"Profound thoughts arise in debate ... when there is a possibility of expressing not only correct ideas, but also dubious ideas."
-- Andrei Sakharov
If my Oxford Dictionary Of Word Histories is correct, then from the classroom to a political campaign, debates are much more (or less) than a mere exchange of ideas or fun and games.
According to Oxford, the prefix "de" means "reversal," and "bate" comes from the French verb "battere," meaning "to scuffle; to fight; to beat up." Among other colorful suggestions, my unabridged thesaurus adds "oral slugging, strife in argument, and war of words." So, if you thought the debates between John Kerry and George Bush in the recent presidential campaign were more like "battles" than mere gentlemen's disagreements, you -- and they -- were literally correct.
Though I've never taken part in a formal debate, you don't get to be an opinion columnist without having an opinion or two, and I've had plenty of experience defending my positions -- and eating crow. Too often arguments that at first sounded good to my ears were, upon closer examination, found to be full of inconsistencies, missing facts and downright error.
My first crow-eating episode occurred soon after I went to work in the big city of Boston, following 20 years of small-town, church-centered, Christian-school influence. And if there was anything I had a "schooled" opinion on, it was what I believed, including a long list of things "good, Christian girls" don't do. I still cringe at the memory:
"Why don't you wear make-up?" the gentleman asked.
"Because," I saucily replied, "I don't want to disguise what God has given me."
My kinder, wiser co-worker won that debate with this rebuttal: "You wear clothes, don't you?"
I don't pretend to have all the bugs worked out, and I still cringe after seeing one of my flawed columns in print. I'm sure that's why I'd rather write about debatable things, where I have time -- and the delete key -- to shore up an opinion, than deliver my spontaneous fumbles before a live audience with no option for recall.
But all this self-editing about what I say and how I say it has a side effect: I can't read or listen to what others say without noticing errors and inconsistencies in their arguments, too. So, before the 2004 campaign season passes (thankfully) from our memory, here's my take on some points of view I find as incredulous as my co-worker did of my quasi-saintly lifestyle.
Why is it that the same people who campaign so hard for embryonic stem-cell research push their pro-choice agenda to the third trimester, "partial-birth abortion" stage, and have no qualms about allowing the Terry Schiavo's of the world to be conveniently euthanized, are the first to protest the potentially life-threatening -- or life-ending -- use of animals in medical research? Elevating the status of a family pet to a member of the family I can understand, but it baffles me when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for example, values non-human creatures more than it does human life. Even "a good death," as euthanasia is called, or "death for a good cause," as the stem cell advocates claim, is still a death.
Revisiting the above argument, why are the pro-abortion, stem cell and euthanasia folks also the first to demand gun control or march in an anti-war parade? Is killing OK only when the victims are on their list of expendables, but not if the reason appears on the list of a political foe? Lots of room here for oral slugging.
Finally, at least for today, I'd like to know why those who believe so strongly in the separation of church and state that every time God's name is cited (reverently) or a prayer is uttered in a public school they're willing to take their war of words to the highest court in the land, but they have no inhibitions about taking their campaign for "state" office to the pulpits of a willing church? Does the ball not bounce both ways, or are the pro-God folks on the anti-war side when it comes to battling this glaring inconsistency?
Any de-battlers out there want to point out my glaring inconsistencies in the above? After all, two months after the most intense election in all our memories, we political junkies now need something at least mildly intense to help us through the withdrawal stage.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.