I stayed up last night and watched the South Africa – New Zealand semi-final at the cricket world cup. I really shouldn’t have, as I really am now too old to do an all-nighter, and we lost. However, I also had a brief Twitter exchange with Mark Ryan (who has commented here before) who pointed me to an interesting interview with Michel Foucalt called Polemics, Politics, and Problemization; perfect reading for the early hours while watching cricket 🙂
There were really two reasons why I found the interview interesting; it certainly seems relevant to much of the online climate debate, but it also reminded me of what I was striving for, even if I don’t often manage to achieve it. I don’t want to write a long post (I’ve said that before) so thought I would highlight a couple of things that I found of interest. This seemed particularly relevant: when asked why he didn’t engage in polemics, Foucalt responded with
I like discussions, and when I am asked questions, I try to answer them. It’s true that I don’t like to get involved in polemics. If I open a book and see that the author is accusing an adversary of “infantile leftism” I shut it again right away.
This seems particularly prevalent in the online climate debate. There are many blogs that regularly have posts decrying “greenies” or “leftist” or some other similarly generic label. My current problem is that instead of doing as Foucalt suggests, I get annoyed, write some kind of comment, and then get dragged down the rabbit hole.
This also struck a cord
The polemicist , on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat
Certainly, I’ve been involved in far too many discussions where I seem to be essentially saying (naively) “why do you think that is an appropriate way to engage in such discussions?” There was a recent Bishop-Hill discussion on “the poors” that I got dragged into. Me suggesting that accusing others of arguing for the death of millions was sub-optimal, was typically followed by some claiming that that doesn’t happen, and others accusing me of arguing for the death of millions.
The final thing I thought I would highlight was
Perhaps, someday, a long history will have to be written of polemics, polemics as a parasitic figure on discussion and an obstacle to the search for the truth.
which is something I’ve pondered myself. Will we look back and wonder how we let ourselves and our societies be dominated by those whose goal is not to strive for truth, a better society, or a better understanding of the world around us, but simply a desire to drive forward an agenda at all costs (or almost all costs). To be clear, I’m not meaning the climate debate only here; I think this is prevalent throughout society at the moment.
Anyway, those are just some quick thoughts. Bear in mind that I read most of this at about 3am while trying to watch the cricket and not fall asleep (which I didn’t entirely manage). I’m sure there’s much more to it than I’ve described, and I may well have not properly captured all the subtleties. I’m sure some of my more philosophically minded commenters will have more insightful thoughts than I’ve managed. I thought I would end, though, with a link to a Slate article that explains cricket for Americans. It’s just a pity that they only explained one-day cricket, and didn’t go into the complexities of test-match cricket 🙂