Debaters, Inflaters and the polarisation of online discussion.

The foundation of good science is debate decoupled from people. Debaters take data, present conclusions and discuss their meaning in the real world. Debaters don't tie their ego to outcomes when the discussion happens in a trusted environment. An idea can be bad, wrong or invalid without saying anything about the person who presented it. It's not always easy, we're emotional creatures after all, but at the end of the day, a Debater tries not to hold grudges.

Counter to the Debater is the Inflater. Named that way because the Inflater seeks to inflate emotion. On the surface, the Inflater follows similar patterns but ignores the golden rule. To the Inflater, the idea and identity are one and the same. How the Inflater comes to their conclusions is irrelevant in many ways. Some reach their endpoint through vigorous scientific method, perhaps even previous debates. Others adopt the findings of their community without a second thought. The way to tell an Inflater from a Debater is by observing how they respond to a challenge. The Inflater detests a debate.

If you challenge an idea ingrained in an Inflator, the response is survival. When ideas are so entwined into identity, the challenge can be war. Challengers are immediately put into an opposing bucket. They become a denier, an idiot and as far on the other side of the political spectrum as the Inflater can imagine. While Debaters might present opposing data or pose opposing questions, being an Inflator can be contagious.

The language that Inflators speak is deep in our psyche. Like the Summerian Language of Snow Crash, we're hard-wired to respond. Rational rebuttal dries up rapidly when responses become attacks of character. Debaters move from a willingness to debate to becoming Inflators in their own right. Their views and positions are different, but they too become immovable.

Social media seems to be a prime incubator for Inflaters. When discussions are online with people, we don't know. It's easier to throw trust out the window. It takes an even greater effort to work from a position of assuming people are good and their ideas don't define them. This get's more challenging with more exposure to Inflaters. Forming polarised bubbles of Inflaters who are ready to rip into each other at a moment's notice. All the while creating more Inflaters.

The path back from Inflater to Debater is a curious one. It takes a choice and then continued effort. Most people I know would likely say they'd rather debate than inflate. Despite that, it gets to us all sometimes. It gets to me and it gets the smartest people I know. It's not always permanent and not true across all issues but it's easier than ever to inflate.

It could be that we're still in the infant stages of being a hyper-connected species. In days long gone the tribe was smaller and survival was tied to simpler questions. As we've developed new technology that connects us we're beginning to transition. Much like the transition from single-celled organisms into multi-celled organisms, were becoming something new. A collective, still made of individuals but inextricably linked. Learning how to cooperate at "web scale" is something we still need to learn.

I am, however, open to debate.

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