Matthew Munson: Are you up for a debate?

Debate is about being calm....

“The power of real debate is in the language and intellectual honesty of the debaters, alongside the engagement of spectators.” Beautiful words spoken by Ruzwana Bashir, a British entrepreneur, and ones I whole-heartedly agree with.

I like a good debate. I like being challenged, and I struggle to understand people that don’t. There are people who don’t relish a challenge to expand their minds based on facts and evidence. Many don’t like confrontation, either face-to-face or online (although social media trolls will always exist anywhere there’s an internet connection), and shy away from a discussion. I like to have a healthy exchange of views, because there aren’t many people out there who I can’t find something in common with. Alright, maybe not Hitler. But then, blast, he was a vegetarian who loved dogs.

I once made this point and was, rather alarmingly, accused of being anti-Semitic. That was something of a shock, let me tell you. I make the flippant comment that Hitler was a vegetarian and, in the next breath, I support his views on genocide. Something of a leap there, and rather awkward for the other person. They quickly realised that they had overstepped a rather large mark, and I was glad to accept their apology.

‘Reason and calm’

You see, I like debate based on reason and calm. I applaud anyone who is willing to look at the evidence and come to a rational conclusion. I admire people even more so when they can overturn a long-cherished belief or opinion based on new evidence. It’s an honour to see a person’s mind working.

There are a number of giants I admire, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. They wax lyrical about the beauty of nature and evolution, wine, women and words, mysticism and neuroscience, and philosophy and cognitive science. When I read their work, I feel enlightened and joyful at the world that’s all around us.

Big questions

There are big questions out there that need answering, and we can’t effectively answer them if we don’t have an open and honest debate. Religion, drugs, abortion, education, sexuality, Europe, climate change, censorship, war, disability, welfare, tax avoidance, free healthcare, politics … There’s so much to consider, and I’m certainly keen to see if my own views are strong enough to withstand criticism. Am I arguing from a place of rationality or from a place of emotion?

  1. Come at me with evidence. Don’t argue based on emotion alone. Show me your passion, sure, but be rational, calm, and fair-minded about your argument.
  2. Be open to other points of view. Just because someone has a different point of view doesn’t make them wrong. It might do, of course, but don’t assume. They have a right to speak.
  3. Don’t shut down just because the argument isn’t going your way. If you’re being challenged, and you feel the ground slip, don’t refuse to discuss the topic any more. That invalidates your desire to be heard in the future.
  4. Never attack the messenger. Once you’ve done that, you’ve lost the argument.

I’ve started a series of debates with the rather spiffing Melissa Todd; the first one was on grammar, and I’m already looking to a lot more. We have a lot in common, I am certain of that, and we both respect the desire to have an effective debate.

Most importantly, cherish facts. Look for the truth in an argument and never stop debating. As Hubert Humphrey said, “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.”