New Grounds

Anyone (emphasis on “one”) that follows this blog will notice that I have spent pretty much the entire time writing on two topics: international relations and basketball.

Why those two?

I write about basketball because, without tooting my own horn, I am more familiar with the NBA than most. Equally important, is the undeniable fact that the stakes are low – meaning: I can sleep easy knowing that if I make an asinine argument about the Toronto Raptors the world will go on.

With topics in international relations, or domestic politics, I am a little less comfortable. This somewhat uneasy approach stems partially from the fact that there is far less objectivity in evaluating political issues. More than that I am often reluctant to address such topics because I do not feel that I am capable of giving them the respect that they deserve.

Of course this may sound incredibly silly. Obviously I’m not going to sway domestic and international political forces a fraction of an inch with my haphazard, inconsistent, and frankly, unclear arguments on a given subject.  Plus, one of the strongest criticisms of politics at any level is that the ultimate goal is to win with truth being secondary (hence the absence of objectivity), so it is rarely the realm of upstanding citizens – or even intelligent ones for that matter.

However, I implicitly feel that certain topics deserve a tremendous level of respect and need to be deftly handled when a definitive position is being taken. A writer needs a certain level of familiarity not just with the topic itself, but with the literature surrounding the topic. You need to know the arguments for and against a topic and the responses to each. You have to be able to deconstruct the implicit assumptions that stem from a writer’s theoretical base. This isn’t easy.

So why have I written about issues that essentially fit within the realm of political science and history (not coincidentally the two subject areas I majored in as an undergrad)? Because, as Social Sciences, there are “facts” to backup some arguments and demolish others.

I use the word “facts” somewhat loosely because the data that social scientists use is interpretive. A common misconception about History essays/books/articles is that they are a series of indisputable facts laid out in chronological order. For a layman, there is no need for interpretation or analysis, just record the sequence of events. For a professional social scientist that is never enough. Maybe we know for certain that the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 at Runnymede but that is the only item that is “known” with regard to that event. The genesis, intent, and implications of that moment in history are left for endless interpretation nearly a thousand years later.

What I’m getting at is that I feel much less comfortable dealing with disciplines that are not based on empirical evidence (regardless of how faulty that evidence may be). Disciplines that are purely analytical scare me.

Philosophy scares me the most.

But Philosophy cannot be ignored. While political differences are real and can be exacerbated by historical grudges, these problems are secondary – issues that can be mitigated by good will and consensus building, but can only be solved by a change at a higher level. As such, Philosophy is the fundamental parent and overlord to them both.  It is the elephant in the room that threatens to annihilate the assumptions of those who acknowledge it. I personally welcome that outcome, but again, fear that I will not pay the subject enough respect to achieve the full benefit of this experience.

Given my discomfort and lack of experience in a realm that relies almost solely on rational argument (some philosophers took liberties) my lack of confidence is understandable. Throw in the fact that I have a 9 to 5 job, spend hours each day searching for and applying for a better job, perform volunteer work, and try to maintain some sort of a social life, and the idea of tackling any subject with anything but token depth seems faint.

But there is hope! Debate on fundamental issues does not have to be left simply to the experts – I don’t mean to give that impression. Novices, like myself, can touch on important debates in useful ways. A reductionist approach could prove affective. By looking at particular aspects of a bigger issue hopefully a degree of expertise can be developed, expertise that would prove useful when moving beyond the trees to study the forest as a whole.

Second, an inquisitive approach can be taken. Rather than feeling compelled to answer any question outright I can question the underlying assumptions of a given position, while at the same time consider deconstructing arguments (something I’ve never been strong at!).  This would require a format where I could revisit old posts as sort of a never ending continuation when a given topic expands. One of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, is effective at keeping certain threads open for months, even years, though I think I’d have to develop a more appropriate format, which is a whole other problem…

So maybe I’ll just wade in cautiously, starting with pseudophilosophy!

Coming soon, the first baby steps…


… or my preview of the NBA Playoffs!!!


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