The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Pearls O' Wisdom: Part I

After a long talking session with my dear suitemate Erin, I've decided to lay out some of my basic beliefs for discussion:

Context is everything. This seems an obvious point, but in many discussions of political, social, and economic issues today, we see instances where mistakes are made and misunderstandings created due to a lack of context provided. When we hear that the military took a city in Iraq, do only opponents of the war point out that we took the city two times previously? That kind of fact's inclusion or omission can completely change how one reads a newspaper article.

A painting seems straightforward. It sits there, and you look at it. But when you look at a painting knowing nothing about it, the most you can understand is that there are characters represented, and that they are pursuing actions. But with context providing the story behind the painting, you are able to imbue characters with personalities and explain actions through narratives. In short, you need to know where someone sits to understand why they are standing where they are.

One of the great strengths of debating and discussion, as opposed to modes of communication that rely on attacks and echo chamber speeches, is that you cannot escape giving context. A lack of context is only helpful when you are trying to best represent yourself to the uninformed; those who are likely not to know better can be manipulated by a silver-tongued speaker with a selective memory. The beauty of a give-and-take form of exchanges, though, is that the goal is to convince the opposite speaker, and any audience, that when held up to the light, your argument is better. Attack modes arrange ideas into orders of the "good" and the "bad," which is highly misleading in a world where there is no wise man on a hill holding an envelope which contains the "right" answers. Debates and arguments array themselves as presentations of two ideas, one of which is "better" than the other. Such forms infuse public exchanges with a healthy liveliness and open-mindedness that we sorely lack today.

I for one, am sick and tired of not knowing whether I can trust my own party representatives to be providing me with all the relevant information, as opposed to all the favorable information. I believe that progressive ideals will eventually triumph because they are better, in many cases, than conservative notions. But that is a case of "better." What we hear about today is "right" and "wrong," or in the 2004 Oklahoma US Senate race, "good" and "evil." The great weakness of campus liberals today (though everyone is quite guilty of this) is that they seem to think that they can win by shouting down the opposition. But shouting down those you disagree with empower them by making them more attractive to all those who are disaffected with the majority opinion and behavior. The only way to truly win and own a debate is to make a case that is stronger when held up in comparison; you can't own an issue when all cards are not laid on the table from the beginning.

This is part I in my thoughts from a discussion I had tonite with a very intelligent and lovely young lady who is, as of yesterday, the newest captain of the Columbia field hockey team.


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