Article 41

The Misunderstood Nature Of Debate.

The first element of this website exemplified the need for future policy-making to be knowledge-only rather than belief-only; for policy-makers to recognise this knowledge if already available; and for them to acquire it if not yet available: while the second element analysed the articles of media commentators to demonstrate that even those who recognise that all is not well, do not know how to improve it other than by offering beliefs to replace counter-beliefs, or vice versa. However, this third section now shows by reference to further media articles that freedom of speech, rational debate and democratic elections will never sort anything out, so long as all that is spoken of, debated, and electively decided, is never more than this or that transient belief-consensus pending the resumption of the debate to yet another transient belief-consensus and so ad infinitum, there never having been any recognition of the need to recognise or acquire the conclusive knowledge which would terminate the otherwise interminable debate. Furthermore this third section shows that this endless appetite for debate is of longstanding permanence, having come down to current times from the ancient Greek philosophers via the eighteenth century Enlightenment, and in particular, via the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as David Hume and John Stuart Mill who continued to aver that a certain attitude of mind could produce conclusive knowledge without reference to cause-effect reality, though they ought to have recognised that it never had in the previous two thousand odd years, though Socrates had questioned this assumption, now nearly two and a half thousand years ago. However, I am sure he would have accepted my now definitive differentiation of the knowledge/belief dichotomy and with those of truth/falsehood, wisdom/folly, right/wrong and good/bad.

To start the third section of this website, I have thus selected an article by Douglas Murray which appeared The Daily Telegraph of 22/01/21, entitled, ‘The liberal spirit is being lost to an unswerving demand for uniformity’.  In his article he clarifies the meaning he attaches to ‘Liberal’ in the party-political sense, by stating that ‘it is many years since the Liberal Democrats have been either liberals or democrats’; but that ‘like other parties across the globe, the term “liberal” lingers like a memory of a nobler instinct’; that ‘in some countries it is attached to a party of the Left, sometimes to one of the Right’; that ‘in America this shape-shifter of a term, long ago became a synonym for “Leftie” and something not dissimilar has happened in Britain’; that ‘some years ago the broadcaster Andrew Marr admitted the BBC has a “liberal” bias’; that ‘he must have known he meant something quite different’; that “labour voting”, or even “statist” would be more accurate’; that if the BBC was stuffed with liberals, it wouldn’t be in the mess it is’; that ‘the true liberal was a deeply recognisable type’; that ‘the liberal mind – the person – was discernible across party-political boundaries; that ‘the tradition of David Hume and John Stuart Mill went deeper than day-to-day politics’; that ‘it was formed by a belief in individual freedom and a scepticism of authority’; that ‘it also produced an ideal: a certain type of enquiring mind which had a faith (I would say ‘belief’) in people as well as ideas (I would say ‘beliefs’, maybe ‘hypotheses’); that ‘it had confidence in the notion (belief) that open debate was necessary to establish the truth; and that ‘in fair battle between ideas that were bad and ideas which were good’; and that ‘bad ideas could not hope to win out’. He then concludes by asserting, how dead that instinct and the type of mind which had confidence in it, now seems’. At this point, I invite my readers to count the unwarranted assumptions on which Douglas Murray bases his analysis and his conclusions and to compare them with my analysis and my conclusions which are derived from my new differentiation of the knowledge/belief dichotomy and with those of truth/falsehood, wisdom/folly, right/wrong and good/bad by observation of compliance/non-compliance with cause-effect reality.

Nonetheless, Douglas Murray goes on to assert that ‘anyone doubting his analysis and conclusion should spend five minutes on any social media platform’ to see the glee with which users are willing to advocate toleration for me but not for thee’, to see ‘how they howl and scream when one of their heroes is barred from a platform like Twitter’,  to see ‘how they crow and cluck with glee when one of their foes is barred’, to see ‘how eager they are to betray old hypocrisies on shiny new technologies’; that ‘meanwhile the overlords of these platforms are either crusading Left-wingers with a tenuous understanding of liberal thought or like Jack Dorsey of Twitter whose hand-wringing over the banning of Donald Trump from his platform, epitomised the corruption of contemporary liberalism’; that ‘an open internet and a “global public conversation” are our best way of achieving greater common human understanding, he conceded, except if you stray from the orthodoxy’. Again, Douglas Murray asserts that ‘there is no greater example of the disappearance of true liberalism as in the areas of our lives which have been changed most radically this past year by our enforced isolation in our homes’; that ‘at any previous stage in our British history such a move would have been almost unthinkable’; that ‘certainly the almost whole-scale obedience to it would have been un-imaginable’; that ‘as Lord Sumption has noted, in the past year the nation has undergone an invasion into our personal freedoms of a kind unprecedented throughout history’; that ‘you might be persuaded that this is necessary, but given the enormity of the cost of these economy-destroying and life-stifling efforts, a liberal mind would enquire whether they are appropriate’; that ‘it would not slavishly follow established authority’;  that ‘it would not just do as it was told’; that ‘it would balance the justice of losing its freedoms against the necessity of controlling the virus which can kill certain groups’; but that ‘it would question whether it is right that our supposedly liberty-loving Government does not trust the law-abiding majority to act in the interests of themselves and others instead of denouncing them as irresponsible and relying on heavy-handed police enforcement and fines’; that ‘so few have asked these questions is indicative of how far our society has moved away from the philosophy of Mill and Hume’.

Thus, Douglas Murray goes on to state that ‘on both the Left and the Right, many evidently prize security, safety or fairness above anything’; that ‘our national broadcasters have failed to ask these questions is a scandal which explodes the myth that they are in any way liberal’; that ‘worse, the so-called liberals are complicit in another pernicious trend surrounding this debate’; that ‘an extra layer of authoritarianism is being laced over the top of these already arduous demands’; and that ‘the demand is for complete uniformity of opinion on lockdown’.  He then asks, ‘why  do those who ardently defend the policies of Government so fear the tiny number of figures who question the settled orthodoxy’? ‘Why do they heap abuse and put every death at the door of the few people who question any aspect of what we are doing’? He then concedes that ‘these are unusual times and extraordinary times call for unusual measures’; but that ‘we will always live in extraordinary times; that ‘what matters is the response you have to the times you find yourself in, and the principles you trust in to guide you’.  He then asks ‘why has this age become so censorious’?  He answers that ‘you could say it is because of the technology at our finger-tips, or because we have never seen anything like this pandemic’; but that ‘the truth is that it is these things plus one major shift’; that ‘this shift is not just the turning of the truth into relative concept, but the loss of that guiding liberal spirit which believed there was a way to get to that truth’; and that ‘open-minded, sceptical and brave disagreement was that way’; and that ‘our age seems to think that that belief was wrong: another thing to chalk up to its list of errors’.

I have analysed this article to illustrate the extent to which Douglas Murray misunderstands the nature of debate. He believes that rational minds such as those of Hume, Mill and himself, can conclusively set out the reasons why their beliefs are preferable to the beliefs of others with whom they disagree; that as an unavoidable consequence their listeners or readers will be persuaded to agree with them rather than with their debating opponents; that the debate will thus be terminated; and that the particular mind set of such as Hume, Mill and himself, if applied to all other debates of belief/counter-belief, these too will also be harmoniously resolved, despite such resolution never having been observed in reality.  In contrast, I contend that such harmonious resolutions can only be achieved when belief/counter-belief debate is terminated by conclusive knowledge as advocated in this website. In my first year at the University of Glasgow, I considered joining the Debating Society in which such as Donald Dewer were leading lights.  However, in listening to one debater quote an earlier MP as having said “On hearing what the honourable gentleman has to say, I can only conclude that the jawbone of an ass is not the weapon it was in Samson’s Day”. Though this quote  was directed at a particular speaker in both cases, I concluded that it summarised my attitude to debate itself, and I decided to devote my spare time to competitive rowing which I had started in my schooldays.                            30/01/20.

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