Feminism is not about pitching women against men. Democracy is not confined to your political party. Not everyone you disagree with is a CIA or RAW agent, or a terrorist sympathiser. Asking for or waiting for evidence does not make one a misogynist. Believing a woman’s allegation does not make you a man-hating witch. Be it the Meesha-Ali controversy, prosecution of our Ex-Prime Minister or the rise of Manzoor Pashteen; our discourse, debates and discussions are more a battle of egos than an attempt to find the truth. Michael A. Gilbert says in his book How to Win an Argument: Surefire strategies for getting your point across “In a creative argument both parties are more interested in finding the truth or solving the problem than in being right. When you argue creatively you are interested in your partner’s arguments, and you listen to them carefully to see if there is helpful information or insights. Your partner is also listening to you, and you work together to come up with the best solution or correct answer. Creative argument minimises the role of the arguers’ egos and maximises their commitment to inquiry.” Going by Gilbert’s definition, is creative argument a thing of the past? Even argument, for that matter, seems redundant and non-existent be it our social or political discourse. In philosophy ‘argument’ means a claim that is backed by reason. Today we have only claims: reasoning, even where there is one, is frail and polluted. What has caused this intellectual degeneration of our society? Why have people stopped being open to discussions and healthy debates? Where has the urge to find the truth gone? “In a creative argument both parties are more interested in finding the truth or solving the problem than in being right. When you argue creatively you are interested in your partner’s arguments, and you listen to them carefully to see if there are any helpful insights” One reason for this plight may be our reluctance to use our own minds. We have learned to adopt opinions instead of forming them. When forming an opinion, one goes through several stages of a process of acquiring information and thinking. This process in turn, results in a belief backed by a structured argument where each component of your argument stands on a sound foundation that, even if incorrect, is defendable through reason and does not need to be shielded with abuse and bigotry. In adopting opinions our prime considerations are social influences; how popular an opinion is in the public in general and in our social circles in particular. Who holds that opinion also effects our choice. Is it held by an idolised teacher, an admired philosopher, our political leader, a star, celebrity or even a loved one. Even if the holder of the opinion has gone through all the stages of forming an opinion, when we adopt that opinion, we bypass the entire process and in turn are deprived of that structured argument to back our belief. This results in annoyance with ourselves and with everyone who puts forth a view opposed to, or different from, ours: which in turn results in bigotry. For instance; of the many objectors and supporters of the Panama Leaks Case judgment, I know for a fact that less than 1 percent have actually read the judgment. Instead we have chosen to adopt a narrative, all the while not knowing or believing in that narrative for any cogent reasons — but only because it either suits us, or is propounded by our leader. Our tendency to adopt opinions and beliefs instead of forming them stems from an innate inclination towards shortcuts. Reading is a lost art it seems, more and more restaurants and shopping malls are popping up in place of book shops owing to the simple economic principle of demand and supply. Our media does not encourage healthy debate or disseminating information and instead focuses more on sensationalism. Our households and class-rooms, except for a very few, do not encourage thinking and utilising mental faculties instead emphasise on memory and regurgitation. Lack of arguments or creative arguments and healthy discussions has resulted in the polarisation we see in our society today. I have gone through several threads on Twitter where Meesha Ali controversy or Manzoor Pashteen have been the subject. I failed in my desperate attempt to find a healthy debate or a cogent response. I have watched several talk shows where our current political predicaments have come under discussion. I have but on a very few rare occasions seen the willingness to question one’s own belief or the intention to actually listen to the other side. I have seen labels and tags like CIA agent, maulvi, traitor, misogynist, fundu, paindu, pseudo-liberals, youthiya, patwari etc. I have seen bigotry making frail and futile attempts to fill a void. Corruption, nepotism, misogyny are all issues that need to be addressed and resolved for a prosperous Pakistan. Our growing inability to have a healthy debate and a creative argument is only amplifying our problems. We need to unlearn to adopt opinions and learn to form them. We need to put our egos at rest and engage our minds instead. The writer is a practicing lawyer with a Masters Degree from University of Warwick, an ex-Member Provincial Assembly of the Punjab (2008-2013). Tweets at @ZafarSahi Published in Daily Times, April 26th 2018.