Though I prefer to keep my nomadic sojourns limited to science, two social media events of last week – adulation of Mr. Tharoor’s oration and abusive responses to Ms. Dhupia’s tweet – have forced me to move one scale higher, towards the genesis of science i.e. reason and debate.
As I saw Mr. Tharoor speaking to an audience in an academic institute more British than even cricket or strawberry-and-cream and getting applauded generously for every rhetorical jibe that he skillfully delivered, what struck me was not his logic but the very atmosphere around the entire event.
Here was a foreigner, being not just critical but extremely satirical about conduct of a nation and its people, right in the very heart of their homeland, by using reason and debate to make a point; and there were no hackles raised. There were no right-middle-left wingers up in arms nor did I see any news item next day referring to burning of effigy of Tharoor or threatening to chop his tongue either. I saw no claims of national pride being hurt and there was not even a social-media “backlash” to his video going viral.
There is something certainly wrong with British by our native standards, because soon after the triumph of Mr. Tharoor, poor Ms. Dhupia posted an innocuous tweet on governance and we Indians responded to it by mustering chivalry of such a high order that it can’t be printed in a family newspaper!
It made me think. Is the difference cultural (West and East) or in the medium (real and on-line)?
I am sure that West did not invent debating, but they surely organized and institutionalized it. The idea of debate as a method of reasoning acquired much-needed dignity and formality in West, allowing it to be used to run even nations by establishment of the highly systemized forum of parliament.
With strong debating traditions in place, individual (and often isolated) voice of reason has a hope to be heard and not drowned in the cacophonic loud-speak of masses. Debate has become a symbol of the democratic governance thanks to establishment of tradition of courteous and tolerant discourse as a bare necessity for collective reasoning.
What we see at Oxford in Tharoor’s speech is just an extension of the same culture that British left seeds of in India too. But, strangely India now appears to be a nation with the shortest fuse. It is up in arms and ready to drop all pretense about the need of decorum in debate at the drop of the gandhi-topi.
As an optimist (or an escapist), I have tried rationalizing the decline of reasoning to lack of systemic infrastructure for debate; but, with the apex body, the holiest of the holy, the parliament of India failing to have civilized debates, I am left with no excuse but to concluded the obvious. We are a nation that has lost ability to reason.
Social media, especially in India, has added another dimension to this issue. Though touted as the new age liberators, unfortunately for us, these forums are actually becoming virtual mobs. Just as a person ends up expressing his primal being when part of a mob under assumed loss of individual identity and liability, people on social media are become uninhibited in their expressions under false idea of anonymity. Uncouth aggression has killed the debate on social media.
Today, we are in dire need of reinstating a reason-abled society that can debate. And the solution, as I see it, is in introducing the art and science of debate as a formal part of our educational system.
Our generation may have forgotten how to debate, but it surely can be taught to the next-gen, if we wish to remain a civil and civilized society.