Monday, December 13, 2010

To the Class: On Argumentation and Education

To the Class:


I have been informed quite often through the years that my tone of writing can be at times sarcastic, condescending and at times flippant. While I have endeavored to curb these tendencies, I have to admit that the only one of those charges I've had much luck on nearly eradicating is the condescension and that largely because of constant increased humility at the vastness of the ideas before me and the inevitable incompleteness of grasping all the information available. That being the case, while I hope to refrain from certain writing that may come across as less than coldly academic, I know that I'll slip up. Here then is an explanation ahead of time about my rather strong views on argumentation and ideas that may help to make better sense of why I can be rather strong in my rhetoric.

Education is not simply information gathering, it's about idea formation. The ebb and flow, tug and pull of memes are fighting a war in one of the last bastions in which ideas can truly be thought to be free, that of the college/university. We as students are participants in that struggle, our minds the fields waiting to be plowed, uprooted and planted. Good ideas have given us democracy, roads, a rational legal system, cars and planes. Bad ideas continue to give us subjugation, death, destruction, abuse and sow confusion, limiting our ability to grasp reality. How we as students, and I count myself as an eternal student, attempt to grasp the ideas before us, create new ones, shift old ones in new ways, will shape not only ourselves but those around us and potentially the world. Thus it is that I hold in high regard the intellectual struggle through rigorous study and debate that college is all about, especially in graduate studies.

Argument has seemingly lost its urgency. In a world of t.v. personalities and talk-show hosts spreading inanities and using the worst of logic in the worst of ways, serious gut-wrenching argument has been replaced by shouting platitudes to those who already agree or giving ground to whoever yells loudest. Logical formation, rational analysis and empirical evidence just don't hold too much sway when what one believes is indicated by poll numbers and whatever absurdity comes out of the troughs of Hollywood and what passes for literature. For students dedicated to the exploration of ideas these practices are and should be abhorrent.

If I come across as harsh, it is with these thoughts in mind. I am not interested in empty platitudes or clich├ęs and fear-mongering. If you have an argument, say it proudly and be ready and willing to defend it. If at the slightest sign of resistance there is only retreat then the interest is not in being educated. For every idea that is agreed with, the opposite is declared wrong, so taking a stand is not only honorable but inevitable. Let not the idea there are no bad ideas ever be uttered or thought, for not only is this not truly what anyway believes as indicated by their actions but denies reality. We do a disservice to ourselves and all of humanity who live and die, often because of ideas they had no awareness of, when we are not willing to fight tooth and nail to see our ideas win out and yet stand with humility that just maybe some of what we hold dear may be wrong.

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