Dialectical Thinking

Those who know me best – and with some reason I might add – have labelled me a contrarian. Perhaps they have it right, although sometimes I question it…

More importantly, my goal is to ensure that relevant factual data/content from a variety of angles for a given topic are not overlooked. Too many people selectively seek information that confirm their bias.

Perhaps I was inspired by one of my favorite journalists/authors/essayists/critics/orators, Christopher Hitchens. Or perhaps he resonated with me because of those characteristics already inherent. But regardless, I was always intrigued with the following quote of his: “Seek out disputation and argument for its own sake. The grave will provide plenty of time for silence….Suspect your own motives.”

Think about that a bit more.

Do it for another 30 seconds as I channel my inner Hitchens and grab some wine.

Ok. I’m back. You didn’t wait, did you? tsk tsk.

I believe that particularly in the present political climate, the essence of this quote rings true. And proper application will yield proper dialogue between differing parties of thought. When I discuss a whole host of differing issues with friends, I can be counted on to be the dissenting voice. I do not raise those points because I aim to convince them of my ‘view’ but because I want them to think more deeply about the issue and more comprehensively understand the issue from different viewpoints before deciding on a more definite position.

And I also hope to make clear that most issues are not as simple as they might seem or as the parties make them appear to be. Any change in policy in any sphere will almost always be guaranteed to have trade-offs. You probably recognize this without realizing when you go to buy toilet paper at the store. When ascertaining which to purchase, you realize that the nice, soft, thick tissue costs significantly greater than the thinner, rougher tissue. You might compromise by purchasing a less expensive package that has only slightly thicker tissue. Too few people perform a cost/benefit analysis when weighing differing views on a wide variety of issues. There are no solutions; only trade-offs.

To cite Hitchens once more: “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

It is important to seek out disputation for its own sake because it helps to prevent polarization of views. My friend Dan, or MFD as he is known to everyone in my family, is of a particular political persuasion. MFD tends to surround himself with friends and colleagues who all think very similarly. This is not uncommon – we tend to surround ourselves with others who think as we do. As a result, someone like MFD only hears beliefs he already agrees with – except for when he discusses topics with me. To make matters worse, the few times he does hear arguments from the opposing side, they are from the extremists who make it on the news for the absurdity of their claims or actions. They do not fairly represent the majority of the opposition’s views. That’s where I come in. I seek to counter his claims by more fairly representing the meat and potatoes of the opposing side’s views. I want him to at least comprehensively understand the opposing view. Too often we hold a view on a topic and are not able to even accurately represent the opposing side’s view. Most issues are not like mathematics – where there’s a right or wrong answer (at least for normal people math). Instead there are merits, demerits, and trade-offs.

I do want to brag and add that in 2016, on facebook, yes, you read that properly, on facebook I was actually able to cause a friend’s friend to reconsider her views on a charged political issue. Ladies and gentlemen, if rational discourse on a facebook post is possible, then by golly, almost anything is possible!


Author: Symbiosis

I am a premedical student whose interests lay at the intersection between the humanities and science. I believe that by broadening our interests and investigating both the humanities and the sciences, we can engage in a humanistic approach to science and concurrently promote intellectual innovation by forging productive connections between the two cultures. - E.J. Tanenbaum

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