Monday, October 02, 2006

The Duty to Listen

Let me start by apologizing for not posting for ages. Normally I’m a student, and have all the time in the world. For the last month however, I’ve had 12 hours workdays, and a couple of weekends at the office too, so I haven’t really had a chance to contribute at all.

My inability to post or respond has been very frustrating. That’s because I’ll occasionally come across a post on this blog that really irks me. Most of them have been by Ahsan, though one in particular (some time ago) was posted by Alien Panda.

I should add that my opinion as posted below is not based on any single post or even the time we’ve all spent on this blog. It relates to issues that he and I (and to an extent Alien Panda) have debated for years, i.e. the questions surrounding the best (and the worst) ways to build ones opinion, and discuss it with others.

The rest of this post is addressed specifically to Ahsan:

Leaving other issues aside for the moment, my biggest problem is how you bully others away from disagreeing with you. The most recent and obvious example is what just happened in your post titled "We have a fifth reader!" with the anonymous contributor you referred to as “No: 5”.

For those of you who have'nt read it, that post was a response to a comment posted by No: 5 to an earlier post by Ahsan, titled “What does Islam stand for today?”.

You conjure up arguments which are easy to rebut

With respect to the issue of Christian protesters, this is what was actually said by No 5 :

“an idea... maybe it's because Muslims don't identify themselves with people who blow up mosques but they do identify themselves by their religion and its reputation.

It's like Christians being expected to protest against the imperial actions of Bush and his government and Blair and his government based on the fact that both presidents identify themselves as Christian...

and at least there you can also say they represent the Christian demographic because of democracy and so are somehow answerable. Still, it would be weird to expect Christians to do it based on that fact alone... that other Christians do unconscienable things. I don't understand why there is one rule for Muslims and one for Christians in these matters."

(I have added the italics for emphasis.)

What No 5 is saying is perfectly simple, provided you even took two minutes to understand what was written. It is contended that it would be odd for anyone to actually expect Christians to protest random acts of violence by unaffiliated, unconnected and unrepresentative groups of individuals, simply because those groups arbitrarily claimed to represent Christianity. Instead, it is proposed that the reason people in the West protest (and it is made clear that they do) is attributable to the fact that the actions they were protesting were being committed by a body which they democratically elected to represent them.

Personally I think that’s a sensible and insightful point to make. Moreover, it’s an important distinction to understand if you’re serious about answering the question you yourself were asking in the title of the post.

Unfortunately, rather than taking the time to understand what No 5 was saying, your response was a bizarre reaction to something that No: 5 never argued. After a paragraph about why the term "Christian" was not particularly astute (once again you would have understood why the term was used if you had bothered to read No: 5's comments), you wrote this:

“Secondly, the notion that "Christians" don't protest crimes by other Christians is laughable. Perhaps no.5 missed the million march in London, before the Iraq war even started. Or the one in New York. Or the one in Melbourne. But that's ok. Thanks to the internet, and specifically wikipedia, at the click of a button you can see for yourself exactly how many protests there have been by "Christians" against the Iraq war, both before and after March 2003. By the way, I stopped adding up the number of people attending these once I crossed 2.5 million.”

No: 5 never argued to the contrary. I should add that such condescension is totally gratuitous. Don’t accuse others of being “petty and immature” if that is how you choose to respond.

Lets misquote, and then make fun

Anyways. If putting your own spin wasn’t enough, you then go on to actually misquote No 5! I checked No 5’s post, and as they themselves noted (to deaf ears and no apology from you), they never wrote either sentence:

"Christians don't protest murders by other Christians"
"Muslims live on $1 a day because of evil Western corporations"

In fact, despite your quotation marks, you paraphrased those sentences simply so that it was easier for you to make fun of them. This reminds me of an earlier post you made, making fun of Bill O’Reilly whom you quoted as saying:

“A hyper-partisan is a person who does not seek the truth;rather, he or she tailors information to fit a preconceived political viewpoint. What is actually happening in the world is not important to these ideological zombies; it's all about reinforcing their core beliefs.”

Much as it saddens me to say this, it seems that you’re in no position to point out the irony of Bill O’Reilly making such comments.

Your complete lack of respect for a dissenting opinion was evident from the time you spent understanding it. But you also made your contempt explicit when you said:

"Luckily for me, these arguments have more holes than swiss- cheese- if- it-
was- actually- wood- and- infected- by-termites so dismantling them one by
one shouldn't be too difficult."

What’s obvious is that you made it as easy for yourself as possible, by misquoting and misrepresenting arguments, and by focussing on what suited you the most i.e. through you’re $1 tirade. Even if you disagreed, and your misunderstanding about the Christian protestor issue was an honest one, was there any need to be so offensive and insulting?

Holier than thou…

I agree that the $1 a day thing No 5 said was inaccurate and constituted rhetoric, something which I really hate. However given you’re own propensity for rhetoric and hyperbole it is beyond me as to how you feel you have any right to criticize. If you'd like, maybe I could “start spelling hypocrisy with a capital H.Moreover, it was unfair to pretend as though her mention of the specific value of $1 a day was really an essential component of her argument simply because it was easy to refute.

I’d like to point the self righteousness evident in the fact that after skimming over your opponent’s arguments solely to pick up buzz words/phrases you could heap contempt upon, you had the gall to represent your arguments as being made "carefully and systematically".

End Note

This is not ‘engagement’ as you claim Ahsan. It is bullying, Bill O’Reilly style. It is nothing more than the ‘hackery’ that Jon Stewart referred to when he blasted the hosts of Crossfire.

I am certain that a constructive discussion cannot take place when all that the participants wish to do is put forward their positions and defend them at all costs. Contrary to the incident discussed above, the parties should actually look to ‘engage’ in the true sense of the word, disarmed of their respective presumptions, and bearing the added intention of learning from the contrasting perspectives and experiences of others. This is something that you have repeatedly failed to do, which is unfortunate because I’m pretty confident that it’s the best and perhaps the only way to reach consensus as far as such partisan issues are concerned.

What your post fundamentally lacks is humility, and respect for the person whos opinion you refute. Both respect and humility are flip sides of the same coin, and are essential components of the integrity required of someone who insists on commenting on controversial issues within a public forum.

Unfortunately, regardless of what I may say today, it seems that dissenting opinions will continue to be subjected to scorn, disrespect and contempt, unless of course they are issued from a pre-approved source deemed by you as credible. Those not pre-approved will continue to be presumed as dead wrong, and shouted down accordingly.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should be presumed right until proven wrong; I’m simply saying that it’s best to scrap the application of those presumptions, and the consequent acrimony, altogether. I made a similar point in my post concerning Hezbollah, in the final paragraph.

Sadly, I predict with some confidence that the usual rolling eyes and ‘whatevers’ will ensue as a result of my post today. They end up proving my point, but they frustrate my hopes for a better blog.

Finally, in the tradition of Ahsan I’d like to misquote Ahsan, who said:

"Yeah dude I agree. I’m an arrogant jackass who needs to listen more.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you NB for taking the time to say what I didn't have the patience, clarity and maturity to say and also for actually reading and understanding what I wrote! I apologise for indulging in rhetoric (several times)...I take responsibility for that.

I was actually thinking of Jon Stewart's piece on Crossfire throughout Ahsan's response to me! Ahsan, you sounded like the news presenters on Fox News- no jokes. I hope you take what NB has taken the time to write here as constructive criticism... it'll save you from being a Hypocrite.