Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Few Words About This Blog's Name

I'm really not very good at titles.

The thing about a title is, it has to be catchy, memorable, succinct and sound good all while conveying something important and central to what you're doing with the body of work you attach it to. It's a lot like word choice in poetry, and that's hardly my forte. I prefer getting my point across with a long, verbose flow of words that can allow me more flexibility than the demands of poems, or a title, can ever grant.

That said, I feel pretty good about this title and the idea behind it. It's memorable and succinct enough to be going on with, certainly, and I think it's a good description of what I want to accomplish with this blog. What's more, I hope that it may sometimes serve as a reminder to me.

So what do I mean by "politely outspoken"?

Before I pontificate, I'll share an example to demonstrate. Here is Mr. Stephen Fry delivering a speech about  the Catholic church and its influence on society:

I first saw this video when it was new, about three years ago. At the time, it really helped to catalyze my (evolving, thankfully) opinions about the nature of productive argument. Essentially, I've come to realize that polite debate is nearly always the most effective form of debate.

In this video, Stephen Fry demonstrates exactly why this is the case; though using only diplomatic and considerate language, he makes a very human and compassionate set of arguments that cut to the quick with a power that outstrips the impact of any screaming pundit. He avoids ad hominems and his logic is impeccable and impenetrable. He teaches. He shows consideration to the holders of opposing viewpoints even as he levels the arguments.

This, to me, is the essence of being politely outspoken. Pull no punches, devastate with logic and understanding of the situation and articulate the truth with razor sharpness. This is what can make a person change their mind, or cease to ignore the relevant truths.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Rude, abrupt and insulting dismissals of an opponent or position are occasionally the way to go, but they really only work when you've got the majority of society backing you up on a point. For example, in this day and age I wouldn't ever try to be "polite" to someone who is openly racist. We're done with that debate, as a society, and those who still hold to those points of view should rightfully be shamed and dismissed. We should send a message to them that their racism is their issue, not society's, and that they need to take responsibility for their own shit. We don't need to re-open this debate or treat it with any respect.

Most of the time, however, there is everything to be gained by speaking to one's opponent as a human being, connecting on fair and equal grounds, and speaking plainly about what's at the heart of the real differences between us. It's far from easy, of course; it requires a firmer grasp of logic and a greater control of emotion than most of us can manage for terribly long. It also requires an open mind, something that competition and pride often tend to shut down.

The only way to combat this tendency to create a new culture that values the principles of critical thinking and of rational and emotionally honest conversation. No, I'm serious! I don't think it's an impossible thing to do, either. Human societies are surprisingly malleable things.

No comments:

Post a Comment