“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” Ben Shapiro says calmly to a trans activist who identifies as female.
I find everything about this discussion outrageous. Shapiro is arguing – to the face of a trans woman – that gender is biologically determined, and no matter how strongly you feel, it is not something that can ever be changed.
“The idea that sex or gender are malleable are not true. I am not denying your humanity… I am saying you are not the sex to which you claim to be,” he says.
“How dare he deny someone’s personhood like that?” I find myself thinking.
But instead of huffing and puffing, pressing the small ‘x’ in the right hand corner of the screen, and tweeting ‘Ben Shapiro is a closed minded d*ckhead who should die’, I listened.
LISTEN: My recommendation on Mamamia Out Loud this week was to start listening to people you strongly disagree with. Post continues below.
And when the video was finished, I watched another titled ‘Ben Shapiro OWNS pro-choice feminist’.
And then I watched Shapiro argue against a ‘Smug leftie on Obamacare’. And then an atheist. And then a black advocate. And then a campaigner for same sex marriage.
I listened. And I thought. And I watched some more.
It would be very easy to dismiss Shapiro as evil, bigoted, transphobic, sexist and racist. Too easy.
It would also be entirely ineffective.
Shapiro is just a man, made of flesh and blood, who holds a different opinion on just about every subject than I do. And as questionable and confronting as some of those ideas are, there is one thing about his videos that is impossible to deny.
He might just be one of the most articulate men I’ve ever heard speak.
His ability to deconstruct a particular line of thinking – to ask questions that trap his opposition – and then to draw on facts, statistics and studies to mount his own argument is remarkable.
As he argues with people who would identify as left wing (i.e. me), it becomes painstakingly clear that the lines of communication between political opposites is broken. Fruitful critical analysis has been replaced with pointless and incessant character assassination.
Shapiro says, “Until we have discussions about policy and not about character, nothing is going to happen that’s good in American politics.”
“The only argument the left have is character cast. You’re a bad person. You hate children. You hate women. We can’t actually have a logical conversation,” he says. “I don’t think we need to demonise people on the other side as being unfeeling.”
I don’t agree that’s the only argument the left has, but Shapiro has a point. Once you yell “racist” at someone, surely you’ve already lost.
The first rule of philosophy is something we appear to have forgotten. You cannot put forward an argument, without evoking, and engaging with the counterargument.
When I studied Philosophy at University, every essay had to have at least one paragraph where you argued with yourself; where you drew on existing theory that tore your own perspective to shreds.
In journalism, and certainly on Twitter, we do not have the time nor the space for that. It must be condensed and simple. And that's come at the expense of nuance.
We learned with the election of President Donald Trump how dangerous 'the bubble' can be. No one saw his Presidency coming, because they were looking in a completely different direction. And yelling at one side to shut up, or silencing them under the banner of political correctness, doesn't at all change how they vote, and it certainly doesn't change how they think.
In order to be better debaters, thought leaders and advocates, we need to start listening to the likes of Shapiro. We need to stop arguing simply with feelings, and stop morally assassinating anyone who doesn't agree with us.
We must understand the tools in their arsenal, and be open to learning why they think the way they do.
Arguments should not be won by who can shout the loudest. If we are to make headway on the subjects that divide us, it is time we listened as much as we spoke.
And Ben Shapiro is a great place to start.
You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, full of arguments, here.