What the Internet Taught Me About Debates and Logic / A Different Dharma (updated!)

(Update: Commenter cvj has identified the fallacy for us. It’s tu quoque. Also check out this interesting article on the fallacy here.)

(Note: Dharma is a Hindu term that is most equivalent to sacred duty or even raison d’etre. It is also one of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha.)

I have received a lot of comments since I began this blog. While the majority of feedback are pats on the back, it is the fewer minority that scream louder. That is how it always is with criticism after all.

And from my posts about Manny Pacquiao, Gawad Kalinga and even GMA’s SONA yesterday, the comment that always captures my attention are those that tell me, “Why don’t you do better?”

I was very vocal about Manny not running for office. I even wrote a long treatise on why he should lose. These posts were met with loud criticism from Pacman fans, most of them echoing, “How about you, sir? What have you done for the country?”

Same with Gawad Kalinga. I received a lot of responses from those passionate about GK. While most of their comments missed the fact that I set the boundaries of my article to Sitio Target only, they were pretty unanimous in telling me to “Volunteer for GK, see how wrong you are, and write about the other side of the story!”

And while my post about GMA’s SONA yesterday is rather new and there has been a couple of people who challenged me in MLQ3’s blog, the counter-argument is all too familiar. If I don’t buy into GMA’s sweeping vision, he said, perhaps I should propose my own. One person even went farther to ask me who am I to speak for the people.

There is actually a label for this kind of argument where you try to turn the tables on your opponent by asking him or her to own up to what they say and tell everyone what they would do in the situation. It’s called tu quoque (thanks to commenter cvj!) and is somehow a combination of a non sequitur and an ad hominem fallacy. As an argument, it is a desperate maneuver, a cop out. It is designed specifically to hush the opponent by attacking his character albeit indirectly. And when you look at it, it is rather illogical in form and immaterial to the debate. Illogical because I am not in the same position as the person in question, and therefore immaterial because your attacking me doesn’t weaken my argument. Don’t shoot the messenger, as they say.

I can’t measure up to the Pacman. I haven’t achieved anything close to what Tony Meloto has. Above all, I am not the President of the Philippines. However, that does not deny me the position to criticize them. This is what a democracy is all about, so take a moment before you play that “crab mentality” card. Please. Don’t let that be an excuse for us to be lazy and indignant about people who criticize the status quo — regardless of how good or bad it is.

So who am I to speak for the people? I am no one. And you are?

At the least, one can shoot down my arguments for its innate weaknesses. I can concede if my critique — as merely a young high school social studies teacher as a lot love to remind me — is weaker compared to that of a seasoned political scientist, a lawyer or even a public official. Our perspectives and level of expertise may vary, but a debate is the realm of logic and reason, so may the best facts or reasoning win. If one is less qualified than another, then let the arguments speak for themselves.

Therefore, this leads me to a more ‘extremist’ example which I’ve received a handful of times. To say that I have no right to criticize Pacman or GK because I am not in a position to do so is logical suicide. All I have to do is use that same logic and say that one has no right to criticize me because he or she is not in a position to do so. It may be bad form on my side but I didn’t falter first. So notice how I never responded to people who told me this.

Originally, this article’s train of thought ran differently. It was less venomous.

It was entitled “A Different Dharma” and was supposed to be a reflection on how we Filipinos define duty. However, when I think about the comments I receive, I just grew convinced at how illogical they were and how little they had to do with our sense of duty or even honor. When people ask me about what I can do, it’s not really to discover what I can but to reveal what I can’t. It’s a lazy form of debate which I think will be difficult to excise from the Internet considering how it is structured.

Nonetheless, the original insight of “A Different Dharma” is a response to all those who challenge me about what I can do better than the Pacman, Tony Meloto, or GMA. My response? I teach. So, I apologize if I’ve never stepped in a boxing ring; I’m too busy with the four walls of the classroom. I apologize if I don’t have time to commit to GK; I work hard each day to form men and women of commitment to our country. I apologize if I can’t give a sweeping vision like GMA; I’m busy making these students’ dreams possible and hopefully one of them can give us a sweeping vision one day.

I don’t pretend to be superior to those I criticize. I just simply wonder how they could do their job better since that is one thing I think of for myself every day. Pacman is a hero; I hope he stays that way. GK is a symbol of hope; I hope they realize the enormous responsibility that carries. And GMA is a president with a vision and a dream; I just hope she could get everyone on board.

We all do a different Dharma. We all have our roles to play. Though we don’t often agree how, we live in a society where it is so easy to check and balance. But even that we have to learn to do right, and that is the point of my brief lecture on logic.

After all, Karma is Dharma’s sister.

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37 Comments

  1. Sir Martin,

    I know what is your goal. The more you criticize other people the more people are interested to read and reply to your blog. If you enter into politics then I am definitely sure that you will always be an opposition. You will oppose to everything and you will always have all convincing reasons why and there will be a lot of people who will believe in you like our current political oppositions are doing. But guess what, this is the main reason why our country is not moving forward. “SAYANG” GOD BLESS US ALL.

  2. i never said you had no right to whine. you can whine all you want, and as you said, i can whine about you whining just as well.

    illogical to ask you to present a better vision? or maybe you mean ‘frowned on by the formal rules of logic and debate?’ this is no formal academic debate, lao shi, where pointing out a supposed logical fallacy is an acceptable way of not taking responsibility for the what you say.

    in your case especially, speaking from a position of authority as you are, do you not feel a certain responsibility to justify your criticism more fully and to posit what you think would work? we have more than enough people who are content with just complaining about the way things are. that is what i would call laziness. and complaining about being asked to propose an alternative is a lazy way of getting out of an argument.

    i would think that your students would profit much from learning from you that merely criticizing from the sidelines is not enough; that the way to improve an idea is not to call it stupid and then just shut up; that the way to sharpen a knife is to put it to the stone – not just point out that it is dull.

    and it doesn’t matter either if you’re not the president. you are a part of this country too, and your ideas – not just your opposition to what someone else says – may be the spark that ignites deeper insight and comprehension in your students. isn’t that worth speaking out for?

    ps. i’m a ‘she.’

  3. i just think no one has the right to speak for the ‘entire’ people and presume that they ‘all’ think the way he does. generally, pinoys have an annoying habit of saying: people like this and people like that – without explaining how he managed to know what is in the heart and mind of each individual in society.

  4. Malchik, incredible. You just figured me out. Congratulations on discovering my intentions, though you are rather flawed. I don’t think I should explain myself though; just read.

  5. I never said you said you said that too, Rom.

    I can see how you think I’m being lazy by squeezing out of the argument by a technicality of logic. I actually agree with you, and in retrospect, I realize that these ‘traditional’ rules no longer apply to the Internet as such.

    Nonetheless, I did respond to your request for me to posit my own alternative. It’s a complicated answer which I touched on very briefly in that section, “A Different Dharma.” However, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t find that to your liking since I am not completely satisfied with that myself. I don’t pretend to have all the answers right now, and I continue to flesh it out every day.

    We’re all still young and have too many years left to discover what our alternative is. Until then, we speak out and perhaps form a consensus in the process. This may be presumptuous of me, but I feel that we can actually agree on a lot of things. Your closing challenge — that it doesn’t matter if I’m not president — leaves me nodding in the affirmative, since that is a theme I explore in this blog. While I don’t find the need to revise my initial comments about the SONA, rest assured that it was but a fragment of what I have in mind. I have written much of what you seek, and will write more in the future. I welcome you to take a look around and stay tuned.

    Nice to hear from you again. And indeed, you’re a she. You write well, but do take care of those lungs.

  6. Bencard, good point. I do try to read the papers, and I take a lot with me after I come from my teaching and engaging in social outreach and exposure work, but I agree — we can never really know what each and every person thinks, no matter what trend emerges.

  7. I feel the heat. hahaha.
    I so agree with you sir especially dun sa illogical na sabihing “what gives you the right” at “you tell us what you want to do”.

    There are some cases na it works. You’ve said it already. When you’re on the same position i.e. members of the same committee, colleagues etc pede.

    Andaming pedeng sabihin pero I guess the most worthwhile to note is what crab mentality is. Crab mentality is a matter of intention and not consequence, a matter of absolute and not relative right and wrong. If a person criticizes you and he’s right, that is not crab mentality. Even if it brings you down, as long as he’s right, it’s pretty much what you deserve. I often hear it from GMA, let’s all work together blah blah blah and stop destabilizing government with your criticisms. But the fact is, for people whose intentions are to save this country, not criticizing will not make things right, in fact it could make things worse. Yun ung problema minsan e. People often feel that the problem is when people criticize you. I guess it stems from the idea that something is wrong only when you get caught. The right paradigm to use in life is if you’re right, you won’t be criticized. Even if of course this is an idealist statement (life is not completely black and white), it works.

    I’m saying this not because teacher si sir martin sa pisay or anything but because it’s simply stupid na no he can’t criticize just because he can’t provide an alternative. This is stupid because it’s not his responsibility to do so. Some even imply that stopping criticism is tantamount to making something right. Stupid talaga yun. Right and Truth are absolute things.

    haha yun lang. nafeel ko yung heat talaga haha.
    God bless 😀

  8. If someone would ask me that question: ” who am i to speak for the people?” I’ll just answer back, and who do you think you are? And to me, I don’t give a hoot if He or She is my PM, such question won’t be asked by anyone of their intellegence and “common sense” anyways…

  9. im still waiting for your response to my comment in mlq3’s blog in reaction to your statement that PGMA is not the right person to present a vision for the country. why is she not, and who do you think is fit to express a vision for the country at this point in time?

    these questions are by no means tu quoque. i am not attacking you as a “messenger”, rather i am asking you to articulate your reason for your comment. i believe every responsible commenter must think of the unintended consequence of his/her statement, i.e. its impact on impressionable minds for it could result in disinformation and misleading effect. statements like “her vision will not resonate on the people because of lingering issues against her legitimacy” – may be true with respect to a certain group (which i call the GMA-haters) but definitely not to the entire filipino “people” more or less of whom believe otherwise, and who reject such issues as coming from vanquished rivals. absent such a qualifying caveat, the comment becomes nothing more than a presumptuous propaganda that should only be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

  10. vic, your comment is childish because the reason you were asked the question is that you were the one trying to “speak for the people” and the one asking you is not.

    it doesn’t make sense for you to throw the question back and to feel smug that you were “smart” to turn the tables around. tu quoque doesn’t work that way.

  11. Bencard, fair enough. There are many arguments against GMA, but I’ll put forward my own take — I don’t find her charismatic enough.

    My take off point is Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority which would be charismatic (leader by virtue), traditional (leader by practice) or legal (leader by law). GMA is a good leader in the traditional and legal senses, but not so in the charismatic way. And this evaluation has been reached by comparing her to other charismatic statesmen we’ve had in our history such as Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Ninoy Aquino and even Cory Aquino. Reach even farther back into the annals of history and you have people like Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus Christ. And it may be even a little more unfair to GMA when I compare her today to Barack Obama — he may be too green for the White House but he can definitely deliver a speech!

    It is my position that our country, in general, still looks for charismatic (but not necessarily popular) authority. At least, this is the understanding I’ve derived from studying our history and politics. We need leaders who are not just good technocrats, but are virtuous and of supreme moral character as well. A lot phrase this as the “messiah complex” though I believe that phrase is becoming passe. That requires some level of delusion, which is gradually disappearing in these days of disillusion. Yet in a way, this is why actors and icons have traditionally been elected easily into public office. The danger here is that being charismatic and popular are vastly different and yet are easily confused. Philosophically speaking, charisma is an inner virtue while popularity is a matter of image and perception. Though the two reinforce each other, perception matters a lot in politics. This is why some people wish for us to have more legalistic forms of authority, and to go beyond the level of the popular — but not necessarily charismatic — vote.

    While we’ve seen the spark of some change in that in the last election, 2010 will show us whether there is really a tipping point or not. I’m crossing my fingers.

    Thus, I don’t find GMA to be one such charismatic authority. She is a good politician, yes, and has proven herself quite capable in dealing with the law and the economy. It’s just that the ‘X’ factor, the pizazz, isn’t there (for me at least). She can deliver us her vision of course, but whether she can get everyone as equally excited is another. It is the prospect of that not happening that concerns me.

    Her 2006 SONA was actually interesting and played to her strengths. She is an economist and the Super Regions talk showed her insight into our situation. But for ’07, it may take a little more than a speech to blow us away with the vision of becoming a first world country. It will take results, and she is good at delivering those. It’s just that there is still so much to do and too many hills to climb. Instead, the trenches between the administration and opposition grow deeper, in the same way public opinion towards her administration continues to remain split. Hence, there is a growing consensus that we should just stop bickering and work together as a people; but to rally support and foster unity is one power of the charismatic leader.

  12. All talk and splitting hairs on the vision issue.
    Move forward and instead see how the internet power you all are using be a tool to help achieve the vision.

    I think you all are trying to do exactly that thru your arguments. I see the contribution of this ss teacher clearly-helping his students achieve their dreams, devoid ourselves with the crab mentality card,and the point to just stop bickering and work together as a people. I don’t clearly see as much contribution from the girl who smokes while writing her best and to health sounding monicker of a commenter who continuously begs the question.

    You all seem talented. Put them to better use rather than just try winning an argument. You have the internet platform to capitalize on to help create the roadmap towards 1st world vision despite your deferring views.

    It would be lovely to see concrete ideas that can be buiding blocks for the future coming from young,talented men and women who can be future movers & shakers of our country.

    I am past my prime and have done my share. About time to put more meaning and action by enagaging, empowering the youth. Don’t you guys realize that all of you are talking about your future? Help shape the vision you all, including your siblings, will benefit from.

  13. considering your examples of a “charismatic leader” it seems that the shortest way to gain charismatic quality is to die first in the most dramatic fashion one can muster. it may sound sacrilegious to many but i have serious doubts whether quezon could have achieved charisma had he not died in the way, and at the time, he did at one of the biggest crisis in our nation’s history. magsaysay was a popular president for most of his term, but before his mettle as president was seriously challenged and tested towards the end of his presidency, he had to die under very tragic circumstances and earn the adoration of the people as though he had a flawless tenure. of course, ninoy aquino was by no means charismatic before he was shot dead, and for that matter, his wife who was just a “plain housewife” before that tragedy.

    lincoln was a true visionary but was not even close to being charismatic until felled by an assasin’s bullet. rasputin was said to be charismatic but not a visionary by any means, so was hitler, except for his lunatic “vision” of superhuman race.

    a vision need not be supported, believed or approved by any one. it is an insight, a glimpse, a sort of holographic image of the future. it is a personal thing emanating from the virtue of hope rather than the vice of despair. therefore, it is not a proper subject of criticism or debate as to who should reveal it, much less to use it to foster more ill-will and hate.

  14. It occurs to me that it may be argued that Jesus Christ was guilty of Tu Quoque when he told the crowd to ‘let he who has no sin, cast the first stone’. In His case, he was using a rhetorical device to challenge the moral right of the crowd to sit in judgement. So he may have been logically wrong while being morally right.

    In this case, Bencard and Rom are playing the equivalent role of Jesus Christ so it is by this standard that they should likewise be evaluated i.e. whether they are morally right or not. In that sense, your assertion of your right to criticize as well Vic’s retort in the form of ‘who do you think you are, Jesus Christ?’ are the appropriate ones.

  15. Bencard, I am sorry, but we will have to agree to disagree. By defining vision, you have drawn your line and set your terms for the debate, and I don’t think I can concede anything to you with that definition.

    What you describe as a vision, to me, is a dream. Otherwise, I can only use your definition of vision as a synonym for a hallucination, a premonition, or even an apparition.

    A vision, for me, carries out the function of setting horizons for action. It is relevant to debate who is delivering a vision when that vision dictates a direction for everyone else — where the head goes, the body will follow.

    In my work in teaching and leadership — and this is my point of view — I deal with visions all the time. Not all people are capable of drafting a vision. Some people can even be wrong. Nonetheless, it is a skill that one can learn. And yet, it takes a person of conviction and character to make it into a reality. That’s why a vision is always paired with a mission. It isn’t a mere pipe dream.

    Considering how personal a vision is to you, it should be clear that different people arrive at different insights, glimpses and holograms into the future. It becomes relevant to know who’s delivering a vision since we may be dealing with a dynamic head of state pledging aid to Africa, or an Imam issuing a fatwa for the destruction of Israel. Visions have clear social implications.

    Thus, there is something fundamentally flawed in saying that visions need not be believed, supported or approved because they are believed, supported and approved. A president, above all, cannot be denied this responsibility because of the sheer stature and mandate of the position.

    And yet going by your definition, I can’t deny her right to dream. A vision, though, is something else.

    These are my terms. Thanks for playing.

  16. cvj, anybody has a right to criticize (yes, including you) but it has to make sense. of course, i always have the right to reject your nonsensical criticism, but it is my business, not yours. when you claim you “speak for the people” and i ask who are you to do that, is it logical of you to evade the question by asking “and who are you” when i don’t claim to speak for the people as you do? i think it’s not enough to be able to utter the word
    “logic”. you also must understand the mechanics of it.

  17. i think we are Just Used to using We, instead of Me, I, Myself, like we have the monopoly of reasons nd thoughts. That’s why when my co-workers always say “I”always remind Him or Her that we collectively own the Company to use the word “we and when I say “we Canadians” I make sure that I was speaking not for all, but for the Majority of my fellow citizens, which in Democracy it is valid…so far people here,most would rather hear We instead of Self righteous I, myself, and Me…anyways that is just my thought and others would predictably won’t agree with it…

  18. martin: allow me to hang around a little longer in your blog. hopefully, this is the last word on the subject of “vision” unless you care to rebut my source.

    The following entry is found in Random House Webster’s College Dictionary: “vision – 1. an act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight. 2. the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be; foresight. 3. a. something seen in or as if in a dream or trance, often attributed to divine agency. b. the experience of such perception. 4. a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation: vision of wealth and glory …”.

    as you can see, vision doesn’t “dictate” anything, neither is it an edict for others to follow, contrary to your “definition” which, i think is designed purposely to fit your argument.

    i rest my case.

  19. Tsk, tsk, Bencard.

    Considering how argumentative you are, I expected much more from you on this, hopefully your final jab on the issue. No offense to Random House–no question a great source for all shades of a word’s literal meaning–but hardly any on the contextual. (Context according to Webster’s: includes the circumstances and conditions which surround an event; specific to the condition in which something exists)

    I have a vision of myself after 6 months of gym. I may or may not follow that vision and nobody dies or goes hungry. When PGMA presents a nation’s vision in her SONA, it becomes a mandate which she sets forth with the intention for all to align with, follow and help achieve. In the context of a SONA, to say a vision doesn’t dictate anything,and neither is it an edict for others to follow is dangerously flawed. Where have you been?

    I will not even go as big as the SONA. I’m a retired VP of an advertising agency. When we merged with a large multinational agency, it took years to internalize and cascade the company’s vision/mission to everyone, including the utility lady who served coffee during client meetings in the board room. This vision was the brainchild of some of the best advertising and marketing minds who bet their balls on it and succeeded–greatly due to the fact, too, that every single individual in its corporate family embraced it, followed, and consequently contributed to the company’s growth and success over the years. It’s the same story I’m sure with a lot of companies, organizations, of all shapes and sizes that take their goals and visions seriously.

    Enough, Bencard. Your comments I must say were an engaging read, up to a certain point. I don’t think anyone will rebut your source as your source is not the problem.

  20. Bencard, a dictionary definition? Are you serious? I can’t refute your source, but I can refute you. With that stroke, you have just lost my respect — not that it matters to you, of course.

    A dictionary definition is definitive, all right, but it is hardly authoritative. As Anne pointed out, it is devoid of context and it is that context which gives it meaning and relevance to an argument. And considering how you continue to trumpet your chosen defintion in the context of this argument, you continue to be flawed as well.

    So why do you persist? You tout yourself as a contrarian to all those who criticize the President in the hopes of shaking us from our ignorance and fostering unity and cooperation behind her, yet it is your general attitude as represented by your manner of putting words in people’s mouths (no wonder people in MLQ despise you), begging the question, misrepresenting frameworks (your interpretation of Weber is pathetic), and unwillingness to concede that continues to keep us divisive. I imagine that this more empassioned response will get a rise out of you, but if it does then it only suggests how much you feel you have to prove.

    We are both guilty of splitting hairs and squabbling just like the traditional politicians we abhor. However, only one of us doesn’t know when to give up when they have to. So take your high school debate tricks with you, though that may even be an insult to my high school kids from whom I’ve heard better.

    Thank God you rest your case. I also hope, that as a debater, you rest in peace.

  21. wallow in your own world of ignorance and prejudice. define every word to fit them. for all i care as long as you don’t impart that to your pupils. and don’t be so pretentious as to call yourself “sir”. who benighted you, teacher, anyway?

    hardly authoritative? are you more authoritative than Webster? i think you are the biggest believer of all the accolades you put in this blog for yourself. that is what is pathetic!

  22. oh woo wooo, you are getting dirty martin! are n’t you “shooting the messenger” now? seems to me that you have just eaten all your words now. And are n’t you are just as guilty of the fallacies you are pointing to the people who doesn’t agree with you? The very reason why you come with this peice.

    I thought this subject was all about debating properly. I like the way it was done in the earlier exchanges. So I wrote about its level headedness of the earlier exhanges in MLQ blog.

    Your rebuttal about disagreeing with bencard on the using the dictionary definition would have been enough. Then you just disagree. period! (In the first place both of you should have clarified your definition before engaging on this argument.) But the later part of your closer argument is not really necessary. It was a cop out in itself.

    what does the negative perception of some MLQ people got to do with your arguments? Does the all MLQ peopel really despise Bencard or they are just being hecklers of bencard? And what is that closing statement all about?

    seems to me now that to you have just invalidated everything you said about you in your entry. I even have a feeling that you are even a worst than your adversaries. You too lost my respect. I wonder if this how you engaged with your students.

    This is what I dont like about all this blogs arguments. It always get ugly in the end. And this what I dont like about anti gloria people, they always act like mob. When they cant argue well they always have a tendency to bring in their ilks in to the picture and showing off their numbers. (Yet these are the same poeple who cry out loud of Gloria having the numbers in the house of representative and evade impeachment). They are so quick to complain and cry out loud about the dirty tricks being engaged by their adversaries, yet they just as guilty of the same tricks.

    Pathetic!

  23. And this why I have that very high regards of bencard among all the bloggers that I ve read. He is actually the ONLY ONE who really stick to the arguments.

    Come to think of it, he actually the only one who really anchored his arguments on the priniciples. That no matter how you gang up on him he is still mightily standing there.

    If you revisit all the arguments that Bencard has participated. It is always his adversaries who started talking dirty and employing dirty tricks when they started to run out of arguments.

  24. martin, you’re the one who got personal with me. I dish out what was given me. i thought i was having an “intellectual” discussion only to find out that it was just another ‘jungle warfare’. i participate in mlq3’s blog knowing that it is generally a hostile territory for someone like me. except for a few, like rego, who shares most of my thoughts, and others like manila bay watch and jaxius, and of course, mlq3 himself, among a few others, who admittedly are on the other side, accord me some respect, not personally, but on the basis of my arguments. i have no reason to believe that anyone in mlq3’s blog (yes, including buencamino and cvj) “dislike” me as a person.

    i’m sorry if i busted your chops a little bit but that’s the way it is. you set up a blog and make controversial comments, what do you expect?
    someone will, at least, question you about it
    maybe even your own student whom you, presumably, teaches freedom of thought and expression.

  25. Rego and Bencard, then I suppose I had this coming. We get what we give. We reached the rebuttal stage and I gave in to ad hominem. Remembering what I wrote, I accept this loss gladly. I’m done for now, I bear this shame, and I won’t even make excuses for myself. I’m sorry.

  26. apologies accepted, martin. by being open-minded, you
    have proven yourself to be a better man and a good sport. i’m sure you have given your student invaluable lesson in humility to go with their special gift of intelligence. goodspeed.

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