Urgently needed: Discourse
“Discourse” is a popular word these days, and even the most inane of chattering over media gets glamorized as “discourse”. Were we more circumspect in our use of terms, we would reserve it for the vindication of contested claims implicit in every speech act. When I tell you something, and you doubt either the truth of what I say, or my sincerity, and I endeavor to clear the air, that would be discourse. But some degree of acuity is required: I must know the implicit claim that is questioned; I must be familiar with what is required for its vindication; I must be able to tell whether the contention is resolved.
One has only to look up the comments to news posts on social media to be alarmed over the impoverished state of discourse in this country. It does not matter that high-level debates take place in academic circles. Like wealth that does not make its way to the hinterlands, unless discourse is inclusive, it will still be what Heidegger calls “idle talk” that will continue to wend its way through alleys and cafeterias and barbershops and weekly meetings and the assemblies of the pious in churches, lulling many who echo the drivel into a false sense of confidence about knowing what really remains opaque! The ad hominems and non sequiturs are no longer amusing. They are alarming. They are symptomatic of a fundamental incapacity for discourse!
On the one hand, this malady indicts an educational system that has placed a premium on rote memory and a senseless recall of a mass of information—a case of information overload without any processing! It should be better in faculties and institutes of law where, traditionally, critical thinking was highly prized, but it is not, unfortunately. For many law professors, teaching law means getting students to master the provisions that one examiner or other may ask about in the Bar Examination. The Philippine Association of Law Schools recently met with the Legal Education Board—and I hope to God that our law deans seriously took up the matter of the decadence of legal education! It is no better in many graduate schools that one finds in every cranny of this archipelago. Hardly any discourse going on there; rather, one sophomoric report after the other by students who have hardly digested the material—and are required by the unimaginative manner of instruction so prolific in sub-standard graduate schools to regurgitate in boring reports, odd bits and pieces of disparate and wholly disjointed propositions!
But it is also a matter of a bad national habit: intellectual sloth. Thinking critically is definitely more difficult than repeating the babble that rabble-rousers, in commentators’ chairs, as well as social media magpies proffer as oracular. It really does not take very much. Have anyone say the ugliest thing about a popular figure—and after you get a slew of wags repeating the same libel, it gets accepted as the truth. Evidence is irrelevant, and the gratuitous assertion is evidence enough. Now, how does one cope with irrationality of this magnitude? In similar vein, it suffices that instantaneous admiration morphs into the adulation of a hero, unrecognizably humongous in comparison to life! Remind me again: What exactly was the heroic feat?
From ISIS to utterly senseless explosions in the heart of Bangkok, from the slave-taking by Boko Haram and the unconscionable beheadings in Southern Philippines—ever so often, we are given stark reminders of the high costs of the absence, if not the rejection of discourse. Yet, that is a fault about which we definitely are not helpless!