I will come out and say this right away - I really don't enjoy debates and arguments. I know that lots of people enjoy them; I know that they can constitute a good way to open people's minds to other points of view; I know that they can be good exercises in the art of speaking clearly and making coherent and powerful arguments. However, I really don't find joy in debating for the sake of debating. You can blame it on my lack of practice, my English as a second language, my ignorance about certain topics, or my natural propensity to be shy in large groups. Most of all though, I am opposed to debates when they are rooted in pure ideology because I think that this can be very damaging to public opinion and, perhaps more distantly, to public policy and change (or lack of change).
I have a very good friend, whom I have known forever, who is a complete natural at debating, and I have had the privilege (or misfortune?) of being on the other end many times, especially recently. We had a debate regarding paid maternity leave the other day. She is completely opposed to this policy because she believes that women make a choice when they have a child, and should be able to support themselves and their families if they take time off after child birth. She doesn't think that employers are responsible for paying people to not work. So, if there's no paid maternity leave and you can't afford to take time off on your own and risk getting fired, make a choice - have a baby or keep working. The world is over-populated anyway. Life's full of choices and people need to make them. Tough.
Now, as someone who spent the last semester researching maternity leave, I of course started disagreeing. What about the fact that many families first cross the poverty line when a child is born because the mother loses her job when she takes time off? What about the fact that 160 other countries have paid maternity leave but the US does not on a national level, and these policies have been shown to have beneficial effects on the women (and, although less so, on the children)? And if you don't believe in employers paying people to not work, what about paid vacation?
She said she doesn't believe in paid vacation either. This, of course, is very consistent with the over-arching ideology of her argument. She also made the point that none of my objections is valid, as long as you stick with the ideology of her argument: women should just make the choice of whether to have a child or to keep working. And if they can't afford to have a child, they shouldn't have one.
Now, we later agreed on some things such as the fact that maybe there are more important or effective policies than paid maternity leave that the government should allocate its limited resources to, and this is a question for cost-benefit analysis. But, I had no way of convincing her of my point of view because she valued remaining consistent to the ideology of her thinking above all else. And while I have always admired her skill at debating and her intelligence, I couldn't help but be frustrated at this position.
For me personally, it's most important to look at existing problems and try to find solutions to them as a society. Poor working women become even poorer when they give birth because they lose their job or can't afford to take time off? Well, maybe paid maternity leave can help that (or maybe not - we should research it!). To me, it is not relevant that maybe these women should have made smarter choices about the timing of their pregnancies. Or that the world is over-populated (to be honest, I just don't think that a lack of paid maternity leave is a deterrent to people having children in the US). And while my friend's argument is very consistent, and I do see some valid points in her over-arching ideology, from a policy perspective, I don't think we can get anywhere by just saying that women should learn to make better choices because this is what we believe in.
And while I know that I also am at fault for having an ideology (for example, by being against pure ideological arguments), I think a good dose of real analysis of existing problems and their potential solutions will always strengthen an ideological argument.
***Note: Because of space constraints, I did not repeat my friend's entire argument here (this post doesn't do justice to her debating skills at all), but I think I got the main points across.