A better quality of debate

 I have been reading posts and responses on LDV and LibDem-linked sites for some years. Although LDV posts sometimes don’t follow entirely the same practice as many others, the comments often do. With that in mind and to avoid falling into the category of Grumpy Old Man, I write to offer ten suggestions about how to enter into the true spirit of internet debating:

  1. It’s important to get right the overall tone. Try for a core approach of righteous indignation. There’s no need to be overtly patronising; most people will get the message anyway.
  2. You should cultivate an air of certainty about everything you write. It’s wimpish even to entertain the suggestion that you might be anything other than all-knowing, perfectly wise and possessed of the soundest judgement.
  3. You should assume your thoughts are the only valid way of looking at things. Therefore, never give the impression that you might learn from others or, ultimate horror, change your views in the light of others’ contributions.
  4. In composing your thoughts, never expose yourself to facts, opinions, or ideas from people who might not wholly agree with you. In particular, never read a book or quote someone else if you do not agree entirely with the author.
  5. Cultivate EDD – Empathy Deficit Disorder. Trying to understand the position of someone with whom you disagree only complicates matters. Specifically, avoid anything that stinks of the aphorism quoted by Jo Grimond: “never condemn a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”.
  6. In debate, any personal experience trumps other so-called “evidence”. Indeed, the personal experience of anyone who you have ever come across is more important that so-called experts, who rely on such ephemeral stuff as facts and analysis………….
  7. ………….unless, of course, you find something that supports your position. If you do use it, don’t distract yourself by worrying about its authenticity or provenance.
  8. Old liberal ideas about “generosity of spirit”, “compromise” and, above all “mutual respect” are out-dated and irrelevant in modern times.
  9. A few thoughts on the details of commenting on others’ posts:
    1. It’s not worth spending time reading the original post or earlier comments. Just say what you want anyway.
    2. Concentrate on the details of posts; see if you can set off a debate on an entirely different subject or a minor detail. Apart from aught else, it means that the rest of the discussion is likely to be about your contribution. And, who needs big ideas anyway?
    3. Hunt as a pack (note: that’s not the Pack). If you disagree with someone, join in the aggression to bring her down. It works for jackals, so why not us?
    4. Sarcasm is a powerful tool. If you’re challenged, it’s dramatic irony or even good-natured banter.
  10. Remember the “is it raining outside?” principle. A first principle of internet debate is to ask questions instead of taking the elementary first step of finding the answer.

* Cllr Gordon Lishman is a member of the Federal Board and Acting Chair of the Social Liberal Forum, although neither body can be assumed always to agree with him,

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Gordon,

    while this spoof might be the opposite of how to improve the quality of internet debate, much of it it does appear to be a reasonably close description of how adversarial political debate is, in fact, conducted in the House of Commons or on the airwaves.

  • John Marriott 20th Nov '18 - 3:12pm

    “There’s no need to be overtly patronising”. But it’s OK to be subtly patronising, then, Mr Lishman? “Chacun son goût”, as our French friends say. I tend to agree. We aren’t doing ballroom dancing. We’re doing Rock and Roll!

  • David Evershed 20th Nov '18 - 3:17pm

    Gordon I take your point.

    On item 10 though I would add that finding the right questions can be the way to a solution.

  • jayne mansfield 20th Nov '18 - 4:39pm

    Additionally, having followed the above rules, don’t reveal how misunderstood you feel and the deleterious effect that loneliness is having on your health.

  • Nick Collins 20th Nov '18 - 5:03pm

    “the aphorism quoted by Jo Grimond: “never condemn a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”.”

    I once came across this in a fortune cookie ” Don’t lose your temper with a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. By then it won’t matter: he’ll be a mile away and you’ll have his shoes”

    Btw , have I now complied with edict 9B?

  • Hee-hee.

  • Gordon Lishman 20th Nov '18 - 8:21pm

    Richard: Thank you; your recognition on this subject means a lot to me.
    Joeb: I suggest that you are unduly critical of normal Parliamentary debate which is often a lot more thoughtful and measured in this comparison than you give it credit.
    John: Thank you for the compliment; I’m not often accused of subtlety. I shall forebear from commenting on the accuracy of your French aphorism, because that sort of pedantry annoys me. And congratulations on your last two sentences which achieve a level of opacity worthy of emulation.
    David: As a philosophical principle, yes. As a description of a factual question which can be given a factual answer in less time than it takes to type the question, well no.
    Martin: Surely it didn’t rain during the coalition, did it?
    Jayne: I really wish your generous thought was true.
    Nick: No.
    Tony: Now there’s profundity.
    And in response to additional comments:
    Mark Pack: Happy to add a little lustre to your never–ending campaign to get a little lustre on LibDem social media.
    Caron: I’m afraid your right!
    Everyone else: it wasn’t sarcasm or irony or banter. It’s satire!!

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Nov '18 - 10:50pm

    The lack of an emoji button is very frustrating.

  • Matt (bristol) 20th Nov '18 - 11:48pm

    Speaking of details, and unnecessarily complicating my point with multiple subclauses, I object entirely to this post based on the contention that it has omitted to include any instruction to post in an LDV comment thread entirely based on the title alone.

    This should have been included as 9.A.i

    The omission of such a point, irrespective of whether it would have strained the wordcount, has aroused my ire to the point I cannot conceive of agreeing with anything the poster every writes again, unless of course I find that I do agree with it, in which case this pocket of time will not have happened.

    Of course, it is also impossible that I or any of the people posting herein, could in any way err in this regard…

  • Phil Beesley 21st Nov '18 - 1:35pm

    Sorry — I can’t think of a satirical way to write at the moment.

    When you really know about a subject and it becomes a big news story and you read the newspapers the next day, you are always surprised. Crikey — typically, you are dismayed about how aspects of the story are portrayed. How on earth did the writer miss the obvious? Did she really say that or was she misquoted?

    Funnily enough, newspapers employ generalists as journalists, and they get things wrong. It’s not because they are biased or stupid, but they can’t be experts in everything.

    Most news reports are flaky. Assume that every story contains something over which a quick on the draw commenter might stumble.

  • David Evans 21st Nov '18 - 2:46pm

    Just to make it up to a round dozen I would add:

    11. Don’t forget that whatever other people might think, our biggest enemy is not Labour or Conservative, but fellow Lib Dems who disagree with us – especially if they do so from a basis of fundamental Liberal values.

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