Assume Good Faith in Debate

To be clear, the ejection came because the rules of the House forbid members from questioning each others' motives or honour; all members are presumed to be honourable. There's a lot about parliamentary convention that's a bit daft and outmoded, but this rule isn't old-fashioned ritual. It's actually a perfectly sensible way to conduct debates. If you don't believe me, try having a political argument on Twitter and see how long it is before someone impugns someone else's motives, accuses them of some hidden or malign agenda, or otherwise suggests they're acting in bad faith.

This is an excerpt from an article on Dennis Skinner's ejection from the House of Commons hits on a pretty key point. (Also, I recommend watching the fairly amusing yet firm speaker John Bercow deal with the situation.) Regardless of David Cameron's alleged improprieties, with which I am not well acquainted, there is a general point to be made.

On Wikipedia AGF is a valid policy, and it's regularly thrown out for reasons of repitition of recidivism. Where I draw the line is thought versus action. Arguing a losing debate on policy, or for a certain content change on an article is different than making that change. Laws are laws, and when good faith and the laws meet, there are interesting moral implications on which there is a lot of discussion. Regardless, that isn't the focus here.

When engaging in discussion on issues of policy, whether on Wikipedia, or off, there isn't any point in accusing the other side of moral trespass or lack of honor. While one can and probably should question the logical reasons for people holding beliefs, and at least opening a discussion on why we believe what we do can be productive, questioning motive is a great way to lower the level of debate. It is true that there are dishonorable reasons for advocating anything. There are stupid reasons for believing nearly anything. The vast majority of people, however are motivated by some combination of self-interest, altruism, background, and ideological thought. Questioning oneself and others on how this combination of factors influences are thinking is surely instructive. The assumption that everyone is acting out of malice and stupidity doesn't let us develop our own thoughts. I'll grant that there are people on both counts. But even 'stupidity' isn't really only stupidity. It's sometimes, actually correct when we have the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes it's a combination of upbringing and moral framework, which although not congruent with yours makes a lot of sense given how they were raised and their values.

Along these lines when our values differ from those we are discussing issues with it's even more important to understand. Given the same information, values shape how we form views. A Trump supporter who is angry, poorly educated, and yearns for a strong leader after a percieved weak leader isn't necessarily acting out of bad faith. While to you and me it might be frightening they think Trump is the best option, it's been shown that policy debate doesn't affect his support among his supporters. Understanding this is key for influencing policy. The regular Cruz-Trump debates on Twitter are the definition of pure ad-hominem. Lyin Ted Cruz. Trump supporters have no brains. A Clinton supporter is a shill. And those you disagree with just hate America. No progress is made along these lines.

When engaging in debate on policy, try to stick to the policy. If the other party is doing something you find really stupid and illogical, it's probably not stupid or illogical to them. Think why they think it. Those lines of argument will be more effective than arguing past thme would be. If the other individual is clearly engaged on the issues and you agree on the facts but disagree on the position or outcomes, think about why this would be. It's not because they're scummy, but because their priorities and values differ.