Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Danger of Adversarialism in Western Society

In an earlier entry (August 2012), I considered inter-personal argument and contrasted two alternative epistemologies that can underpin such exchanges; Arguing to Win (ATW) and Discussing to Reveal (DTR). I was making the case for DTR and against the ATW rules-of-engagement. I now want to go further and suggest that pernicious ATW has become the norm and is just one facet of a more general societal malaise; adversarialism. I define adversarialism as any system that encourages or tolerates participants acting to defeat the opposition by fair means or foul.

It is not just apparent in person-to-person exchanges. It is endemic to our justice system (contrast with France), our politics (watch/ listen to "Today in Parliament"), in Business activities (example: tax avoidance), in 'sport' (thankfully not all) and in our entertainment (film/ video games). With regard to 'sport' it is likely to be experienced  both on the field of play and on the terraces. Drug-taking and 'professional fouls' are just two aspects of adversarialism in 'sport'. In our culture, adversarialism is so blatant and ubiquitous that I don't feel it necessary to support these contentions with specific examples.

The most serious aspect of the adversarial tendency relates to the activities of children and young adults. They are often avid participants in sport; both as actual participants and spectators. They play video games that mainly encourage combat to the death and eschew fair-play. Adversarialism is becoming the norm for many of our children. Concepts like sportsmanship, live-and-let-live, credit-where-credit-is-due, cooperation, fair-play and good manners are being left far behind. Yet surely these are the essential markers of a truly civilized society.

I suggest that the decline needs to be stopped if we want to progress toward the civilized, contented and fair society that we all (?) want. Teach fair-play to the children and steer them toward the relevant role-models. Discourage ATW and encourage DTR in their discussions and always set them a good example in this regard.

If I were invited to leave just one piece of advice to the societies of the world to serve as my personal legacy, it would be this one.

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