problems, because time, in this case, isn't an arbitrary construct. When it runs out, it's not just a speech that's going to end! I really believe that the world doesn't have enough time to deal with edgy contrarians that exploit the concept of political dialogue and engineer reactions meant to sow distrust and discord in order to serve nobody but themselves.

UPDATE (2021-04-27): Using .edu in your Google searches will probably just limit your results to American institutions for the most part. However, Ivy League institutions still tend to hold important gravity as far as citations are concerned during casual conversations or verbal debates. Google Scholar is a considerably better option.

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