We all argue. In recent years, arguing has become so easy to facilitate that we can comfortably argue with people from just about every section and sub-section of society about practically any topic when there is some contention (and I think there are, sadly, few if any topics that are not contentious), from the comfort of our homes without the need to show our faces, which saves us from both the stress of showing emotion and the risk of getting punched. As a species, I think we have never been so fortunate, for how much of our legal system was established through the use of brute force? That may be a question for another day, but for the sake of this article I would like to propose that the use of force by armies, security agencies (such as the police) and by the powerful men hidden in the shadows of society, such as mob bosses, has lead to the common use of the phrase ‘might is right’. I do not believe might is right, any more, and thankfully the internet is helping us to overcome this sorry state of affairs.
Sadly, our ability to argue rationally seems to be atrophying. As the nature of the field shifts, gone are the days when logic and reason won a debate; tdoay, agrumnets cenrte aournd ertinley flacie isuses, lkie selplnig; that tricky word was ‘facile’, which means ‘ignoring the complexities of the issue’ (Google). We would rather caste aspersions on the intellect of our opponent: ‘he can not spell, therefore he can not be intelligent’. Let it be known, there is no such thing as an intelligent dyslexic person, or an intelligent person who just bought a new keyboard and isn’t entirely aware of exactly where all the keys are arranged, just yet. Let it be known, only stupid people fail to entirely and perfectly spell-check their work. I guess, once upon a time, we used our fists when our reason failed, nowadays we take the piss out of spelling.
Some people will already be switching off to this article; obviously, if you want to be taken seriously you work hard to make sure you can be understood and, when writing, perfect spelling and grammar are essential for this. It does not matter if the point being made is relevant to the debate, fact based, empirical, logical, well-thought out and well expressed if, in your haste, you type ‘their’ when you mean ‘there’. You are clearly a troll and a idiot and your point is redundant, despite all its other potential merits.
This seems, to me, rather hypocritical (though as you will soon learn, it is not why I believe it is wrong to put people down for misspelling). It is very easy to find instances people who insult others for their grammar/spelling when arguing, but who use ‘text speak’ or abbreviations in their messages to their friends. ‘Wuld u like 2 cum meet me?’ rarely elicits the response ‘fuck off, you troll’. However, ‘I think their is inequality in our system’ is an incredibly dangerous opinion to hold if you want to avoid being ‘flamed’.
This leads me to the main point of this article, a question I am asking and attempting to answer: ‘Does the perception of hypocrisy have any relevance in a reasoned debate?’
I would like to propose that it does not. I do not believe that being hypocritical, or being seen to be being hypocritical, in itself, makes you wrong in a debate.
Let me begin by using as an example the catalyst that resulted in my beginning this article: the ongoing eviction of Yorkley Court Community Farm (https://yorkleycourt.wordpress.com/). This is an issue worth investigating further but to save you time and effort now, and to keep you locked in (I hope), I will offer this brief explanation of events:
So, in a nutshell, three years ago a group of squatters took over a derelict farm and started an eco-community there. At the time, no one was using the land for anything else and there was contention regarding who legally owned it; essentially, the heirs had been lost and so there was no one to ask about it. It could have been left to rot, but instead it was transformed into a fully functioning, low-impact community. Yorkley Court never claimed to be entirely self-sufficient, which takes a lot of time and requires freedom from the perpetual risk of eviction, which they have not had for the last year or so of their occupation, but they have openly worked towards sustainability. They are, generally, popular within the surrounding communities; I attended the last eviction attempt (which failed after being found to have been illegal by the courts) and a number of local residents turned out to support that resistance, as they are now doing for the current resistance. The current resistance has come about after local millionaire Brian Bennett , the man who tried to illegally evict Yorkley Court last year by hiring a private security company to forcibly remove the squatters, has apparently been able to buy the land legally, despite the fact that the legal ownership of the land is (was) still up for contention:
‘The farm has been subject to a long running dispute, due to the fact that the title deeds have been lost, and solicitors on the case failed to identify any descendants of the owners’ (http://www.theforestreview.co.uk/News.cfm?id=25497&headline=Yorkley%20Court%20farmers%20face%20ownership%20hearing)
Now, I would argue that land ownership, in the United Kingdom especially, can be summarised very simply. So simply in fact, a children’s show could do it:
So, once upon a time, through use of force, some human beings fortified tracts of land and made them their own. Over time, we forgot this but ‘the law’ ensured we remembered who owned the land. Nowadays, we accept that the descendants of brutal warmongers own the majority of land in the United Kingdom, but we defend their right to own such land as it is the ‘law’.
Now, we have a situation where the law has failed and the legal owners of a piece of land are up for dispute. We have two parties; in the blue corner we find a bunch of crusty, work-shy hippies; in the red corner we find a self-centred fat-cat trying to make more money than he can possibly spend in a single lifetime. Or, to put it another way, we find two very different groups of human beings, either both have the right to claim ownership of the land or neither of them do; or maybe it’s a quasi-paradoxical mix of the two.
If the Yorkley Court community succeeds in stealing the land by force, they are potentially no better than the ancestors of the rich land owners that they claim to oppose so strongly. If the millionaire succeeds in stealing the land through use of money, then that is evidence to suggest that the elite change the game every few hundred years and that they are fully in control of what is considered morally (and legally) justifiable. Their ancestors could steal land by force but now that they can do it through legality and use of currency that is the ‘right’ way to do it; oh, and a little bit of force as well, in the form of bailiffs…
(Tangent: Bailiffs, I might point out, are sort of like feudal knights. A knight could take, by force, what he wanted from an enemy of the king, for he was a servant of the king and the king was a servant of God and God could do what he likes. The key difference between a bailiff and a feudal knight is that bailiffs don’t believe they have been given the right to do what they do by God, their ‘right’ to behave how they do comes from the legal system. Do you believe it is acceptable that we have essentially retained the concept of ‘divine right’ in our society by replacing the rule of God with the rule of Law? This, surely, allows some individuals to treat other individuals as lesser human beings and promotes the retention of some of the more barbaric aspects of the supposedly abolished feudal system?)
What I propose is that whether or not something is hypocritical means nothing in a well-reasoned debate. Successful character defamation is not tantamount to winning an argument and it’s time we stopped pretending it is. As you can no doubt already tell, I am biased, of course I am, well all are; I am a hippy, I come from a relatively low-income background and I think we should exhume and clone Jean Jacques Rousseau and get him to write policies for us. That should not mean I can not have a debate with a straight-edge investment banker from a rich family with a penchant for the literature of Adam Smith.
We will get nowhere, however, if I continually point out that, by having been born into a wealthy household, he is no different from any number of benefit claimants who receive money, housing and medical care for free. He does not have to work, therefore he does not deserve to have money, even if he does work. This argument would be fruitless, because he could just as easily suggest that I am being a hypocrite myself by suggesting there is something wrong with getting something for nothing, when I myself support squatting, skipping (food reclamation from supermarket bins) and other such ‘free’ ways of surviving without having a job. I could then point out that having a job is not necessarily working, and that I might actually experience more mental and physical exhaustion surviving as a freeman, with no money, than he does investing his father’s money into uncle’s company. He could then point out that my idea of creating a ‘free and abundant society’ is unrealistic if living free necessitates poverty and struggle. I could then suggest that this is only because rich people have made it so hard for poor people to access the amount of land they need to become self-sufficient and have lobbied against the implementation of permaculture and free-renewable energy in societies, thus creating scarcity and forcing us to struggle, with the only hope of reprieve being becoming part of the elite…
(Interesting aside, did you know that statistically when a labour voter wins the lottery they are more-likely to convert to voting conservative? Maybe life is all about self-interest, maybe those who have are happy and those who have not do not deserve to be? Maybe this is natural selection… )
Or, maybe, the problem is that we always focus on what makes us different from our opponents, when we should be seeking common ground!
Hypocrisy has no relevance in reasoned debate; just because someone is a hypocrite, doesn’t make them wrong!
Russell Brand. Now there’s a topic to polarise opinion amongst hippies. On the one hand, he seems to be saying all the right things:
On the other hand:
Clearly, if he has lots of money but thinks people with lots of money are ruining society, he is a hypocrite and nothing he says has any value…
Maybe everything he says has EXACTLY THE SAME amount of value as if it were coming from the mouth of a tramp, maybe it has EVEN MORE value because here we have someone with enough success under his belt to turn full 360 and become the stand-in comedian for Monsanto corporate retreats who is instead choosing to (try) be a voice for the people.
If we as a species are going to have any success in making the world a better place we need to start listening to people’s words and, beyond that, understanding their meaning, rather than devaluing their characters, because that is just so easy to do. From some standpoint, everyone is a hypocrite.
What if we accept that nobody is perfect? What if we stop expecting everyone to be a paragon of virtue and instead work towards developing the moral compass of the species as a whole?
Let me tell you a story:
When I lived in an eco-village (https://diggers2012.wordpress.com/) in Runnymede, Surrey, I used to, on occasion, visit the local town. Once upon a time, two friends of mine that work offered to buy me a drink in one of the local pubs. I did not really want a drink or to go to the pub, but I knew they wanted to do both, so I pretended to be very grateful and ordered the cheapest drink available.
Whilst we were at the bar a local man, who was steaming drunk at the time (we have seen each other since and always give each other a friendly nod), caught wind that we were from the village and decided to join us for a drink; he even bought us each a cider, despite being asked not to…
There began an hour or so of the man arguing with himself. He began by suggesting that everyone would like to do what we do, but people with children have to work and, as he fell into this bracket, he could not do what we do. We accepted that this was how he felt but let him know that we do have children living on site. He moved on to suggest that if we all had rich parents, like me, we could all doss around to our hearts content. I asked him why he thought I was rich and he pointed at the cricket hat (which you can see me wearing in my profile picture) I had on, which I had found days before on the floor of a field, following a free festival. He then went on to ask if we were going to buy his friends a round, in return for the round he had bought us. We said no, as we could not afford to.
Then, like that, he had won. He left us be, returned to his friends and proceeded to talk, loudly, about how we were not going to pay him back his act of kindness. Apparently, despite the fact we had not wanted the drinks in the first place, now they had been bought we had a duty to return the ‘kindness’ and the fact we did not proved that we were somehow lesser beings. Is it any wonder that such a mentality exists in a society that forces itself upon you from birth then demands that you pay for it, even if you don’t actually like it!
As I have already mentioned, the man was drunk. I think he was actually a nice guy. Also, one of my two friends did buy him a drink back, I can’t remember what but it wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t a single. I believe she should not have done, but hey-ho.
The point of that anecdote was to show how, when people can not find an actual reason to disagree with someone else’s opinions on the world, they try to assassinate their character, to thereby nullify the opinion. We can all do this and, sadly, we all fall for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Assange
In the case of Julian Assange, a man created an organisation that published secret information about governments, things the governments did not want ‘us’ to know. Shortly after such successes as proving the illegality of the war in Afghanistan he was accused of being a sex offender:
‘WikiLeaks achieved particular prominence in 2010 when it published U.S. military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. Assange has been under investigation in the United States since that time. In the same year, the Swedish Director of Public Prosecution opened an investigation into sexual offences that Assange is alleged to have committed. In 2012, facing extradition to Sweden, he sought refuge at the Embassy of Ecuador in London and was granted political asylum by Ecuador.’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Assange)
Note, as soon as he became a threat to the US Government, they found out he was a sex-offender; even if this is true and just a highly unfortunate coincidence, does the relevancy of the facts released by Wikileaks get any less?
Speaking hypothetically, if I have two men in a room, one a fully sane serial-murderer and one who has never committed any act with malicious intent, or to simplify, a good man and a bad man, and I get them both to read out the same list of facts, do the nature of the facts change depending on who is reading them? When the bad man tells the truth, does it become a lie?
If you think yes, then I would love to debate with you why you think so. Please get in contact. Logically, I think the answer has to be no. It does not matter who speaks the truth, it is still the truth.
The problem then should not be deciding which individuals are good, which are bad, and handing out control over others in return, the problem should be, as it always should have been, deciding what is true.
Philosophers have tried through the ages to define objective morality. They have still not managed to do so. The mainstream media, with its fascination for creation and destruction of celebrities, seems to have given up on the question altogether. The debate is not global.
We do not have a system of logic set up which allows us to critically evaluate whether something is right or wrong: we have opinions; hippies say Monsanto is evil because it has created Genetically Modified Organisms that have infected fields the world over and destroyed organic life-forms, creating homogeneous food groups that provide very little nutrition and have an overall detrimental effect on the world environment; whatever the pejorative for the opposite of a hippy is say Monsanto is good because they can modify food to grow in any climate and therefore end the problem of world hunger by providing poor nations with seeds that will grow in even the most barren soil. Both sides believe they are good. Each side puts forward its argument. Both sides ignore the others’ argument. Each side slags off the other one for being different from them. Nothing changes.
What if, rather than focusing in on specific aspects of a debate and using them to create the opinion we want others to have, we all knew how to take a step back and evaluate an issue as a whole? What if, as soon as someone began to assassinate someone else’s character by pointing out supposed hypocrisies in their argument, or errors in their grammar, or mistakes in their spelling, or how ugly they are, or how they don’t know how to use a #hashtag properly, we stopped listening to that person, just until they moved on. I’m not saying we rule them out of the debate altogether, I’m just saying that if something has no relevance to the conversation being had, and personal insults NEVER do have any relevance to ANY sort of conversation, then don’t acknowledge that particular line of thought. Even when arguing, people are fallible and making a mistake does not make someone wrong; I wonder how many great ideas have been on the verge of coming to fruition just when their chief proponent had a lapse of attention and said something silly, opening himself up to a barrage of ‘AAAAAH! HAHA! AAAAAHS!’, which shut down the conversation and destroyed another hope for the evolution of consciousness.
Debating should not be about winning. Our society is so competitive that winning is almost always more important than being right. Did any of you have the experience at school of knowing something the teacher didn’t? Were any of you lucky enough to get listened to? I can name several instances from my own life, from telling one of my primary teachers than male sea horses can get pregnant to asking if my year 7 history teacher had heard of palisade walls (at which he scoffed, ‘there’s no such thing’), when I have been ‘right’ but I should not have been. In every instance, the person with the authority ‘won’. However, making me look like a fool in front of a classroom of nine-year-old children did not change the reproductive tendencies of male sea horses; the men can still get pregnant.
What is worse, I think, is that if you study debating in school you are often given a topic and told what side you are on. If we are teaching people to argue for a certain point of view, just because it’s the one you have been told to argue for, are we not raising mindless drones for the express purpose of upholding the current partisan system, in which many people are still ignorant of party policies and instead vote for a party because they are a labour voter or they are a conservative. Maybe this is why parties face no reprimand when they come to power and don’t do what they said they were doing to in the run up to the election; maybe no one knew what the campaign policies where in the first place. I think it’s high-time we stopped debating to win, and starting debating to figure shit out.
Which neatly leads me on to my closing statements; I don’t know how to fix this problem. I have pointed out a problem, as I see it, and my suggestion is that we evolve past that problem and find a new way of handling important, contentious topics that require discussion to rectify. I have suggested finding new ways of defining objective morality, promoting critical thinking and demoting the value of victory and, most importantly, always trying to see the ‘big picture’, not just the parts of the picture which suit what you already believe. I am open to other suggestions.
Someone said to me the other day, after I finished a particularly facetious rant concerning the relevancy of the pop-culture mainstay ‘James Bond’ in today’s society, that ‘it’s all just words’. I agree, it is all just words. Words are all we have at the moment. If we fight, we are moving backwards. If we start ‘grabbing’ land, whether for the purpose of building flats or permaculture forests, without having a solid moral founding for why, we are moving backwards. To be honest, right now, I feel like if I do anything at all it is the wrong thing, because we do not know what is right.
It is time to open the discussion and let everyone in, but not their opinions. As much as we can, we should seek to leave them behind for, though I hate to finish on a cliché, they are like arse-holes.
Jack E Cheal.