Wednesday, January 14, 2015

They're Losing

When we are taught to debate at school we are given a side of the argument. The objective is to win. I know there are many styles of debating, but I it would be interesting to see if there was one that could incorporate philosopher Daniel Dennett's four steps to arguing intelligently. The style I was used to was 3 speakers from the opposition (Opp) and three from the proposition (Pro). The order was - Pro 1, Opp 2, Pro 2, Opp 2, Opp 3, Pro 3. There was then a team that won the debate. It would be interesting to see if you could design competitive debates around finding agreement. I still struggle with party politics now where policies and ideas almost by definition have to create differences between the two options. What someone 'believes' is then decided by the party rather than the individual. Most supporters become members for life. They often define themselves in opposition to half their countrymen.

What if the role of the 2nd speaker was to articulate what the opposition said. The third speaker could then point out the stronger points in their argument, and ask some questions. The final speakers could then speak with the ability to change their view, and show the ability to incorporate new information after their ideas had been challenged. I am not suggesting a world where no competition exists and everyone is handed participation certificates, but it would be good if we practiced getting to really understand where alternate beliefs come from.

The counter argument is that some alternate beliefs are stupid and harmful. Free Speech doesn't mean we should give everyone the platform to speak. This is one of the challenges of public broadcasters being expected to maintain neutrality and giving equal time to various views independent of their merit. Perhaps the reason it is difficult is a reason Public Broadcasters shouldn't exist. With the spreading of ideas through Social Media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs etc.) becoming near free, we decide what to spread and what to block (for ourselves). We don't have to feed trolls. Perhaps the ease of spreading ideas means an end to party politics is near? We can all be on the same side. If we were able to take more regular votes nominating representatives for specific issues, perhaps we wouldn't have to give blanket power to individuals for a bunch of issues. The necessity for parties could make way for individual representatives? The individuals would be freer to seek to find agreement than to have to find areas to make their party unique.

While the year seems to have started quite violently, I think it is worth taking a step back. Space permits us to see the bigger picture and look for consistency in our ideas. We can also get perspective. Steven Pinker makes the strong case that we live in far more peaceful times than ever before in 'The Better Angels of Our Nature'. While we should carry on trying to make things better, we should also realise just how lucky we are. The most dangerous things we face at the moment are poverty, cars and what we put in our mouths. While an end to poverty is almost a choice, Google et al. try work on driverless cars and we can stop stuffing our faces with fat and sugar, we are also slowly winning the war against the much less potent but much more noisy forces. The reason they are terrorists is because they are losing.

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