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  • Writer's pictureJamal Gerald

Provoking Debate

Updated: Apr 21, 2018

As a part of my research for the past few months, I have been engaging in discussions and debates on Facebook. I like to call them my mini live art pieces. With currently building my reputation of being a provocateur and playing Devil’s advocate; I think I am doing quite well. I guess you can say I’ve been trolling and pissing people off a bit. I acknowledge my approaches are probably not the best. But, some of these debates and discussions have gotten quite ugly. Surprise surprise. Recently, I decided to go a bit further than usual. I posted (with a blue background) I’m voting Conservative. Someone convince me why I shouldn’t. This resulted in a couple people unfriending me and a person who was once a friend to block me.  On this occasion, I didn’t want to go back and forth with everyone so much. I just wanted people to share their opinions and for that to be it. To then have a thread filled with articulate reasons why one shouldn’t vote Conservative.  I often found that some people would vote Labour, just for the sake of it. But, they didn’t always have any in depth reasons for voting for that particular party. One of the aims was to convince others on my Facebook, who may have an interest in voting Conservative, not to do so. I also wanted people to work on their arguments as well. Majority of the people commenting on the thread were people involved in the arts. So, there was a lot of passion!

The audience/my Facebook friends had a task, some achieved it and some failed. Some responded nicely and others didn’t. I was told that this post and previous posts have been ‘violent’. But, the posts were just disagreements with popular opinions. Some felt patronised just because I said ‘thank you’ and I also told them ‘you did what I asked’. This meant they followed the instructions of the performance correctly. However, they didn’t know it was a performance. But, I liked that they didn’t. There’s no way it would be as entertaining if I told everyone this is a mini live art piece. Some of the audience even said that it felt like a game and we shouldn’t be playing with things like this. But, regardless of whatever I do adults are adults and they can make their own decisions. Just because one person saw me jokingly say what I said, doesn’t mean I have brainwashed them. It can be quite demeaning to some people, to go on as if they can’t make up their minds by themselves.

To be clear, I have no interest in voting Conservative. And I never did, if you knew me, you would know that already. I think the people who commented and seemed offended, showed that they didn’t know me well at all. None of my closest friends commented in that way, and if they did or didn’t comment, they knew exactly what I was doing. I did it because I knew I would get a response. One of the things that I found quite fascinating was that people were hesitant to convince me not to vote Conservative. Then there were the ones that were quick to rise to the bait. Which is exactly what I live for! I feel that some people are easily offended. And I can say this because I used to be one of those people. Derogatory terms, yeah I get it. There is nothing wrong with being offended by that. But, me saying that I’m voting for a particular political party? Come on!

During this performance, I was called a bully, bigot, a horrible person, a massive dick and my personal favourite Tory boy haha. I was told that my comments were upsetting and hateful, but yet I get called those things. All I said was that I was voting Conservative and so many people were triggered. I acknowledge that people’s lives will change dependant on the vote. But, still there’s no need for the name-calling, just hit me back with a good argument. You’re just making your side look weak if you result to name-calling.

There’s always the element of contradiction from participants in these discussions. All I wanted was for people to share their views on why one shouldn’t vote Conservative. Is that too much to ask for? Could I have given more context? Could I have been a bit nicer, maybe? Absolutely. I think people do need to drop the expectation of everyone being nice to them; they’ll just end up being disappointed. I also still don’t believe I need to give anyone a reason for why I posted something on my own Facebook timeline. As I never question why someone posts something on their timeline, because that’s none of my business. But, I will work on the way I write back to people that I engage with. There’s no harm in being extra nice! 

These discussions (to me) are about pushing buttons and unpacking why people are reacting this way. Getting people to come back with their strongest and best arguments, to shift my and other people’s thinking.  It’s evident that many people are trapped in echo-chambers. I have discovered that name-calling happens a lot. There are huge assumptions made about why people will vote Conservative. Some people don’t know the reasons why (because they don’t listen to differing opinions often) and some may have valid reasons for voting for them. The name-calling does much more harm than good. It’s what I believe leads certain people drifting away from the left and going more towards to right side of the political spectrum. Let your adversaries state their opinions. You should want that, surely? That way you can defeat them with your own opinions. Those are my personal thoughts and I don’t mind them being challenged.

One person said that I don’t let my perceptions be changed. But, am I the only person that should be letting their perceptions be changed?  Shouldn’t everyone be open to different types of ideas, no matter how much one disagrees with them? Does it always have to be the person or group coming from the opposing side just shutting up and listening? That’s something that I will continue to try and find out. Overall, I think in some ways I failed and succeeded. It was quite spontaneous anyways. I did receive some lovely personal messages from people saying that it was entertaining and beneficial. This has definitely been a useful source of research for Dogmatic. I look forward to seeing what I come across next.

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