Teaching Debate From The Wrong Book

It's late and I should have gone home a while ago. I did plan on going straight home but it's just too tempting to go talk and have a drink with my fantastic colleague and a brilliant graduate student (and former student of her's).

We are talking about strategy, for the most part. How to approach difficult situations and how to act in the best sense, given a dicey situation. The University is full of such moments and such issues. And normally, I love thinking about strategy.

For most of my life one book has governed my approach to it. That book is Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. And if you have spoken to me for around ninety seconds, you know this book is very central to my way of thinking.

Musashi identifies strategy as central to the art of being a samurai. However, this is not his major point. He defines strategy as being "all things with no teacher." Suddenly, strategy seems to be the ideal of the University. Well, the ideal of a University that used to be, and an ideal they never quite live up to. We might be too specialized for this to really be a thing we do anymore, but I like to hold out hope and be naive. You'll get that if you talk to me for thirty seconds.

This fantastic conversation reminded me why I dig what I do. But also, through the course of it, I kept thinking about a book that is marginally related, but quite a split away from Musashi's book: Shantideva's The Way of the Bodhisattva.  This book is about how to develop an enlightened sense of relation to others - and basically suggests that you connect to both your impermanence and the impermanence of others while at the same time recognizing the limitless potential of each moment of existence. Basically, realize that you are the Universe, and that you are inevitably going to end one day. How could you hold a grudge, or begrudge others if you realize that?  


I kept thinking about that book and about the approaches in that book for developing Bodhisattva consciousness - basically a kind heart. Musashi isn't really into that, surprisingly enough. He is much more into being fluid and flexible and rolling with the moment so you can beat others in combat.  But he's also suggesting the use of this idea for the creation of paintings, poetry, art and other works.

It was my colleague who then brought up Levinas as a response to a discussion about Camus and his question of why not suicide. Levinas, someone who I should pay more attention to, sort of showed me through her comments that these books are not as unrelated as I made them out to be in my mind.

Strategy: Have I had the wrong book this whole time? Probably not. I have had both books on my shelf for many years. After this night though, I have them much closer to one another.

To be strategic just might include struggling to understand why you consider yourself so distinct from the Universe. To deploy strategy might be to take actions that lead to better understanding of yourself no matter what happens.

This might make it impossible to lose a debate. But that is for another post.

"My enemies shall cease to be. My friends
and I myself shall one day cease to be. And
all is likewise destined for destruction."
This quote from Shantideva is one of my favorites. If all things are related in their fundamental and inevitable end, why hold so tightly to them?

Perhaps the practice of debate helps to address this question. But remember: I am hopeful and naive. A better answer would be - Perhaps debate helps us ask this question in a better way.

Debate as a practice of realizing your fragility, your impossible existence and your inevitable demise. Debate as a struggle with the self as subject. This is a model of debate practice I can get behind.

Is it contradictory to Musashi's teachings?

At first thought, no, not that much. Upon deeper reflection, not at all. But Musashi's spirituality/theology is less developed than Shantideva's - writing a long time before Musashi, and from within a religion that had not gone through the temporal, political, and cultural filters that allowed it to diffuse into Musashi's flavor of Buddhism - Zen.

A defense of debating from non individualistic, fatalistic premises. Now that could never be a bad book from which to start teaching advocacy.
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