As publishing technology has developed, we can see a double trend in the public discourse. First, we see that as publishing becomes more accessible and affordable, more voices are able to enter into the public discourse. The drivers of the Reformation could ever have suggested that individuals read the Bible and figure it out for themselves had each copy still been laboriously made by hand: the printing press was instrumental in that possibility. Second, we see a trend where, amid the growing number of voices and perspectives within the public sphere, the coherence of that discourse degrades. That's not terribly surprising, and not just an accidental connection either: as the number of people at any party grows, the likelihood that the whole party is talking about the same thing decreases (unless that thing is Rob Ford's inanity).
Looking at the present state of publishing technology, we see that anyone with even the most marginal technological savvy, the most basic of hardware, and the most intermittent of internet connections can broadcast their thoughts and emotions to the world with ease. The price of this is that public discourse is a cacophony of SHOUTING VOICES COMING FROM PEOPLE WITH CAPS LOCK PROBLEMS AND WE OFTEN HAVE VERY LITTLE OF SUBSTANCE TO SAY. Not only is there a lack of agreement about which topics are important enough to warrant discussion, but we also don't have any agreed upon rules of decorum that guide these discussions. One man's shameful fallacy is another's proud arrow protruding from the side of a slain enemy.
Again, touching back on the political power of the printed word, we've found ourselves in a paradoxical situation. Once upon a time, the people powerful enough to control the publishing industries of their day could control the public discourse. Voices, especially those in great need, were not heard; power structures were perpetuated, and the rich stayed rich. The opening up of the publishing world should have saved us from this fate, but it hasn't. Whereas the printed word could once serve as a rallying point for dissidents, there are so many venues and voices now that any semblance of rallying is impossible. How can we organize opposition to the party line if we can't reach fellow dissidents through the din? (The answer to that rhetorical question, by the way, is "quite infrequently".)
Suggesting topics that are "worthy" of public attention would be extremely difficult. The whole idea that having one person or group dictate the terms of discussion will allow for a comprehensive treatment of problems is wrong-headed. We all have our blind spots, and sadly what lies in those blind spots is sometimes the very thing that oppresses those around us. That's why it's so important to let a multiplicity of voices be heard.
But leaving the topics or content of public discourse aside for a moment, let's turn our attention to its form. It seems that anything goes, out there on the internet. It's the Wild West of argumentative strategies, and trolls lurk under every bridge and behind every status. Some have suggested that we need to step up our critical thinking game, especially in schools, to bring some semblance of order back to this shambles. But the rules of critical thinking are not God's gift to humankind: they're rules of discourse that have a very real history and a real connection to imperfect mankind (and that was meant to be gendered: if we're going to keep women out of intellectual history, it's surely unfair to saddle them equally with its faults). The rules of critical thinking are agreed upon conventions, but they aren't agreed upon by everyone. They aren't even known to everyone. And that's where the problem lies in suggesting a rigid return to yonder days of critical yore: these rules are known well by some, tenuously by others, and not at all by others still. This gradient of familiarity and facility with the rules once again allows a problematic power structure back into the discourse, where those in the know can marginalize the voices of the uninitiated. (I imagine that any other set of rules would suffer from the same intrinsic flaw.)
So do we need no rules at all? That doesn't get us anywhere because these rules are supposed to guide rational discourse. Lawlessness here (as we presently see) has arational, if not irrational, consequences. But if we can't go back to doggedly applying the rules and we can't go forward without them, then what do we do? I suggest that it's about attitude. These rules are meant to provide a medium for us, by which we can come to an understanding with one another, so that our ideas can copulate and make beautiful babies. If we took up the rules of critical thinking in that spirit, not as the weapons by which to smite our enemy and establish our rightful truth-y-ness, but rather as the tools to enrich both of our notions of what's what, I think that we would employ them very differently. Rather than starting out assuming that each of us is right, and need only convince others of our obvious enlightenment, perhaps we should dive off the block assuming that we're both wrong, but that we're more likely to approach the truth through discussion than through alienation.
Here's my practical suggestion: learn the rules of critical thinking, and learn them thoroughly. But apply them judiciously in order to maximize understanding rather than using them to shut down dialogue. And speaking of using things judiciously: remember that every bit of noise that each of us makes on the internet contributes to the background noise in which we lose discussions of freedom and equality. Does that next cat video really need another re-share? I suppose I ought to take a dose of my own medicine and end this post, post haste.