Respect & sensitivity

December 19, 2014

The first work of Philosophy I read was Plato’s Symposium at the tender age of 14 and I fell in love with it.  Since that time many of my best memories are of sessions with friends and strangers alike where debate was open and there was no need to deal with any precious player.  I’ve seen many variations of such preciousness over the years most recently of Facebook with a defender of Malcolm Gladwell who was unable to engage with any argument and simply threw out ad hominems suggesting that opposition to the great performer (my phrase) was motivated by jealously or covert racism.   In the originating post on Facebook there was clear evidence of copying without acknowledgement by Gladwell.  To add to the debate I threw in the odd book published in part to counter the highly selective approach to cases in Blink.   Brian Appleyard, one of my favourite journalists coined a lovely phrase Gladwellism that he defines as the hard sell of a big theme supported by dubious, incoherent but dramatically presented evidence.  There was no engagement with this, or with the book reference, instead the approach to debate was to attempt to damn opposition by personal attack, albeit disguised in overly qualified land indirect language.

Now that case meant I started to reflect on some of the behaviours that prevent debate, the beauty of the symposium and came up with the following list:

  1. Anyone refusing to engage with an argument made by another player, preferring to slip sideways into innuendo (the example above).
  2. A claim by a player that they have special expertise in a field and therefore people from other fields should not dare to express an opinion.  For example claiming that a degree in English literature should privilege their position in a discussion about a book.
  3. Taking insult if their arguments are attacked, something that is very different from attacking the person.
  4. Trying to pretend that all views are equally valid, something that third parties are too prone to when they get involved.
  5. Criticising both parties in an argument where one is abusing the person and the other is dealing with facts of evidence, the second has value the first is a nonsense, unless (and this is a partial qualification) it is a legitimate fact based accusation of hypocrisy.
  6. Entering into a controversial subject but then taking offence if your ideas are challenged.
  7. Claiming that something being popular makes it right, simply arguing that others like X rather than dealing with the subject directly (we also had this one in the Facebook exchange).

Now I can probably come up with some more, but that is enough to make the point.  Maturity and respect does not require one to shy away from criticism.  Sensitive souls should probably be allowed the right to withdraw when they realise that a platitude is going to be challenged, but they have no right to complain about the challenge.

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