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Displaying posts with tag Debate.Reset Filter
Life and Liberty
Public post

The Hollowed-Out West

[An article from Free Life]
"The illusion […] will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move all the tables and chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre."
                              - Frank Zappa

Writers and commenters on this blog have not been too enamoured with the recent coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla. A fair summary of views is that the ceremony served as little more than a public pretence, offering only the veneer of a supposedly continuous lineage of values, rights and traditions that have persisted in England for many centuries. Behind the façade we see only, in Alan Bickley’s words, “the national rot [...] plainly on display”.
Through attempting to glean some of the ceremony’s original gravitas, one could, at least, sense the value in forcing the throne’s new incumbent to endure a multiple hour ritual in front of the altar.
The weight and difficulty of wearing St Edward’s Crown – traditionally regarded as a holy relic – is as much symbolic as it is physical. To see the king waddle like a toddler while attempting to balance his regalia demonstrates that to rule is as much a burden as it is a privilege. Moreover, it is a burden bestowed on the king not in some drab government building as the result of a committee vote, but by an Archbishop in a glorious church.
Little of this applies today. Not only is the awesome responsibility of power easily forgotten when secular, political office is subject to the modern day game of democratic musical chairs; it is an awesomeness that no longer applies very much to the king, except by way of constitutional fiction.
As such, this twenty-first century, family-friendly coronation felt much to me like a slightly-too-long royal wedding rather than a grand transition into a new era. Numb and inert is how best to describe my main reaction. I had pretty much forgotten the whole thing by the evening.
However, this feeling contrasted very much with the wall-to-wall news coverage and the outpourings of official adulation for the new royal rulers. Bickley may well be right in assessing the crowds to have been smaller than those which turned out for the 1953 coronation. But large, enthusiastic crowds were willing to brave that day’s unpleasant weather nonetheless.
One of the rules of thumb I employ when I have time to sift through the cesspool of the mainstream media’s output is to ask two questions:
  • “What are they trying to make me think?”
  • “Why would they want me to think that?”

So with regards to the coronation, we could ask: why is it so important to them that we celebrate this event for an institution that hardly seems fitting for a modern, progressive state to which ours supposedly aspires? What do they have to gain from this?
It is this theme – of a hollowed out institution that we are, nevertheless, encouraged to celebrate – that I wish to take forward in this essay.
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Life and Liberty
Public post

Winning Debates - A Simple Tactic

As much as I would like to be, I am not an especially keen debater, either face-to-face or online. In responding to critical comments made by another person, I find it very difficult to suppress the urge to blast them with everything I think I know, drowning them in a flood of (probably quite irrelevant) information that leaves neither of us with much time to draw a breath.
The futility of such an approach should be obvious. Against opponents in possession of convictions as firm as one's own, you are only likely to encourage an equal and opposite deluge in return, the conversation spiralling downwards into ever deeper levels of minutiae that leave the original topic forgotten. At some point, it might even descend into a battle of reputations, with each side eager to outdo the other for the sole purpose of saving face and pride, with no actual truth ever being realised at all.
On the other hand, when engaging with those who have not considered the matter in question in much detail - having made, instead, a casual or emotional remark perhaps - overwhelming them is likely to turn them off rather than enlighten them. Indeed, one particular risk is to leave that other person feeling somehow unworthy or stupid, repelling him from any future engagement with such questions, even if he concedes his immediate point.
Indeed, it is important not to underestimate the importance of this latter type of person, who is likely to be, by far, the most numerous. Keen thinkers and ideological leaders are always a bare minority of the population, although it is their ideas that shape those of majority. To survive, any regime depends on, at the very least, its mere acceptance by the majority of the population; it does not require their overwhelming support, helpful as that may be. It is only able to achieve this passive acceptance if it has, for the most part, the upper hand in convincing them that it is on the right side of the ideological battle. It is, therefore, these people, the masses, who will be the ultimate deciding factor in any outcome between individualism and statism, or between liberty and tyranny, not the intellectual bodyguard directly. The road to liberty will not be paved with the skulls of our ideological enemies, but will be trodden by the boots of the masses. If we are to engage with these casual folk, our task is to convince them that our way of thinking is the correct one. It is not to assault them in a campaign of mental warfare as if they are all devoted Marxists and ultra-statists.
Nevertheless there is a sensible method of argument that is likely to prove more effective than tit-for-tat retorts with any type of person. It is, in fact, not to argue at all but to ask questions of what the other person has stated. Why might this prove to be a more fruitful path towards the truth?
First, questioning your opponent requires him to speak first. He therefore sets the scope of the discussion as everything you ask in each question must, in some way, relate to his previous statement. As a result, he feels in control of the debate.
Second, you are permitting him to demonstrate what he knows in a way which wouldn’t be possible if you simply threw arguments at him to challenge. You are therefore according him more respect as a contributor to the debate than you would be if you were simply shouting back at him.
Third, questions require him to concentrate on justifying his position rather than on challenging yours. As each pair of exchanges is based on what he says then the crucial elements of truth are introduced by him as he answers your questions. His argument must therefore be justified in terms that he sets rather than you; then, if he is truly wrong, there will come a point when his argument leads to an absurdity or an incorrect conclusion.
Finally, if he is wrong then it will be by his own demonstration and realisation; it will make him feel as if he has worked out the "correct" position himself. At the very least he might go away with food for thought. As an added bonus, however, if you happen to be wrong about something whereas he is right (or, at least, if he raises a point you had not considered), then you have been afforded an opportunity to reconsider your own ideas.
So, for instance, a person says to you something like "the government should ensure a higher minimum wage for low paid workers". Instead of firing a volley of arguments about how the minimum wage leads to unemployment, is an unjustifiable interference in self-ownership and contract, ad nauseam, simply ask him "How will this make workers better off?" Thinking you might be a little stupid, he might then respond with "Because they will get more money!" To which you can then add the question: "But I don't understand – doesn't that mean that the employer will have to have more money too? How does he get it?" And what might unravel is not only the whole body of truth concerning the economic effects of minimum wage laws but – more importantly – how leaving the wage rate to the free market and free exchange is, in fact, the best deal that employees will get.
It is true, of course, that this tactic might take a long time to reach a conclusion. It might also take place in stages and not in one go. In fact, it may not reach a conclusion at all if the other person decides to abandon the debate. Sometimes, however, the best that you can do is to lead the horse to water. At least you've tried your best in according him the air to express and justify his opinions. If this does not cause him to realise the truth then he will at least walk away with his pride intact – hopefully in a state that makes him more receptive in a future debate.
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