One old cliche I should have paid more attention to is ‘never meet your heroes’. I discovered this the hard way back when I was writing my PhD and I attended a law symposium on the Creative Commons in Brisbane. The keynote speaker Lawrence Lessig, whose books and blog had inspired the political direction of my thesis, simply replayed his ‘Remix’ lecture I’d seen often before on the web and later scoffed at my attempts to engage him in debate on the issues I was interested in. Sure he was tired, missing his kids, and stuck on a dinner cruise on the Brisbane River, and my attempts to engage him with questions I had about his views were clumsy and ill timed. Still this experience led me to taking a step back from emulation and further towards interrogation, providing a much more balanced approach for my own arguments.
The experience further led me to question the merits of debating, both the experience with Lessig and the debates following seminar presentations during the Symposium on the merits of ‘copyleft’ within the Australian legal system, seemed to follow the pattern of merely antagonizing the various camps that had already made up there mind about the situation. I had forgotten, the lesson I’d acquired back in Grade 11/12 on the debating team: it really doesn’t matter what you say in a debate, only that you impress your view on the audience and judges, in a logical and entertaining manner: the delivery method is almost everything. When both sides have prepared and researched equally it comes down to the quality of the performance over the quality of the information being shared.
I was intrigued to read recently that the philosopher Michel Serres has really engaged in philosophical debate, in an interview with Bruno Latour he complained that debating was merely a tool for reinforcing your opponents position. This is more clearly evident in debates between atheists and theists. Anyone skilled in the art of rhetoric and debating can make a preposturous position appear credible see: see the record of debates at Common Sense Atheism. Atheists often loose the debates practiced debates like William Lane Craig, having adopted a rationalist position and overcome the internal illogical ‘belief’ in myths they then fail to see how these beliefs become entrenched and unshiftable in the minds of others. Confronted by well researsed, often charismatic delivery and creative logic that proves nothing but rhetorically impresses in a verbal slight of heand magic trick, atheists often appear disorganised, over complex and muddled.
If sociologist Gabriel Tarde has refused to debate Emule Durkehime, perhaps sociology would look extremely different than it is today. Or perhaps not, that is one of the messages (after the credits) in the third epsidoes of the great series on Remix culture, Everything is Remix.
Rather than debating the merits of the arguments against the draconion features of intellectual property and copyright that usually accompanies the remix approach, the series simply presents its position with precise and engaging real world examples, beautifully presented media. It this kind of video that agains leads me back to the view that the future of higher education, especially in the arts and humanities will come to rely on media production over traditional forms of assessment in terms of exams, essays and tests. I realise now that it’s exactly what Lessig was doing. He knew the debates, he knew the arguements, he’d heard and made them many times before, even though they were still relatively new to me, everything he had to offer was already in his videos, his blog, his well-edited Remix lecture and presentation performance peice.
Perhaps that is why the climate scientists are loosing (especially in Australia), they have the information, they know all the debates, but they need to start talking with experts in creative communication practice. I’m not talking about advertisers, who think Cate Blanchett is a good way to sell a carbon tax. They need some like Kirby Ferguson.