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Opinion: Social Media Practices Dialectic Better than Most Schools

In Norms and Nobility, Hicks notes Socrates’ use of the term dialectic, “the form of the activity of thinking – the mind’s habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or in other minds and of engaging in a desultory dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved.” This process of discovery lies at the heart of classical education. Unfortunately, all too often, we reduce dialectic to logical syllogisms (a component of dialectic, but not the whole) and teach children to compose syllogisms on paper, thinking we’ve taught them dialectic. But they rarely challenge thoughts and observations through dialogue, much less turning that practice into a habit.

Luckily, all rational thought takes this form of dialogue; when left to ourselves, we naturally turn to dialectic in our quest for truth. However, the right habit of dialectic requires humility and openness and so is often quelled.

Yet, American society presently practices open, honest dialectic publicly now more than ever in the history of the world: through podcasts. Through the medium of the podcast, hosts interview experts on various subjects. Hosts like Russell Brand, Mikaela Peterson, and Joe Rogan present themselves as neutral observers attempting to understand the questions of our time via dialogue. Russell Brand noted in a recent video that this process has made Joe Rogan an autodidact, amassing understanding on a wide array of topics through conversations with the experts. Joe Rogan also mentioned Russell Brand in a recent video, saying Brand has become a reliable journalist who observes society and offers a platform to a wide array of ideas.

Calling Brand a journalist transcends traditional structures of authority. A famous comedian, Brand reads news and offers colorful commentary in short YouTube videos, which supplement his lengthy interviews on his personal podcast. However, he doesn’t read The News, which many Americans now distrust, but primary documents like scientific reports or legislation. Brand represents a trend toward listening to private, amateur news outlets rather than “professional” sources. Why have we granted him and others like him this authority?

They earned it through the public habit of dialectic.

Brand has been known to read the viewer comments on his videos, do new research, and change his stance based on that new research; he engages in dialectic with his viewers.

This makes sense because he built his reputation through podcasts and has apparently developed the habit of dialectic. On his podcast, he interviews people from all over the political and religious spectrum and appears to truly alter his own views based on what he’s learned from them.

Social media via podcasts and YouTube has better exemplified, developed, and practiced the habit of dialectic than most classical schools in America.

But that’s just my opinion.

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