Orgasmic Vancouver: Critique of Debate    
 Critique of Debate9 comments
1 Jun 2004 @ 22:35, by Robert Oveson

I started this article on June 1st and it has been sitting in my pending file. I also had it half written before my computer crashed and I lost everything except the excerpt from below. There is a very good article here that relates to about half a dozen different subjects that are occurring in this blog community right now. That article is going to take a few more days to go from head to keyboard and I want to move on so I'm going to restrict this to an excerpt, an exhibit A, and produce a "publishable" article later.

"You should know and be sure that debates which are designed for the purpose of overcoming and silencing an opponent as well as for displaying one’s excellence and honour, bragging before men, boasting, and being contradictory, or for the sake of winning popular favour, are the source of all traits which are blameworthy....

...Its relation to the secret sins of pride, conceit, jealousy, envy, self-justification, love of power, and others is like the relation of drinking to the sins of the flesh such as fornication, foul play, and murder. Just as the person who has been given the opportunity to choose between drinking and the other sins, deemed the former harmless and took to it only to be led by his drunkenness into committing all the other sins, so is he who succumbs to the lures of overcoming and silencing opponents in debate, and falls victim to the urge for power and boasting; these things have led him to conceal all wickedness in his bosom and stirred in him all blameworthy traits. Proofs of the blameworthiness of all these will be discussed in the Quarter on the Destructive Matters in Life although we shall now allude to the major evils which are enkindled by debate. Of these we may enumerate the following.

One is envy....The debater persists in envy because at times he overcomes his adversary and other times he himself is overcome; at times his words are praised and at other times those of his opponent are applauded; and as long as there remains in all the world one known among men for his versatile knowledge and regarded by them more learned than the debater and endowed with keener insight, the debater will inevitably envy him and wish that the favours and admiration which that man enjoys might accrue to him instead.

Envy is a consuming fire; its victim is subject to torment in this world. ...For this reason ibn-‘Abbas said, “Take knowledge wherever ye may find it, but accept not the opinion of one jurisprudent concerning another because they are as jealous of one another as the bulls in the cattle-yard.”

Another is pride and haughtiness. The debater persists in exalting himself above his equals and peers and in claiming for himself a station higher than his worth to the extent that he and his colleagues fight over their seats in assembly halls and boast about the degree of their elevation or lowliness as well as their proximity to, or remoteness from the central seat. They would fight as to who should lead the way in narrow streets. Often the foolish, deceitful, and insolent among them justify themselves on the ground that they are thereby maintaining the dignity of knowledge because the believers has been charged not to object himself. They thus consider humility, abasement, and regard pride, dignity. In other words they have altered the signification of these terms for the confusion of people as they have altered the signification of other terms such as wisdom, knowledge and the like.

Another is rancour [bitter, lasting hatred or malignant spite] from which a debater is hardly ever free. ...Yet we do not know of a debater who, is capable of entertaining no rancour against anyone who would nod his head in approval of the words of his adversary, or who when the latter pauses in the midst of a sentence, would politely wait for him. On the contrary he would, whenever he is confronted with such a situation, entertain and foster rancour in his heart. He may attempt to restrain himself hoping thereby to disguise his feelings; but, in most cases, he fails as his feelings invariably reveal themselves. How can he refrain from rancour when it is inconceivable that all the audience should unite in favouring his argument and approve all his conclusions and deductions? Furthermore should his opponent show the least sign of inconsideration about what he was saying, he would entertain for him in his heart a hatred that would last throughout his life.

Another is backbiting which was likened by Allah to the eating of carrion.. The debater persists in “eating carrion” and is continually referring to the words of his opponent and traducing him. Because he endeavours to be right in what he says about his opponent, he inevitably cites only what shows the weaknesses of his opponent’s argument and the flaws in his excellences. Of such is traducing and backbiting, while lying is sheer calumny.

The debater, moreover, cannot keep his tongue from attacking the honour of anyone who turns away from him and listens to his opponent. He would even ascribe to him ignorance, foolishness, lack of understanding, and stupidity.

Another is self-justification. ... A certain wise man was once asked, “What truth is reprehensible?” He replied, “A man’s praising himself [even though it be justified].” A debater is never free from praising himself and boasting of his power, triumph, and excellence over his peers. In the course of a debate he would repeatedly say, “I am fully aware of all such things,” and “I am versatile in science, of independent judgment on question of law, and well-versed in the knowledge of tradition [tradition= traditions of the Prophet],”and many other assertions besides with which he would sing his own praise, sometimes out of sheer arrogance and at other times out of the need to render his words convincing. It is also well-known that arrogance and self-praise are by law and reason condemned.

Another is spying and prying into the private affairs of men.... The debater always seeks to uncover the errors of his peers and continually pries into the private affairs of his opponents. He would, when informed of the arrival in town of another debater, seek someone who could reveal the inside story of the man and would by means of a questionnaire attempt to bare his vices in order to expose and disgrace him whenever the need should arise. He even would inquire about the affairs of his early life and blemishes of his body in the hope of discovering some defect or disfigurement such as scalp pustule and the like. Should he fear defeat at the hands of his opponent, he would, in the course of the debate, allude to these blemishes, especially if his opponent should remain firm and stand his ground, and would not refrain from being outspoken if he were given to insolence and scorn. Both of these practices are regarded as clever ways of repelling the attacks of an opponent, as should be seen by the accounts of the debates of some of the illustrious and celebrated debaters.

Another is to rejoice at the injury of others and feel depressed when they are glad. Anyone who does not desire for his brother Muslim what he desires for himself is far removed from the way of believers. Thus he who prides himself by parading his excellence is inevitably pleased at the injury of his peers and equals who vie with him for glory. The hatred which exists between them is like that which exists between [two girls fighting over a guy]. Just as the one would tremble and turn pale at the sight of [the other] so would a debater at the sight of another: his colour would change and his mind become perplexed as though he had seen a mighty devil or a hungry lion. How unlike the companionship and friendliness which used to exist between the learned men of religion whenever they met is this, and how unlike the brotherhood, the co-operation, and the mutual sharing which were characteristic of them under fair and adverse conditions alike! Thus al-Shafi‘i said, “Among the virtuous and wise, knowledge is like a bond of blood relationship.” I cannot, therefore, understand how some men, among whom knowledge has engendered a deep-rooted enmity, have followed his rite. Or can you ever imagine any spirit of friendliness prevailing among them when they are concerned with achieving triumph and boasting of it? How unlikely! It is bad enough that such an evil fastens on you the traits of the deceitful and robs you of those of the believers and devout.

Another is deception, the evidence of whose blameworthiness is well known and need not be enumerated. Debaters are compelled to deception because when they meet their opponents, friends, or followers, they find it necessary to endear themselves to them by saying nice things which they do not mean, by feigning to have been anxious to meet them, and by pretending to be impressed by their station and position, while everyone present as well as the speakers and those to whom they have spoken to, know that the whole thing is untrue, false, fraudulent, and wicked. They profess their love with their tongues while their hearts seethe with hate.

Another is to resist truth and detest it and to persist in disputing it so much so that the most hateful thing to a debater is to see the truth revealed by his opponent; no matter what it may be, he would do his best to refute and deny it and would exert his utmost in deception, trickery and fraud in order to disprove his adversary until contention becomes in him a second nature. He is thus unable to hear anything without immediately expressing his objection to it. ...

Another is hypocrisy and flattering people in an effort to win their favour and mislead them. Hypocrisy is that virulent disease which, as will be discussed in the Book on Hypocrisy, leads to the gravest of the major sins. The debater wants nothing but to put himself forward before people, and to gain their approval and praise.

These ten traits are among the greatest secret sins. Others, who lack restraint may engage in controversies leading to the exchange of blows, kicking, boxing, tearing garments, plucking beards, cursing parents, denouncing teachers, and outright slander. Such people, however, are not considered respectable human beings. The prominent and sober among them do not go beyond the preceding ten traits. One may be free of this or that trait with regard to his inferiors or superiors, whatever the case may be, or with regards to people outside his community or his sphere of work. Yet in his attitude towards his peers, who are equal to him in position, the debater is guilty of all these traits. Each of these ten traits may give rise to ten other vices which we shall neither discuss nor explain at the present time. They include snobbishness, anger, hatred, greed, the desire to seek money and power in order to attain triumph, boasting, gaiety, arrogance, exalting the wealthy and those in authority as well as frequenting their places and partaking of their unlawful riches, parading with horses, state-coaches, and outlawed garments, showing contempt to people by being vain and ostentatious, meddling in the affairs of others, talkativeness, the disappearance of awe, fear, and mercy from the heart, absent-mindedness to an extent that [one] would no longer be aware of what he

These traits are common to all debaters although they have them in varying degrees each according to his own station. But everyone, even the most religious and the wisest among them, is subject to several of them. Everyone, too, hopes to conceal them and, by self-mortification, to free himself there from.

You should, moreover, know that these vices characterize those employed in admonition and warning if their purpose is to be recognized and establish for themselves prestige, or to obtain wealth and position. They also characterize those who are working in [their field] only in hope of securing a position or to excel their peers. ...

The seeker after knowledge is like him who seeks power in this world: if he does not succeed in amassing a fortune he cannot hope to be spared the humiliation of poverty. On the contrary, he will continue to live in the midst of the worst conditions. To say that in encouraging debate lies an advantage, namely, that of inducing people to seek knowledge since without ambition for power and the rivalry which it provokes all branches of knowledge would have vanished, is true in one respect but otherwise useless. Thus had it not been for their expectation of playing [games] the school would not have been attractive to the boys. But this does not mean that the reasons for the school’s popularity are praiseworthy. Similarly in the case of ambition for power as the reason for the preservation of knowledge: it does not mean that the ambitious one is [praiseworthy].

These criticisms of debate appear to me to be the issues that our current definitions of Dialogue have attempted to resolve, (as outlined in various places around this blog community and to be brought into the discussions in a later post)

These are not new ideas, and in fact they are close to a thousand years old. They come from The Revival of the Religious Sciences written by Al-Ghazli which continues to be the second most read Islamic Holy Book. The above excerpt is from the last half of Book 1, Part 4

This is only part of a larger point that I would like to make and hopefully it won't take me that long to get it together. Thank you for your patience.

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14 Jun 2004 @ 02:21 by ov : Update explanation
Not sure why the date doesn't update to reflect the published date. I started this two weeks ago, and even had half the article written when my computer crashed and lost it all except for the excerpted part. So the complete article is still to follow, and it includes not only a description of half a dozen related issues but also a process for stepping outside of Western Literacy, using models from business communications and child care psychology. This also includes looking at root causes from two levels removed to address issues of modern politics and conflict, and in this sense is the start of a very optimistic inquiry even though it may at first look negative.  

14 Jun 2004 @ 04:58 by ashanti : Interesting!
All those impulses are ego-based. I look forward to your further update, it looks very useful. It is hard at times not to fall into ego-traps when posting/commenting to Blogs, so this could be a very useful tool in self-evaluation.  

14 Jun 2004 @ 05:21 by swanny : Premise
Perhaps there is a premise in Western
culture of "The Competition" vs
The perhaps more "Cooperativeness"
of say Indian or Japanese cultures...
Ego is less of an issue in Japanese culture
more so perhaps in Indian.....
although I suppose from this "distance" the
grass is always greener ......
I suppose the interesting thing is that
such things occur in cycles....
It is interesting to reflect on the flow
of such things but I think what I hear you
saying is that a debate philosphopy or
ideology is counterproductive to the society
as a whloe as opposed
to say the "constructive" nature of dialogue.


14 Jun 2004 @ 10:38 by jmarc : "I" think
that ego brings some positives to the table in debates. Maybe more diverse ways of looking at a problem, for one..  

14 Jun 2004 @ 11:38 by ov : Intent
Thanks for the comments. I'm thinking of building this up in layers so if I don't respond directly here I will at some point but I am taking all this into consideration. I'm going to give this a project rather than article list to maybe help keep it together.

One of the subtopics which I plan to write in the projects file is about intent. I've seen this subject of intent popping up in my life all over, the attraction of syncronicity principle at work. Also could be because I've noticed that this is a fundamental principle of the World Mind Society. So I've been thinking that the points raised by Al-Ghazli are all about intent. Further on intent is the hypothesis that the dysfunctional core of our enlightened rationality, the Voltaire's Bastards problem outlined by John Raulston Saul, is the exclusion of intent; objectivity, empericism, no ad-hominums etc are part of that defense mechanism.

Which in turn raises the very interesting question of why has there never been a PhD on the defense mechanisms of the academy?

But Ego definitely does play a part in this.  

14 Jun 2004 @ 12:37 by vaxen : That ego...
which can be construed as ego really is not ego. Remember the Xristos when he is made to say: "Ego Eimi Kai Alpha Kai To Omega." The concept 'ego' in the early Greek language, as well as today, is not the same as the transliterated bugaboo of the so called 'western' phileo grunts. No more crashes please! We await the rest ov...thanks.  

14 Jun 2004 @ 23:06 by mre : collective nouns
Here's a new one: an admonition of clerics! (;-)

> So the complete article is still to follow, and it includes not only
> a description of half a dozen related issues but also a process for stepping
> outside of Western Literacy, using models from business communications and
> child care psychology. This also includes looking at root causes from two
> levels removed to address issues of modern politics and conflict, and in this
> sense is the start of a very optimistic inquiry even though it may at first
> look negative.

that's very rich!  

15 Jun 2004 @ 01:16 by ov : Thanks For Comments
Thank you all for the comments. Yes, it is a very big project and highly abstract, but it gives a direction with which to start and a means of hopefully staying out of the wheel spinning potholes along the way by providing a common big picture view. It might take awhile to just put together the thesis proposal; I don't even know what that involves but there are few PhDs that have gone through the ordeal and should be able to give some advice. Then doing the research is an even bigger step and will take longer yet. Writing it all up could take even longer. And finally we get to the open letter defense which is where most debates start without the benifit of all this foundation prep work. However it seems that business people have less trouble examining their business structure than academics do examining the ideology of western thought; and we all have no problem with treating corporations as citizens with rights; and we don't seem to have much trouble pontificating on what is happening with some poor kid's screwed up brain. So it isn't really that much of a stretch to think of our western culture as a dysfunctional adolescent.

I have a bit of hope for this. I've spent some time 'pulsing' it through the brain to see if it is internally cohesive and I think it does integrate. If it doesn't then this will be revealed in the defense and then we take what we learned and 'pulse' it through again. It is going to take a lot more than a barrage of cheap shots to bring this down by the time I'm finished with it. But it isn't just me, it is all the people that I interact with in the process that gives that serendipitious edge. Since I'm not actually going for the university degree it isn't really cheating if I get a little help along the way, and I suspect when this starts to take form there will be plenty of sparring partners.

Whatever, it's better than having the brain alpha massaged by the tv.


13 Jul 2004 @ 01:18 by ov : Critique of Debate
This was the project overview that was in the sidebar and transferred to here for future reference.

The current project being assembled is a proposal for a thesis that the core dysfunction of western rationality is the exclusion of intent, and the denial of the very concept itself. Establishing this foundation and then preceding to a method of analysis using learning organization models from business communication, and recent development in child care psychology will then be applied to issues of multi-cultural conflict. Though I don't expect any university would ever grant a PhD on this subject I feel the need to write a thesis that would be worthy, and so intend to write an open letter to be defended against all comers. The first step is the brief outline and to establish what would be required to meet academic muster.  

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