How Harry Potter taught me to debate online, and do it right.

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“Do not pity the dead, Harry, pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.”

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you already know this quote, if you’re not, it wouldn’t take a lot of brain matter to figure what it’s trying to say. Why did we open with it? It’ll soon be clear.

Before we really go down the gooey and comforting road of pity, I would want to draw your attention to social media and my crimes on it. My primary medium of interaction with the people I know is Facebook. Coincidently, it is so for a lot of other people too, which makes it a great battleground for waging a comment war and offloading your insecurities onto other people by hurling personal attacks in a public debate.

The ethics of healthy debating, and logical fallacies kept aside, I myself have been a victim and a perpetrator of these wars. And by being in a significant number of them, I have come to realise this one thing about almost everyone that I interact with. No one likes to be wrong.

You could have an airtight argument, a solid rebuttal, a structured attack, and a resounding conclusion but the opponent somehow always finds a way around letting you know that you’re absolutely incapable of having a humane discussion.

You know you’re right! It’s plain as daylight! How could they not see? How could they be so blind, so crass, and so demeaning? How could one person be so blinded by their own vision that they absolutely, completely lack the clarity to even remotely consider your point and see the obvious standing next to you?

The only reason why such a feeling exists and seems to perpetrate to eternity, is because everyone has it. It never ceases to exist because no one wants to budge. Such a state of mind is more visible in debates that involve social justice. Discussions on marital rape, cross border terrorism, and gender equality are some of the most widely debated ones and also the ones with see-saw like trends about the general consensus on what things should be like.

While a major problem with these debates is that they never reach the people who are supposed to be taught better, I still feel we have a lot of bigotry in the top brass of society as well. But let’s put that aside for a bit and understand that the most beautiful thing about the world that we live in today is that social justice is a thing. It wasn’t really long ago that South Africa still had apartheid and that a lot more countries were inflicting atrocities on their citizens than there are now.

We live in a world where we have come to understand human rights, at least on a fundamental level. We have agreed to the idea that we all deserve to be happy. We have come to mutually accept that no marginalised community should have to have a movement for the larger masses to agree to giving them equal rights. We have come to terms with the idea that we should actively make laws and draft legislation that has equality at its very core. And that makes this a beautiful time to live in.

However, that emotion does not translate on to discussions about such communities or similar issues online, or even otherwise in general. And I think that is happening because of a dead simple reason.

We’ve got our victims wrong.

Every time a man attempts to be a chauvinist, or a bigot spews hate, we believe that the victims are the women who suffer, and those who will do the bidding of the hate, respectively. We feel that the victim of domestic violence is the one that the violence of inflicted on. But when it comes to social justice, that approach to victim definition can prove to be myopic.

Myopic, as in shortsighted. And short sighted because yes, women face the pain of discrimination, and face it in a way no one should ever have to, yes, the soldiers on the border pay the price for a war that we wage mostly because we have nothing to do in the post lunch hours and we can’t be seen sleeping wherever we are, but there is another victim of this act, that we all ignore, the one that needs the most care and attention.

It’s the perpetrator himself.

When a man abuses a woman, yes, she is a victim, and when looked at in a runtime perspective of society, she bears a lot of what shouldn’t have been her pain in the first place, but if you look a little further, the man suffers even worse.

Imagine a society that keeps committing female foeticides for the longest time. It will breed a generation of men and women who will be the most caustic elements of the social fabric when they are 50 or 60. The culture that breeds out of the perpetration of a crime leads to a much worse situation than the crime in itself. Not just because it creates a community of bigots who feed themselves in an odd circle jerk of hatred, but also because it breeds a self combusting society of people who, sooner or later will realise that they just messed things up for themselves.

A terrorist is also a victim of terrorism just as much as a wife molester is a victim of sexism. In a discussion, when we approach a certain topic with hate in our hearts for those who we feel are wronged, we create a sort of gridlock for actual action to happen. For the discussion to hold any physical value of change, we will have to conduct it in a light that looks at the perpetrators with pity and not with disgust.

Pity them because they live without love. Pity them because when they take what they believe in, and put it out in front of the world, all they get in return is hate, venomous, elitist hate. Pity them because telling them they are wrong and that they should probably be hanged for existing, will not really do any good anyways.

Pity is important. Not just as an emotion but as something that can fill the void that a lack of love and acceptability leave. Pity in not the poor derogatory sense, but pity in the actionable sense of change. Pity just enough to help the person understand that there is more to the world than the hostility towards something alien. That it’s okay to be bigoted, to be chauvinistic and to be absolutely jingoistic for a large part of your life, provided you’re willing to change.

Pity. It’ll help. For real.