A case for proper rules of discourse

Over a period of time, having participated in discussions at various online venues, it has become clear that discourse is a topic that is much misunderstood by most netizens on the various internet fora.

I’m going to rely on an ancient tradition of discourses in the Indic traditions to articulate the different types there can be.

An exchange between two parties can be categorized as follows —

  • Samvāda – An exchange between a student and a Teacher
  • vāda – An exchange between two equals
  • jalpa – An exchange between two parties who are convinced that each of them is right and the other is wrong
  • vitanda – Where the sole purpose is to defeat the other person, by whatever means possible

In any discourse it becomes evident fairly quickly when it descends down to the level of jalpa and vitanda. In some cases it can be samvāda, like for instance when an expert writes about something and other interact with him/her for the sake of learning– asking clarifying questions and clearing doubts. In most cases, on egalitarian internet fora, vāda should be the status quo.

Two sincere and equally interested parties, giving each other due respect, start a discourse. The nature of the discourse is amicable and the objective of the discourse being a better understanding of each others’ perspectives. It could even be a debate, but the proper rules of debating in that case need to apply. The outcome of said debate could be that one parties’ views and opinions emerge as the better perspective and then the other would concede their view, or concede temporarily while they go back to work on their view and see where they might have missed out.

If a discussion is started by positing erroneous and/or deliberately misrepresentative points about the others’ perspective,  it more likely than not, is jalpa.

A civil discourse (vāda) has the following characteristics —

  • No strawman arguments
  • No ad hominem attacks
  • A sincere attempt to understand and articulate the other’s perspective/position (Purva Paksha) and then proceeding to articulate one’s own position (Uttara Paksha) which would be the rebuttal (khandana) of the Purva Paksha.
  • When sound points are made by either party, they are treated with respect and addressed appropriately.
  • If a sound rebuttal is not possible, concede the point(s).

This way, people can grow and learn from each other, rather than descend down to “wrestling with in mud”.

Let me know how you feel about it in your comments.

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