‘The things that can destroy us,” said Gandhi, “are politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.”
Over the last year I have attended many Duncan town meetings. These gatherings dealt with numerous subjects from the routine and mundane to some arguments that inspired serious and passionate debate. In these proceedings I began to notice a style of argument which would disgrace a nursery.
The speakers, both for and against a topic, wandered about like wet hens, leaving the seeds for the destruction of their positions, using preposterous forms of illogic which were both embarrassing and irresistible. This is not only a rural phenomenon but can be witnessed in the halls of Congress, in the “greatest debate club in the world.” I am reminded of the 1890s Speaker of the House Thomas Reed’s comment about a fellow politician: “He never opens his mouth without subtracting from the sum of human intelligence.”
I believe this recline into the arms of what Lincoln would call “counterfeit logic” is the direct result of a lack of training in our education system in making disciplined arguments.
Will Rogers once said, “Never kick a cow pie on a hot day.” I recall in my high school debate class the maxim that any argument that begins with a falsehood deletes the validity of the entire argument that follows. The charisma of absolute certainty is a snare that entraps the child that is latent in us all.
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once remarked, “There is a blunt force about truth which, in the subjective form of its prehension, is akin to cleanliness… Falsehood is corrosive.”
Uninformed opinions are a dime a dozen. A good argument is based on intelligent analysis, not mere unthinking reaction. Don’t fall into the common temptation to use any and every argument you can think of, like an unctuous shopper in a bazaar, tempted by every shiny bauble.
Nothing will make me count the silverware and check to see if I still have my wallet like speakers who cherry-pick from the Constitution, the sayings of the Founding Fathers or, for that matter, the Bible. It is difficult but necessary to break the emotional tie between yourself and events. Never mind your so-called gut instinct. In order to make a valid, clear and intelligent argument, you must be able to look at the flip side of your own position. This demands empathy and respect, without which we are nothing more than dogs fighting over bones, children fighting over toys.
It is all reminiscent of the exchange among Alice, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare tells Alice.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied. “At least, I mean what I say. That’s the same thing, you know.”
The Hatter chimes in, “Not the same thing a bit! Why you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same as ‘I eat what I see.’”
J.C. Jarvis lives in Duncan.