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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
“Less Tuition = More Beer Money” is the mocking syllogism crayoned onto a sign gripped by a man amidst a student protest for lower tuition fees. The man, a non-student, identifies himself as a 'concerned taxpayer' against lowering tuition costs with his tax dollars. He argues students will redirect the funds to alcohol consumption and other luxurious debaucheries. Through the effervescence of student placards demanding middle-class education, this man’s message is being drowned out. And when the Canadian media, who is covering the protest, turns their cameras on to this solo protester, the surrounding students jeer in opprobrium. As he speaks to reporters, the debate becomes a yelling match that only Stephen Colbert could justify arbitrating: “Whoever is the loudest wins.” Within this debate, the students represent one side of the protest, while the man represents the other. Out of the hundreds of students who showed up to protest, does this one civilian deserve to get the entire half of the media coverage simply because he represents the “other side” of the debate?

Deborah Tannen, in her book The Argument Culture, argues that society does not always need to hear the ‘other side of a story.' Tannen uses the example of Holocaust-deniers who are given air time to debate their version of events; the public doesn’t need to know that side of the debate. Why spread lies? Even the largest talk show host on television, Oprah, made the mistake of representing the “other side” of racism by inviting the Klu Klux Klan to her show. Later, Oprah remarked that she would never invite the KKK on again because it merely empowered them rather than enlightening viewers. Smart choice.

But how far down the line of fringe minority perspectives do we feel comfortable in dismissing?
The more popular belief is that ‘both sides of the debate’ is an ideal that journalists ought to strive for. The theory of representing ‘both sides’ was put forth by one of the Greek fathers of Western rhetoric, Protagoras. He was also known for representing both sides of an argument with equal persuasion. If one can argue logically for the opposite side of an argument, has he not caused the existence of that Truth?

Irvine University recently put out a paper that remarked that our current form of argumentation is merely a reactionary one. If someone makes an argument towards something, another person will feel inclined to respond an antithesis due to their scepticism towards another person's nugget of Truth. Is it not ironic that to this day, the top leaders in effective communication, Chomsky and Lakoff, refuse to speak to one another? Lakoff’s last words to Chomsky were simply: “You’re wrong, Noam. You’re wrong.”

What does the reader take away from reading both sides of the argument? The answer is the Gestalt - Or what Hegel would propose as the synthesis. Simply put: If we’re given a thesis, and then its antithesis, we may derive a synthesis of the two theories. How exactly the thesis and antithesis are combined is the question. Some argue that it’s a balance of points from both sides of the argument, such as a negotiation. While others have argued that it’s an actual combination of both arguments.

So when the civilian protests student protesters should we listen to his side of the story? I’d argue yes, but other philosophers would disagree.



Ironically, I'm going to have to agree with you, instead of presenting the opposite view.

I don't think both sides of any given argument are equally valid or right, and for this reason I think it's best to present both sides so that we can see which side is right and which is ridiculous, if it works out that simply.

Erin Millar has an article in the current Maclean's Magazine about the University of Victoria's study body denying club funding (but not club status; that they were granted) to an anti-abortion group, and she mentions the similar case at Capilano U a few years back when the study union did the same thing.

It seems pretty ironic that, in the anti-abortion club cases, protecting women from undue harassment (a bogus argument if you ask me) was used to deny a group their right to free speech. After all, where would feminists on student boards be without their right to free speech over the years? Anyone can defend someone else's right to expression if they agree with you. Real defense of free speech starts when you defend those who don't agree with you.

Hearing both sides of an argument is pretty essential to taking either side, since if you don't know or don't have a good idea of what the other side is, you can hardly take the opposite side, because one side is defined, in good Hegelian fashion, by its opposite.

And like I said, hearing both sides, or being able to argue a sympathetic version of both, does not mean that either side is just as good or right. All arguments should be put out there, so we can openly and fairly argue away (rather than ignore, suppress or dismiss) the wrong side, if there is one.

I'm all for dumb arguments being held up to scrutiny and exposed for the silliness they are, anti-abortion arguments included.



Pyrrho, the Greek philosopher for whom Pyrrhonism (or Pyrrhonian Skepticism) is named, argued as follows: Since for every conceivable argument which substantiates the existence of some thing there is an antithesis - an equal argument which denies that thing - we cannot believe in the existence of anything

In "Thank you for Smoking" Nick Naylor points out that when engaged in argument he needn't actually prove his point, he need only disprove his opponents (youtube the ice-cream scene)

It is scary for me to think about the effects of the ambiguous culture of 'Devil's Advocacy' identified by the paper from Irvine University. We are running out of space in which to make things real.

founded by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BCE.

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