On Debating (I love Stephen Fry)

Here’s Stephen Fry’s blog entry on a debate he’s had on Global Warming and he starts it off with a reflection of the culture of debate in his country and the total lack of understanding for this way to lead a debate in the US. I felt, I don’t know, I love, admire and cherish Mr. Fry, and I guess I felt sort of vindicated, because I tend to get, er, similar reactions when I get into a heated debate, as some of you well know. People tend to carry a grudge for quite a while, as you can see by reading scrupeda’s rather unfair comment under my Open Letter Post. Here’s Fry’s complete opening paragraph

[W]hen I get into a debate I can get very, very hot under the collar, very impassioned, and I dare say, very maddening, for once the light of battle is in my eye I find it almost impossible to let go and calm down. I like to think I’m never vituperative or too ad hominem but I do know that I fall on ideas as hungry wolves fall on strayed lambs and the result isn’t always pretty. This is especially dangerous in America. I was warned many, many years ago by the great Jonathan Lynn, […] that Americans are not raised in a tradition of debate and that the adversarial ferocity common around a dinner table in Britain is more or less unheard of in America. When Jonathan first went to live in LA he couldn’t understand the terrible silences that would fall when he trashed an statement he disagreed with and said something like “yes, but that’s just arrant nonsense, isn’t it? It doesn’t make sense. It’s self-contradictory.” To a Briton pointing out that something is nonsense, rubbish, tosh or logically impossible in its own terms is not an attack on the person saying it – it’s often no more than a salvo in what one hopes might become an enjoyable intellectual tussle.

But to be fair, we don’t get a snippet of Fry’s way of debating here. He may well sound far less arrogant or prickish than I do, or less ego jerk-off. I don’t know. However, as it is, I’m sitting here, getting ill (why OH why? got so much to do. go away, I tell ye, wicked cold!) and smiling. Thank you Stephen, once again.

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