A Discourse on Discourses

Harry Scholes Staff Writer You may not have heard of Latin’s new Dialectic Society. This is because, contrary to the norm, it has not advertised itself or promoted participation in any way. It might also cause some contention, because it is one of the few exclusive societies at Latin. However, it is precisely this low-key operation that may give rise to some of the important topics we as a community overlook. I was fortunate enough to gain a few minutes with Alex Kaplan, the founder and Board Director. Dialectic means “the art of discussing and investigating truths or opinions”: This is the basic goal of the new society. “We really aim to create a free market of ideas,” Kaplan commented. “I wanted to find a way to create stimulating discussions about ideas, in a completely open environment.” The society could provide a great outlet for those who might otherwise be uncomfortable speaking out. While Latin aims to be a nonjudgmental and accepting environment, some certain viewpoints are certainly stressed more than others and assumed to be ubiquitous. Latin certainly prefers to project a certain set of beliefs, perhaps so much so that it harms the open atmosphere it tries to establish—a form of selective open-mindedness, perhaps. I have even heard a teacher, in the middle of debate, remark that discussion about issues “is the whole problem.” “That’s definitely something I wanted to address in founding the society,” Kaplan agrees. “I found there was little desire to probe into why people held certain opinions, and people didn’t like to have their opinions tested: they responded to questioning not with logic but with emotion, as if it was a personal affront. It’s only natural—who likes to entertain the possibility that they could be wrong, or that they haven’t thought their viewpoints through? But I hope to create an environment where people can think beyond themselves.” So far, this idea has come to great fruition: I attended one of the discussions about morality, objectivism and its psychological necessity, and within minutes I had identified nihilism in the room. This is just one of the many underrepresented viewpoints that will no doubt get their chance in the spotlight. “We’ve only had two meetings so far, but I’ve been very impressed at the level of discussion,” says Kaplan. “There have been some pretty disparate viewpoints though—for example, Paul Ryan as the perfect 2016 candidate, and Ebola as a conspiracy!” Kaplan hopes that the society can continue to evolve and promote true access-all-areas discussion. “I’d be quite interested in getting some people up onstage during gathering and having a debate instead of a lecture.” Kaplan also hopes the society will evolve to become more reputable and inclusive. This may be vital to the society’s development, because of the possible controversy surrounding the club’s exclusivity. Kaplan addressed these concerns, saying, “It does go against Latin’s policy of inclusiveness, but I have my reasons. We’d like to control the environment in which the debate occurs, for one. We don’t want a debate to turn into an argument. An Open Door policy would create more chance of personal backlashing from those who feel personally affronted or unprepared to question their own ideas. This could be harmful, as we’d like to bring together people who have a genuine interest in our mission. When we are more established, we hope to branch out. There will be some who will read this and think, ‘Doesn’t a free market of ideas mean that everyone can participate?’ And they’re absolutely right—so long as they are ideas and not opinions.” To this extent, they don’t plan on advertising: this will mean students who are really interested will make the effort to come to them, and by doing so show they are as dedicated as the club would like. Whatever discussion there may be about this new society, it is important to remember that it will provide a much-needed outlet for fostering new ideas and underrepresented viewpoints, and these can only contribute to the school’s wellbeing.  ]]>