The Value of Debate

"It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it."
-Joseph Joubert
The word "debate," I have found, often has a negative connotation in our culture. Unless you're speaking about a formal, competitive, or professional debate, people will take issue with the subject. It's common for people to say such things as, "let's agree to disagree," or to simply avoid topics of a sensitive nature. Especially online, any form of debate is highly discouraged, and internet debates are spoken of almost with a combination of ridicule and horror. However, I believe that debates are valuable, and should be entered into on a regular basis.

Imagine that person Aidan and person Beatrice are having a friendly conversation one day, when they discover that they have differing stances on a particular subject of sensitive nature. At this point, they have a few options. They could say "let's agree to disagree." They would find another topic to discuss, and at the end of the day, each would go their separate ways holding the same opinions they held before. Or, instead, they could debate the controversial topic. Assuming that each is open minded, a number of possibilities lie down this path. One (or both) of them could learn that he or she had been wrong, and change his or her mind. Or it could be that neither knows the topic quite well enough to convince the other, but they each walk away with a better understanding of the other side. In either case, their time has been well spent.

In the first scenario, where they change the subject, nothing changes. The status quo remains the same, and neither has been hurt or improved. A debate changes the status quo. By the end of the discussion, something is different. Ideally, that something is for the better, as one or more people have learned something. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes a debate causes pain, and nobody learns. The status quo changes, but for the worse. Because of this, there are certain rules when it comes to debate. Certain ways of debating that must be followed by all parties involved.

Internet debates are highly discouraged by most people that I've come into contact with, because of what they can turn into. Often times, the result of an internet debate is a flame war. Because the internet is more or less anonymous, people feel safer in lashing out. In addition, people's statements can often be misinterpreted as intentionally insulting, because we have no way of writing intonation over the internet (though, proper grammar and spelling can help). However, I have found that, when properly executed, internet debates can be far more beneficial than a debate in person. Because debates are based on logic rather than emotions, a lack of intonation can actually be helpful in sorting out the points themselves. The points, after all, should be the same, regardless of intonation. So, whether in real life or online, the people involved in a debate must be willing to address the issues directly, and respond directly to the points made by the opposing side, without lashing out or insulting their opponent.

There are, of course, times when debates should not be attempted- e.g., in the comments section on YouTube. Not because it's the internet, but because the people there are likely to turn it into a flame war instead of a beneficial discussion. It only takes one person to derail a debate. One person to insult, one person to respond indirectly and ignore your points, one person to dodge the issue. However, in situations where you can trust the other person to do their part (and, of course, when you're willing to do your part), debates bring about a change to the status quo that is positive, rather than just leaving things how they are.
"In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest."
-William Penn

The Houses of Hogwarts

"Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same: Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realized that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends . . . friends . . . friends . . ."
-Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Today's post will deal mainly with the Harry Potter series. If you haven't read it, this shouldn't spoil anything that you wouldn't learn early on in the first book (and you probably already know that much by the simple fact that you're on the internet). I'll attempt to explain what you need to know from the books. This post will be dealing more with the series, characters, and fans than it will be with magic, so if you're opposed to the magical nature of the series, don't worry, as that shouldn't be a focus today.

In the Harry Potter series, the school that he and his friends attend is called Hogwarts. Hogwarts is a sort of boarding school with four "houses." At the beginning of your first year in Hogwarts, you are assigned to one of these four houses according to your personality, strengths, and abilities. That house will be kind of like your "team" for the next seven years that you attend the school.
Gryffindor, with a banner of red and gold, values courage, honor, and strength, and bravery. Ravenclaw, with a banner of blue and bronze, values learning, wisdom, intelligence, knowledge, and understanding. Hufflepuff, with a banner of yellow and black, values loyalty, friendship, and hard work. (This is the house that is most open and accepting towards outsiders and people who don't fit in exactly.) Slytherin, with a banner of green and silver, values cunning, ambition, and great achievements.
Each house has its own strengths, and its own benefits for those who are sorted there. However, each house also has weaknesses, and a reputation. Within the series, the houses are supposed to be designed so that you can learn and study with others who are similar; they're not meant to divide people or keep people in differing houses from being friends. But that's often what people use them for.

In the series, Gryffindor is a popular house. But the Gryffindors tend to hate Slytherins, who they see as evil, conniving, treacherous, and cowardly.
Slytherins, likewise, hate Gryffindors, seeing them as stupid, rash, headstrong, and arrogant.
They agree on one thing, though: Hufflepuff is a useless and pathetic house made up of wimps who can't do anything right.
Ravenclaw isn't hated strongly by any of the houses. Why not? Because they're socially awkward bookworms who would rather not make contact with people in general. They're just kind of neutral. They're not your house, so they're not awesome, but you don't hate them either. They just balance out the four houses so you have someone to just be there and not do anything.

Within the series, this type of hatred is, obviously, a problem. But outside of the series, you'd expect it to lessen. Unfortunately, this isn't what I've seen. Some people look at things the same way the books often did, which is that Slytherins are evil, Hufflepuffs are pathetic, Gryffindors are awesome, and Ravenclaws are just there.
Others say, rightly, that not all Slytherins are evil and manipulative. However, they use that to justify the whole house, and turn against Gryffindors, treating them as terrible people, still treating Hufflepuffs as worthless. Some people recognize that Hufflepuff is actually a really great house, and just isn't as competitive as the others. But those people tend to turn against Gryffindors and Slytherins both, seeing only the worst in both houses.

I have many hats, but none of them has the magical ability to read my mind and tell me which Hogwarts house I belong in. However, based on what I know of my personality, I classify myself as a Ravenclaw with a Hufflepuff lean. And I recognize the attitudes that people have towards the other houses as a double standard. People who have read the series often will sort themselves into a house based on their personality, and thus, the rivalries begin again. Each person, in real life, is choosing to classify someone based on either their strengths or their weaknesses, but not both. Many people hate Gryffindors, because they were popular in the books. They make fun of them and treat them poorly as a group; they judge Slytherin by their strengths (and ignore their weaknesses), and judge Gryffindor by their weaknesses (and ignore their strengths). The quotation from above is one that I like for many reasons. The reason I put it in this post is because Luna is a Ravenclaw. The others are Gryffindors. They have a friendship across houses, which rarely happens in the series.

I chose to analyze this topic today not because I think that the book series will affect our lives directly in any significant way, but because this blog is about habitual analysis. The way we look at things causes us to look at them in the same way more easily. If we often look at things incorrectly, it becomes difficult to look at them rightly. In this case, people are teaching themselves the habit of judging things you like by their strengths, and things that you don't like by their weaknesses. This ought not to be. If you can't even judge rightly in a fictional world, how can you expect to judge rightly in the real world? If we can't look past our differences in a game, how can we expect to do so with real people?
"I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university."
-Albert Einstein

On Good Intentions

"He's so busy looking inside people to find the good that he misses the knife they're holding in their hand."
-Alexandra Bracken
It is very likely that at some point in your life, you have heard the saying, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." While I was thinking about this post beforehand, I realized that there are several ways to take that, especially when you consider the alternative form, "hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works." I suspect that many people take this to mean that the people on the road to hell are the ones who say, "I meant to do good, but I never got around to it." That is to say, they have good intentions, but they never fulfilled that intent. This may be an accurate representation, but I tend to take it in another light. That is, that people fulfilled the intentions that they thought were good.

A while back, I ended another post with a quotation that I think fits this post as well.
"No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks."
-Mary Shelley
What this means is that everyone has "good intentions." To be clear, there are two ways to interpret "good intentions." It could mean that his intentions are good, or it could mean that he wants good to come of his intent. Each person has an ideal situation in mind that they want to come of their actions. So there are several questions that we must ask. We must ask whether the good they seek is for others or for themselves. We must ask whether the actions that they would take would bring about the result that they desire. And we must ask whether the end result really is good, or whether it just looks good to the person with the intent. Most people stop at the first question, and then call the intentions good or bad based on that. But even when they ask the later questions, people will often make excuses.

The first example that comes to mind is Loki. It rather bothers me how much girls will obsess over him. People will talk about how someone was treated, or how they were raised, or any number of things like that, and act as though that excuses their behavior. Or people will see someone do something bad, and will say "but they had good intentions." But they fail to ask, if the action taken produces the intended result, will that result be good? If so, then the intentions were good. If not, then they didn't have good intentions in the sense that we're discussing here.

Everybody makes mistakes, but those mistakes can't be dismissed on the grounds of "good intentions." I've made mistakes. I've done things that, on one level or another, I intended for good. The desired result came about, but it wasn't a good result. My so called "good intentions" don't excuse my behavior any more than they would for anyone else. (Bear in mind, it is a different situation if someone had a desired result that was good, but their actions failed to bring about that result.)

Forgiving someone is different than saying that their behavior is excusable. When someone makes the excuse "but they had good intentions," they're not trying to forgive. They're trying to defend. And this defense falls short when we examine what good intentions actually are. The true defense is not to justify, but to surrender. To say "I was wrong" and to ask forgiveness.
"Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions."
-T.S. Eliot

On Experience

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
-Mark Twain
I'd originally planned for today's post to be about good intentions. Then I remembered my birthday. That thing always seems to sneak up on me. So of course, I couldn't just do a normal post. People will want me to say something about age, or the human lifespan, or something like that. I mean, writers are practically required to write about some huge new revelation after their birthdays, and all that they've learned over the past year, and how far they've come. So, somewhat begrudgingly, I have put my good intentions post on hold. I did have a post on experience that I wanted to get to at some point, anyway.

Today's post will consist of two sections, though they may more or less blend together. You see, I had my original idea for a post, but after talking to my dad the other day, I realized there was more to it than my original theory. (We weren't talking about experience, we were talking about time travel; the topic of experience just happened to come up.) However, I still think that an aspect of my original thoughts on the matter are accurate. So they'll be included.

The original concept compares logic to a gun, experience to ammunition, and the debate to a war. No matter how many bullets you have, they're next to worthless if you don't have a gun. But if you do have a gun, they can be your greatest tool. The issue with this is that it only refers to experiences, not to experience. It assumes that you will be using that experience as a point in a debate. However, few people say that they are correct because they have more experiences. They say they are correct because they have more experience. Which brings us to another aspect of experience.

Experience can show you where the focus needs to be, and what direction to take. Look at a math problem, for example. Two people can solve the same problem. But it's much easier to solve the problem if you know where to start, or if you know what direction the problem is heading in. It doesn't mean that one person can just claim to know the answer because they've encountered problems like this before, but it does give them a head start, and a push in the right direction.

I believe that ofttimes, people think incorrectly of experience, and thus, fail to use it effectively. People know that experience is important, and so will many times rely on experience. I couldn't count the number of times I've been told, "you'll understand when you're older." This has always been one of the most frustrating phrases for me to hear. It tells me that either they don't know how to explain it, and are relying on how they feel about the subject, or they don't think that I'm smart enough to understand it if they did explain it. Many times, I have gotten older, and I have understood why I was previously told whatever it was that I had been told. I have also realized that if they had just explained it, I would have understood it (though I wouldn't have experienced it). I have also understood that their reasoning was still just as stupid as before. The difference is that now that I understand what their reasoning was, I can understand why it was stupid in greater detail.
The reason experience is valuable is not so that someone can say, "I have experience, so I'm right." Experience is valuable because you can use it as a tool. It means that you know where the issues are, where you should be focusing, etc. But if all you can say is "I know better than you because I have experience," then your experience is worthless, because it's indistinguishable from emotions. If you really have the experience, you should be able to explain it.

Keep in mind, an explanation of experience is not a substitute for experience. Explaining to someone why they shouldn't carry a cat by its tail is not the same as experiencing it yourself. However, you can still explain why you shouldn't carry a cat by its tail. Explaining experience is not the same as experience, but it uses experience accurately. If Albert is 20 and has opinion A, and Bob is 50 and has opinion B, Bob cannot claim to be right on the grounds of experience. After all, Candace is 20 and has opinion B, and Daryl is 50 and has opinion A.

Experience is a very valuable tool. But when used incorrectly, it works against you instead. Experience isn't everything. You don't win a war by having more ammunition than your opponent if you don't have a gun. And you don't win a debate by having more experience if you don't know how to use it.
"Nothing ever becomes real 'til it is experienced."
-John Keats