Introducing our new blog series, “For and Against”
It’s been a long time since I heard a good argument. Oh, I don’t mean a quarrel or a shouting-match or a diatribe. I mean a good, old-fashioned argument—clear, well-reasoned give and take. A sort of intellectual fencing match with words instead of swords. Good arguments are out there, but they seem harder and harder to find. I wonder if argument is in danger of becoming a lost art.
Argument is what debaters used to practice. Each would let the other have his say, and respond to his ideas with fairness and respect. The better debaters would not interrupt or attack their opponent. They would refute his claims rather than impugn his character.
This is what academics and scientists are supposed to do. They follow the research wherever it leads. They present the evidence, answer the objections, draw their conclusions, and let others respond.
This is not unlike what journalists are supposed to do. They find witnesses, ask questions, take notes, record interviews, gather all the evidence they can, and present both sides (or all sides) of the issue. They let the facts speak for themselves.
The art of argument, whether in academia or scientific research or journalism, requires patient reflection, the development of nuanced ideas, and a fundamental respect for one’s interlocutor. But when every recent technological innovation favors efficiency and effortlessness, how can we be expected to slow down (let alone stop) and reflect? In the world of one-click online ordering, same-day delivery, and instant streaming, how are we encouraged to form the habit of patience? When conversations are limited to responses of 140, 160, or even 280 characters, what room is there for development or nuance? When words come to us as blips on a backlit screen, how can we be expected to remember that those words originated from a human person who is worthy of respect? It is so much easier to disrespect someone when we do not have to meet his gaze or hear his voice.
Technology per se is not the problem, nor is it the solution. We human beings are the problem. So we must be the solution. That’s why we’re starting a new series for our blog: “For and Against.” We will present on consecutive days two opposing essays on a language topic. We want to give both sides a fair hearing, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. That may seem a small thing, and so it is. But we mean to do it with great love. After all, words are for lovers.