Crouching tiger, hidden idiot

If you talk to normal people in India, they will tell you that they love debates. But unfortunately, almost none of us actually know what a debate is. We think we see debates on television, but we don't actually, because those are not debates. They're shouting matches and everyone knows this. So what is it with our obsession with debate?

I think that part of the problem is that we don't know what debates are. And part of the problem is also that we are obsessed with the idea of debate. Neither of those things in isolation is necessarily a bad thing. You shouldn't debate on certain matters and you should actually be interested in engaging in conversations on topics that you have disagreements on. But our problem goes deeper than that. And it has to do with the need to show off.

When I was a kid, I read a short story in Champak, which is a children's magazine. And the story had to do with a boy who loved the idea of swimming. He was so obsessed with it that he used to watch swimming tournaments on television. And while he was watching them, he used to lie on the ground and flap his arms around as if he was swimming. After having done so for a long period of time, he became convinced that he was someone who could swim.

And then one day he goes on a school trip - I don't remember exactly what circumstances were - but he ends up in the water and his friends have to drag him out of the water because obviously he can't swim and he was drowning. His friends then ask him: "Why didn't you tell us that you could not swim?"

And he said, "I know how to swim. I don't know what happened." When his friends ask him, where he learned how to swim, he said, "I watch it on TV and I practice on my mat."

The reason his friends proceed to laugh at him is obvious. There is a difference between knowing something and convincing yourself that you know it because you have seen a lot of people do it. And that I think is the problem with our obsession with the idea of debate.

Here's another story. Some weeks ago on my YouTube channel someone commented that if I was truly interested in understanding something, I should debate people. And then he told me that in ancient India, there was a rich culture of debate. I agreed with him that there was a culture of debate. This person then sent me long paragraphs about how debates were conducted in ancient India. I told him, I didn't understand all of this, but if he wants to debate me, he was most welcome to come on my livestream and talk to me face-to-face. He then insisted that he will have the debate, but he wants it to happen according to the exact standards of ancient India.

I agreed. He agreed. And then later on the night of the livestream, he messaged saying that because of bad weather where he is, his internet is not connecting so he can't join. Whether or not he pulled out because of a lack of desire to face me or whether his internet was actually bad, I cannot say, but he did not turn up. And that is not even the real point.

When I went back to the comments he had left on my videos, where he said that he wanted to debate according to the exact standards of ancient India, I found that they were exactly copied and pasted from Wikipedia.

So this person had never actually had a debate according to those standards that he loves so much. He was simply obsessed with the way they were expressed - the Sanskrit words they were described in and the idea of doing something "ancient". Like how someone watching a martial arts movie may become obsessed with "tiger style". The interest is synthetic and impractical.

There are, there are techniques from ancient India like Purva Paksha and Pragyan that are used when people are having conversations. They involve presenting your case, understanding your opponent's case, explaining in your own words what your opponent's case is to their satisfaction and then going about in a systematic way to respond to the claims that they have made. These are all great things, by the way. But this person was not actually someone who had done any of these things. He had simply looked at the Wikipedia page and had copy-pasted things. I doubt that a person like this can actually have a debate - forget according to ancient Indian standards - they can't have a debate using any standards at all. Same as someone who thinks they are a martial arts grandmaster after watching a bunch of Hong Kong classics.

And this is a problem because it goes back to our obsession with the idea of debate and how little we are able to do justice to it in actual conduct. Our television debates are one part of the problem, obviously, because they are shouting matches where the agenda is set way before the conversation starts and then the person who's running the conference decides what direction it will take by selectively muting one person and letting the other one go on for entire minutes.

The other problem with our debate culture is that we are so obsessed with the idea of debate that we stuff it into places where it does not belong. Like watching someone's house burn and wanting to have a debate about whether we should put the fire out and save the people who are inside that house.

That is obviously not a place where a debate should happen. There are many things which are of extreme urgency, where you should not be having a debate. You should simply be putting the fire out. Climate change is one of those. Corporate exploitation of the working class is one of those things. Communal politics is another one of those things. These are not places where debates need to happen endlessly before people can come to the conclusion that something is terribly wrong with the system and that action needs to be taken urgently.

But no, we are going to have a "climate change debate". We are not going to look at the reality of what is happening right now. We are going to have a "debate" about it so that more and more time can be wasted before the world turns to a burning crisp, and our children have - forget places to live - they don't have water to drink.

So that is another problem with our debate culture. We are obsessed with debate. We don't know what debate means. We will stuff that ignorant idea of debate into every fucking thing under the assumption that we are crouching tigers.

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