Thursday, May 05, 2011

Master Debating

When I was taking a seaman's safety training course, an instructor noted that Filipino crew members who fail to make a career at sea are some times referred to as 'lawyers' in a disparaging sense.

On a tight ship, he said, there is hardly any room given for crew members to debate orders given to them. If they do choose to debate orders given to them by their superior and decide to countermand them, the usual recourse for the superior is to ask the crew member to leave the ship.

There is no democracy on a ship, he said, and orders emanating from the Captain down to the lowest crew member must be carried out.

The thing is, some Filipinos (and the instructor singled out Manilenyos or people from Manila), are those who often turn out to be 'lawyers'. Manilenyos, unlike their brethren in Ilokos, Visayas, and Mindanao, are quite argumentative and there are many cases when they argue based on either lack of information or wrong information.

Of course, being a Manilenyo myself, I argued that he was completely wrong about his stereo-typing.

In any case, I love hearing and reading good arguments for or against any position I encounter. Especially when I find these arguments in a formal debate.

Now, in the world of Social Media, debates do occur and while some actually become interesting to the point that those reading the threads in the online discussion become better informed.

However, there are cases where debates on very worthy topics turn into flame-wars and some times people come away from these "battles" diminished in many ways.

The problem, some times, is that these "debates" are some times started for no reason other than to show one's appraisal of his or her intellectual prowess and verbosity.

The more useful and noble intent, of course, would be to arrive upon a common view or decision on the subject of the debate.

Being an argumentative lot, I think it would benefit a lot of Filipinos if they learned about how to debate or at least, engage in a critical discussion.

Anyway, here are a couple of links leads to articles on Debates: -- Which presents an aggregated definition of the word debate and provides references to source documents on the web. -- Catalogs various debating formats. -- Contains the "Eight Rules for Logical and Respectful Discussion" -- Which is a pretty good summary of desired debate qualities and some of the pitfalls that plague debates.

And just in case you're too damned lazy to actually click the link, here is an excerpt from one of the articles you'll find above:

Eight Principles for Logical and Respectful Discussion

The key to meaningful debate is to respect others as you wish to be respected. You respect others by acting civilly and arguing reasonably. You cause others to respect you by maintaining civility, decorum and politeness in presenting your arguments. Here are eight principles that allow you to do both:

PRINCIPLE ONE: Understand the `classical' view of tolerance.

The classical view of tolerance teaches that while we may strongly disagree with opposing opinions, we must treat the person behind those opinions with respect.
DO disagree, even strongly, with other people, and say so!
DO demolish opposing arguments and viewpoints.
DO NOT attempt to demolish opposing "people."

PRINCIPLE TWO: "No `ad hominem' attacks, you moron!"

Nothing turns a debate into a brawl more quickly than attacking those making the arguments rather than refuting the arguments themselves. Remember that the beliefs, character, circumstances, or political ideology of the person has nothing to do with the validity of the position they hold.
DO NOT stoop to name-calling (moron, idiot, etc.)
DO NOT imply negative monikers onto people simply because they disagree.

PRINCIPLE THREE: Shun Obscenity & Prohibit Profanity

The use of inappropriate language and shocking statements is a sure sign that the author lacks the ability to argue their position in a calm and reasonable manner. Respectable debate does not allow this disdain for others.
DO NOT be upset when inappropriate language results in post deletion.
DO NOT be upset when multiple offences result in a ban.

PRINCIPLE FOUR: He who asserts must prove.

This is one of the most critical aspects of proper debate and requires that you carefully guard yourself from making groundless statements. Logic or evidence must support every proposition you make.

Logic includes everything from complex arguments to cause-and-effect. Evidence can take the form of examples, statistics, and quotations from authorities in the field. Supported arguments stand until refuted. Unsupported arguments do not deserve a response and might as well not exist.
DO confirm other people's points without provided additional support.
DO NOT make additional arguments or publicize your disagreement with someone else's position without providing adequate support.

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Respond to the argument, not to the spelling.

There is no surer sign of inadequacy on the part of a debater than when he or she takes issue with some small "error" on the part of their opponent while ignoring the main points their adversary has made.

If you are unable to refute your opponent's position, do not insult his or her spelling, grammar, or insignificant deviations from fact. Your opponent is most likely correct and their small error has nothing to do with the overall truth of the proposition they defend. Do not make a fool of yourself by being a sore loser.
DO point out significant errors that effect the validity of a claim.
DO NOT point out errors to embarrass your opponent.

PRINCIPLE SIX: Debating When Less Is More.

A common tactic adopted by inexperienced debaters is to ask a long series of questions that place an enormous burden on their opposition, without actually making any particular point. Such an approach is unfair to your opponent and is not argumentation. No one can respond to a "question avalanche" in the confines of a post and the tactic will create animosity.

The same is true of those who present far too many arguments at one time in hopes of "burying" their opponent under supposed "empirical" weight. Both of these abuses inhibit true debate.

Respect yourself and your opponents at all times by using moderation in your argumentation and questioning.
DO ask pertinent and probing questions about your opponent's position.
DO make powerful and relevant arguments against your opponent's position.
DO NOT ask loaded questions.
DO NOT expect answers for loaded questions.
DO NOT write 5 page tomes.
DO NOT expect answers to your 5 page tome.

PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Do your own research.

Remember that your opponents are busy people who are taking time out of their day to discuss relevant issues with you. Do not place an excessive burden on them by requiring them to go "off-site" to read lengthy articles or study ancient philosophers, scientists, etc. If Aristotle makes "your" point then "you" should be able to make the argument. Your opponent certainly will not (and should not) have to make it for you.
DO provide links to outside sources for your opponent's consideration.
DO support your arguments with outside resources. Summarize what the resource says. Otherwise, your opponents will consider your argument unsupported.
DO NOT expect your opponent to read outside sources unless you can make them want to.

PRINCIPLE EIGHT: The fallacy of the majority.

When the majority of participants in a discussion hold your position, it is common to start acting as if the last seven principles no longer apply. You feel you can destroy the dissenter, along with his or her position, since you have so many like-minded peers.

However, the majority has no more right to silence the opinion of a minority through disrespectful, improper argument than the minority would has to engage in the same tactics.

Victory by means of respectful, logical argument is true victory. Victory by any other means is no victory at all.
DO destroy dissenting opinions using respectful, logical argument.
DO NOT silence dissenting opinions by “swarming” or "piranha attacks."

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