One of the great dangers of self-analysis is that it is inevitably biased. Our own self-views judge our own self worth by our own personal experiences. It is rather natural for us to view ourselves with lenience, to rationalize away the very shortcomings we critically denounce in others, to see the speck in another’s eye while ignorant of the plank in our own. In many ways, this serves as a sort of evidence for why we should invest ourselves in others – to learn about them and to understand their perspectives, to use sober discrimination (note: not the stereotypical connotation of irrational, bigoted discrimination) about the choices and actions in their lives as a mirror to our own. For only by broadening ourselves in the lives and light of others can we truly begin to see ourselves for who we are. All this is to say that self-analysis is a business that should be conducted with particular attention and delicacy. In that respect, once again I tread into those perilous waters of self-examination to explore, and judge the worth of, my processes in critical thinking and argument formulation. In an ironic sense, I relish the challenge of presenting evidence to formulate and support an argument in defense of how I present evidence to formulate and support an argument. It is a kind of “chicken and egg” situation that suddenly reminds me of a humorous (albeit loquaciously obtuse) anecdote between Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij1pZvv9m0g
The first step to argument formulation is, logically, to know about what it is you intend to argue. In one’s journey for knowledge, Research is the vessel. If I know little to nothing of the subject I will invest time in gathering a broad array of reputable source material (i.e.: evidence-based, fact-supported, bibliographically referenced, etc.). Gathering as many facts and perspectives as possible is a necessary beginning to any formidable argument. Upon first contact with the informative medium, be it literature, video, speech, or any other form, I will simply observe it for what it is. No note taking, no highlighters, just a focused attention to appreciate the source material for what it is. Upon completing a first read/viewing/listening, then will come a second and subsequent reviews. With any hope, something worthwhile was remembered from the first encounter and in light of the recently gained knowledge I can locate topics of importance more easily.
The caveat to this method may be if the “research” to be gleaned comes from a live source, such as a lecture or a field trip. In cases where it is not possible to repeat the informative experience (as one could with a book or film), one must find a safe division in their attention so as to capture important moments from the experience, but not to become lost by stepping out of its context for too long by busily notating fleeting thoughts. My philosophy is this: Let memory be your page and focused attention be your quill. The mind must be allowed to be open and receptive to what it is being presented. These are skills I find sorely lacking in the general population of the “internet generation” of today… Hey Facebook, stop telling me that breakfast cereal and artisan coffees are trending. I don’t care. Unless “Focused Attention” starts trending, stop distracting me with your pointless e-mails. Please. Seriously, the rise in ADHD in the last ten years has very little to do with drugs or diet by comparison to the outrageous fact that children are being conditioned to perpetually divide their attention to all things at all times, rendering their attempts at concentration (if indeed they can even concentrate) ineffective. But I digress…
The next step in the argument formulation process is what one might call “brainstorming”, though I prefer “pensive reflection”. What information did the source material convey? How do you feel about it? What are your views toward the material and why? Are there any counter arguments? Could you construe the information in a different way? By playing the devil’s advocate with yourself a great deal of perspective and balanced rationale can be gleaned, along with defensive rebuttals to those who will inevitably attempt to poke holes in the bubble of your logic.
Following this critical analysis of the facts, I will at last take to the page. Sometimes at this stage my words flow like a fountain – a stream of prose (or sometimes poetry) may come coursing out of me and I’ll scarcely look back to read my rhetoric until paragraphs or pages have been compiled, my brain paused to recollect itself (I confess, that is the case in this instance). Other times, the topic will be broad and evasive. Then, with nothing more than a general idea of some points I’d like to touch upon, the document I begin to compose is a Frankenstein monster of disparate, disproportioned parts, barely held together by coherent grammatical seams. But slowly, as words are set to the page, ideas begin to congeal. Thoughts become sentences, sentences paragraphs. It is here that the initial writing process begins to marry with editing. In truth, I edit constantly. For me, editing is a stream of consciousness that manifests even as I think and speak. As new ideas flow, after a section is finished, after a rough draft, and a second draft, and a third and fourth – as long as there are ideas to be shared and words to share them there are edits to be made.
Of course, one cannot revise indefinitely. To quote Leonardo da Vinci (if I correctly recall): “A work of art is never finished, only abandoned.” One can only ever hope to reach a state of relative satisfaction with their work. Yet with every work attempted, one sets their own standard. While there may be other standards to appeal to, such as the expectations of an audience or the critical eye of a grading professor, the highest standard is the one you set for yourself. In that regard, with continual practice, your work should continually push new boundaries. However, the new heights are rarely achieved by some magical transformation. Much more often they are the byproduct of a fundamental technique, honed to an immaculate precision. But again, the practice is, in itself, a work of art never finished.
How then shall I give an example of this process by way of actions from my own history? Should I speak of the many times I have sat in theaters, reviewing and analyzing concerts, operas, and ballets? Should I address the countless hours spent in libraries, classrooms and quiet spaces where I would read and research for thesis papers while many a tree was sacrificed in the name of note paper? Or should I simply reminisce of the night where more than ten hours were happily whiled away with a friend in a discourse about the Wizard of Oz – of how the book differs from the 1939 MGM film, the Broadway musical Wicked and the terrifying 1985 “Return to Oz”; of how the storied locales and characters would make a fine setting for an adventure/survival horror video game? It was an evening where we used each other’s knowledge, creative ideas, counter arguments and the source material at hand to build upon and further a common topic, ridiculous as the topic may have been…
Alas, like Mercutio, I talk of nothing. Indeed, to craft a well-pointed argument does not necessarily correlate to a point of discussion worth arguing. Or to put it another way, you can shout all you want, but who cares? Certainly, it is the mantra of many activist groups. “We want our voice to be heard!” But is your voice saying anything meaningful? Truly? In the grand scheme of this ball of rock hurtling around a nuclear fireball in the sky, amongst a universe of nature and the billions of other, equal voices of your human race, where we all long for meaning and truth to our existence, are your self-serving, ignorant, divisive by diversity propaganda tirades really worth speaking? Worth hearing? Social media would certainly like us to believe so. And yet how ironic that the “social” aspect of the media creates a unilateral field of anonymity and ignorance – where experts are replaced by individuals’ unsupported opinions; where facts are replaced by 140 character sound bites; where character (new context) is overshadowed by charisma; and where a general lack of communication skills is not only tolerated, but is indeed catered to.
So to answer the original question, and to all that has followed here, I say: let this account, this rant, this spilling-of-the-guts stand as an argument and as evidence unto itself. Let these words, so carefully chosen, be a monolith, stalwart against the ignorance, deviance, condescendence and obscenities that are wantonly and irreverently cast out to the masses by the very same minds that have drank such intellectual poison. To those that are still reading these words: I thank you for you attention. I could not ask for a greater honor. Now take these words and judge the truth of them for yourselves. Take note of the world around you, the messages that impact, that bombard you. Take note first with your brain, and with your spirit, before with a pen.
“And whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is noble, whatever is admirable, whatever is true; if anything is worthwhile or praiseworthy, think upon such things…”
…Whew! Got a little carried away there…!
Images sourced from Google.ca