I have some friends who ask what the point is of even bothering. Well, they might have a point in pointing out that perhaps there is no point. I guess I can say that oftentimes I enjoy it, although sometimes it just frustrates me. The trick is figuring out that line where the only thing I'm getting out of it is frustration. That's the point where I need to just bail and forget the whole thing. While I'm getting better at realizing this, I still have some work to do.
But I'd like to point out one thing though for those who think that it's completely pointless. I've had some people tell me that nobody's ever going to change their mind because of an online debate. Well, nuts to that, I say. I know of times where I've altered my opinion (on things like circumcision, pit bulls, Obama, religion, etc.) because of an online debate. There have been other times when I haven't changed my mind, but I felt like I understood somebody who was on the other side of things a bit better.
An example that crosses my mind is when I asked a Christian why he would bother doing good when he believed that since he was "saved" he was going to get into heaven anyway. I must admit, I kind of smugly thought that this was a "gotcha" question and there would be no way for him to give a decent answer. His response though was that because of his love of Christ, he wanted to please his Lord. So, love was the motivation. Now, I didn't get any closer to being a Christian as a result, but dammit if that's not a good answer to that question.
And on the other side of that, I've been able to explain to a few Christians why the whole "Intelligent Design" thing wasn't just bad for science, but it was bad for religion in general. (You know, the whole "God of the Gaps" thing - which is all intelligent design is - just serves to keep painting their God into a corner.) So, not only have I felt a bit smarter as a result of a debate, but I'd like to think that I managed to provide a little enlightenment myself.
So, when are the times when I just need to stop?
1. When I'm clearly wrong. Yes. This happens. I mentioned my complete buffoonery about pit bulls before. Some time after that, I posted some infographic about the Obama economy, and I was quickly schooled by some more conservative-leaning (although I don't think they define themselves as "conservatives" necessarily) friends as to why it was pretty misleading. I'm pretty proud to say that I bailed on both of those rather quickly - even admitting my error in both cases.
2. When the other person is just building straw men. This is my biggest pet peeve, and I will fruitlessly re-explain my point again and again only to have it do as much good as bashing my head into a brick wall. A particularly annoying thing is when the person will quote my words back at me, only to have words within the quotes be words that I haven't actually written. Once I realize that somebody is doing this, I need to just determine that they're not even interested in having an honest conversation, and end it.
Related to this is when the person refuses to even address what I'm saying and/or keeps turning the conversation over to what he or she wants to talk about. Also along these lines is when the person makes all sorts of assumptions about me based on a few things I've written. I've been accused of being an Obama apologist just because I don't agree with the most extreme right-wing rhetoric against him. I mean, 'cause obviously if you don't think that Obama is deliberately trying to turn this country into a fascist communist dystopia, the reason must be because you worship him.
3. When the other person speaks in talking points - especially talking points that have been refuted ad nauseum. You know, crap like "engineers say it's impossible for the towers to have fallen 'cause a plane crashed into them!" or "there used to be a global cooling scare!"
4. Lastly, and most importantly, when it's clear that the person just has some sort of ax to grind with me and is resorting to ad hominems. I actually wised up to this a couple of times rather recently and let the other person have the last word. I mentioned above the whole thing about how people will assume all sorts of things about you as well based on a few opinions and/or comments that you've written. Basically, these people will build you up in their mind as some sort of enemy that they need to knock down. While it kinda sucks to just let them do it, ultimately you're pulling a Don Quixote if you think you can get them to see the error of their ways.
Now, can I take my own advice? And perhaps more importantly, can I make sure that I don't do the things that make me nuts? I don't think that I do those things, but I'm not going to make a definite statement that I never have.