Constructive Discussion and Dialectic

Hey all,

Something’s that fascinated me is the formatting of debate, and particularly political debate. That how we talk to each other is as important as what we talk about. I am interested in how Discourse can be used and modified to cultivate certain discursive values.

One of the projects I’ve taken on and applied to grad school in political science was looking at how much more effectively can debate be if people come together to talk about problems and follow certain rules. We do this to an extent already, no name-calling and ad hominem attacks and such. These fall under logical fallacies.

My thesis is in how computer-mediated discussion can limit logical fallacies and improve the quality of debate. The most reasoned discussions abstain from going off-topic, from deviating. In politics, we have Speakers who are meant to be moderators. They lack or choose not to use their powers to properly moderate, as I’ve covered in my blog.

From the blog, I quote one Canadian politician and I hope we can all find where he deviates:

“Mr. Speaker, Canada is not immune to global economic challenges from beyond our borders. That is why in 2013 we will continue our commitment to grow the economy and create jobs by keeping taxes low and through measures like major new investments in research and development. However, while we are focused on helping the economy grow, the NDP wants a $21 billion carbon tax which would cripple our economy and put Canadians out of work. Could the Minister of Finance please give this House an update on our government’s action to grow the economy and create jobs for hard-working Canadians?”

Spot it?

The journalist who covered this wrote,

“But the Speaker might have stood up immediately after that third sentence, pronounced the question unfit and moved on to the next MP in line. He might set the standard that no wandering into such nonsense in this particular way would be tolerated.”

Under my normative, Parliament at best acts like a distillery, raising the most informed opinions to the top where they would have the most consequence. In other words, it helps when our most powerful and consequential are also informed on the issues we pay millions for them to come together and resolve. This must reflect in the mechanisms of its structure.

I think, and I see this reflected in so many ways and thought about by so many others, that technology can limit those deviations, and give us something more resembling a dialectic, a form of rhetoric that seeks to create understanding and is essentially collaborative, working towards the same goal.

So my point in beginning this discussion is how would the mechanisms found in Discourse help moderate discussion–at any level? And can, by design, and by how much could the developers vouch for this, we limit those logical fallacies and cultivate civil discourse?


Have you seen what The Economist does here? It’s the most advanced treatment I have encountered but it is extremely moderation intensive.