Updated: Dec 5, 2019
"True patronisation: to think so little of people's capacity of intelligence, you no longer tell them they are being idiotic." -Alain de Botton
If you happen to find yourself inside the octagon for a mixed martial arts fight, there are a few rules you should be aware of. No low-blows. No eye-gouging. And you can't kick or knee your opponent in the head when he is down. To define a "downed opponent" they use the three-point stance. In other words, if there is any part of the body other than, and in addition to, their two feet touching the mat (finger, knee, buttock, etc.) then you cannot kick or knee that opponent in the head.
This leads to a technique that fans and fighters alike detest. That is that competitors, sensing the dread of getting kicked in the head, purposefully drop to a knee or place a finger on the mat. The intention here is to not only avoid a strike but sometimes it is to bait their opponent into hitting them anyways, causing a disqualification. It is seen as taking advantage of a rule that is meant to keep fighters safer. A fighter is put in a vulnerable situation but instead of returning to a competitive stance to continue the contest, he intentionally stays down, using rules to regain an advantage rather than his own effort or skill. (Full disclosure if I was in that cage I'd do the exact same thing, looking for any reason for the ref to ring that bell and end my horror! But these are professionals who are supposedly on an even level of competition).
All brutality aside, I believe there is a social equivalent to taking a knee in a UFC fight and that is the intention of remaining in a socially or emotionally vulnerable position to draw the "illegal strikes" of criticism of any kind. And I think it needs to stop.
Let me be clear. I am pro-kindness and respect. Very little if anything is ever gained from tearing somebody else down with harsh words. My focus in this post is honest, fair criticism of behaviours. We need to be kind but we also need to evaluate behaviour and promote that which bolsters humanity and reject and correct that which sets us back. We need to be able to criticize behaviours that we think are negative regardless of who is behind them, especially if those persons are dishing out criticisms themselves.
I think some people have positioned themselves as untouchable because of their less than fortunate social/racial/sexual/economic status. There is such thing as social inequality. Women get paid less for the same work. That is wrong. Certain racial minorities are jailed at a higher rate for marijuana related crimes even though white people are just as likely to possess/use it. That is wrong. But there is one way that the discriminated are now able to regain some power, and that is by using their very real discrimination to shield them from any legitimate critique.
Minorities need to have a voice. They need to be represented. But that still doesn't mean they are automatically right. We need to show them the respect to disagree with them like we would anyone else. That is a by-product of true equality. I think curbside recycling makes sense and if someone in a wheelchair argues otherwise then we are going to have it out. I won't pull my punches because of my privilege or their disadvantage.
Now I should mention that if we are arguing, say, about wheelchair accessibility in our city then there's a completely different dynamic to the debate. This person has a legitimate advantage in the argument because of their lived experience. And while this doesn't give them an automatic pass, their viewpoint should be weighted more heavily than is mine. Either way, the counter-argument needs to be heard and I should not be censored or targeted because I'm arguing with poor so-and-so who happens to be in a wheelchair. This patronization is a more sinister version of discrimination than its more blatant counterpart, and it highlights your privilege as the unfortunate's saviour while keeping them on a lower, weaker tier.
The Alt-right is an extreme response to the feeling that there are certain people who are untouchable, and while I try to distance myself from that movement I can see where they are coming from. There are people who, in their attempt to protect the vulnerable, have dished out criticisms online and in protests freely but call foul when there is a counter-argument. In a society that values freedom of speech and diversity we have to concede to the fact that if we get in the ring we are fair game for retaliation. Defend yourself with good arguments but don't take a knee just to get your opponent disqualified.
Another caveat. If one has decided NOT to step onto the battleground... then leave them alone. If you have a criticism of Ivanka Trump and her using her political power to peddle handbags, that's fair game. But Barron (Donald Trump's son)? Off-limits. He isn't in the arena. Don't be a bully.
I think the biggest "a-ha" moments I've had personally (aside from watching my brother butcher 'Take on me' in karaoke) came from situations in which I felt comfortable enough to express a criticism but was then confronted with a better argument. To continue my fight metaphor, I stepped into the ring, I threw a combo, and I got cold-cocked with a counter. I lost the argument and I was better for it. In retrospect, it would have been a massive disservice if my foe had taken pity on me and refrained from correcting my error because I was young or at some other perceived disadvantage. I am better for it. I needed to take one on the chin.
I am calling for every wannabe or actually-be debater, protester, or political activist to defend your argument with reason, persuasion, and data, and then welcome and foster the counter. If your argument is sound than it will stand. Do not dismiss or discourage someone else's opinion. If someone's response is racist then it should be easy for you to blow it out of the park with reason. Ending the argument by calling them racist doesn't work because
They don't think they are racist, no racist does.
You haven't used reason to defeat them.
And please, resist the urge to use your position as the underdog or downtrodden to avoid a viable counterargument. If you dish it out then you can dine on it too.
For example, I made an argument for universal child care in a previous post. While I believe strongly in this policy, I am also aware that there are legitimate, sound reasons why this may not work. While I am not going to accept someone disregarding my argument by saying that I am waging a war on traditional families, I am also not going to turnaround and claim that anyone who is against universal child care is waging a war on working families either (The whole war on___ headline needs to stop. I'm looking at you Fox News).
If I step in the arena then I am fair game. If you disagree with me then do so and I will do my best to hear you out and then do my best to prove you wrong. If I think your reasoning is wrong then I will do you the honour of telling you so. Respect me enough to do the same.
One more fight analogy and I'll wrap up. Being successful in the fight game is not just about winning the fight. It's about selling the fight. Rule number one in fight promotion is you don't bury your opponent. If you talk about how weak they are then you are not going to look very strong when you beat them (Donald Trump). Or even worse, you will look terrible when you lose (Hillary Clinton). Hulk Hogan became a massive star by beating the unbeatable Andre the Giant. Prior to his bout he didn't talk about how out of shape and near death's door Andre was (which he was). Elevate your competition and it makes your victory all the more convincing and remarkable. In terms of debate and ideology, if you build up the credibility of your opponent and then win an argument against them, it will make your argument stronger.
I am trying to make the world a better place here people. I have ideas that I think will do that. If you think yours are better then let's let the ideas do the talking and see which one ends up victorious.
May the best argument win.