James Higham has asked a question in his post earlier today and I was goign to respond in some detail – but doing it on a phone is too bloody awkward and by the time I got to a computer, the thoughts in my head had become a post in their own right. Not least because James has a habit of asking what are probably fairly simple questions in a deep and complex manner – we often get a long screed that requires a great deal of thought to absorb.
This tendency is in contrast to my somewhat brusque approach whereby I will often distill my argument to pithy one-liners. This is no bad thing. One of the delights of a multi-author blog is the variation of voices and ideas – not to mention the occasional heated exchange.
However, to the questions – and I say questions because it has two distinct contexts. Firstly, he asks why the Grand National cannot be amended to make it safer for the competitors without there being entrenched views on both sides.
Personally, I am indifferent to horse racing. It doesn’t float my boat, but I don’t like the Grand National because the casualty rate is so high. From a layman’s point of view, I see the question as a legitimate one. If the event is to survive, then some adjustment is necessary to reduce not only the physical risks, but the reputation of the sport itself – a sport that has some pretty virulent detractors due to the inclusion of animals.
It must be about twenty years ago now since I watched the 1300cc bikes race on the Isle of Man TT course. That was the last year they did. Several riders were killed in quick succession. This was the collision of ever more powerful machines clashing with a combination of the physical limitations of the riders, the bike’s handling capabilities and the proximity of dry stone walls and narrow curves on a road race circuit. They decided to stop racing the big machines. The TT survives, but in a changed format. If the event is to continue, it cannot remain the same. The Grand National, I feel, is at a similar crossroads.
The second part of the question relates to the quality of debate generally – why do people take entrenched positions? Well, partly this is because people do not like their cherished beliefs challenged, but it is also because all too often they do not listen properly (or, in the case of this medium, read properly). They shoot from the hip, having taken in only a part of what has been said; assuming the rest. Watch any current affairs programme where they have talking heads and you will see this happen time and time again. One speaks, the others rush to condemn – especially if the speaker is saying something unpopular. All too often they will try to shout the speaker down, not allowing him to finish. They aren’t interested in what he has to say, merely in their own condemnation of the position they have decided that he is taking. This is the classic strawman fallacy. And, if you want the mother lode, watch BBC Parliament where our finest mass debators indulge in the fallacy daily. Frankly, given the student union politics level of debate on display from people responsible for legislation that affects our daily lives, I am appalled. That I despise them utterly goes without saying.
I have long since rejected any attempts to deal with logical fallacies. On my own blog, I have a clause in my comments policy that simply says that if you use them, I will point them out and make no further attempt to debate the point. What I will not do is defend a position or argument that I have not taken – it would be silly to do so anyway. Some people find this frustrating. Well, frankly, that’s too bad. Respond politely to the point I am making, as opposed to the point you think I am making, and we will get along just fine.
There, James, does that answer your question?