Debating preferences and perception is useless

two people Debating

If there’s one thing people like doing, it’s debating. Argumentation has been around since humans learned verbal communication and we haven’t stopped doing it yet. Even in this day and age with a myriad of distractions available to us, we devote hours of our time to arguing with our fellow humans. Not only do people like debating, they like debating about absolutely everything. From pineapple on pizza to abortion, we all have very strong opinions and we’re not scared to broadcast them.

What’s most surprising is that given debates and discussions are nearly as old as human civilization, we really suck at it. I mean we are completely terrible at debating things with each other. We are overemotional, self-centered, illogical, prone to confirmation bias, and completely lacking in the ability to see things from another’s perspective.
From what I’ve seen, the debates involving abortion are functionally identical to the debates about pineapple on pizza. It’s purely a matter of two differing sets of preferences. A lot of people are against abortion because they don’t like it and it makes them feel bad. Likewise, a lot of people are against pineapples on pizza because they don’t like it, and it makes them feel bad.

Different people value things differently, it’s just a fact of life. Debates generally aren’t logical or objective, it’s all about differing value systems. To the pineapple fans, if I don’t like pineapples on pizza, I am wrong. What it tastes like to me isn’t relevant, my differing preferences are somehow incorrect.

It’s no different between pizza and abortions. Some people even care more about pizza toppings than they do abortions. Look at the ever-kooky Lena Dunham, who not too long ago stated that she wished she had an abortion. It may be ridiculous to most people, but it makes sense to her because those are her preferences.

I’m willing to bet there are some pro-choice people out there who are vegan and refuse to eat eggs. Eggs aren’t fertilized but vegans still won’t eat them. Aborting humans isn’t a problem to them but eating eggs or drinking milk is a cardinal sin to the vegan. To some, that may seem like inconsistency but it’s just a matter of differing values.

People can’t even come to any agreement on when life starts. It’s not surprising, there’s no real solid objective definition of life. Biologists disagree on whether or not a virus is a living being, it would be ridiculous to expect everybody to agree at what point life starts. By many definitions of life, it could be argued that fire is alive. The fact is that life starts whenever someone believes it to start. It’s impossible to tell them they’re wrong, in the same way it would be impossible to tell someone that they like some song when they actually don’t.

Trying to tell someone they’re wrong for holding the values that they hold is useless. There’s nothing anybody can say that will convince me Hawaiian pizza tastes good. My perception doesn’t change because someone tells me I shouldn’t perceive something in some way.

Yet, that’s all that debate seems to be these days. People yelling at other people, trying to convince their opponent that the way they perceive reality is invalid.

Of course, I’m not saying that debate is useless, only debates about preferences. There are plenty of points to be raised about abortion that matter – for example, the fact that laws against abortion don’t stop abortions, they only stop safe abortions. One can also look at the economics behind our nation’s policies at home and abroad.

Without a realization that people have vastly different preferences, human discourse is nothing but a polarizing waste of time. Having the empathy and understanding that people all have wildly diverse values and perceptions leads to effective debate and discussion about the points that matter. Without this realization, there can only be discord with progress nowhere on the horizon.