Critical Mass Debating
The other week, one of my WhatsApp groups of friends ended up in a lively discussion, and I wanted to try and record the tangled web of threads that came up in the conversation, and why I struggle to hold a meaningful debate - especially in a group.
So this will be less about the issue at the core of the discussion, and more about my supplementary thought processes during the development of the constructive arguments.
(If you were part of that discussion, I apologise for mangling the nuances of the debate - as I say; this post is more about trying to understand what was going on in my head throughout it/when I'm debating in general - and the various threads of thought that got tangled together)
So, in essence, the debate began by someone questioning the need for the CEO of a charity to take home so much money (in terms of pay).
I believe this was initially a moral question - which I interpreted as 'if you're doing good things, you shouldn't need to be paid hundreds of thousands, when you can be comfortably well off with less'.
Which I can get behind; an idea with absolutely no formal economic thought behind it that I have had in the past, is that the CEO of a company tops out at £100k, with everyone below them getting proportionally lower, depending on their role in the company.
This wasn't something I took to arguing at this point, but I felt like I got the nature of this particular thread of the debate.
Another friend posited that the reason for rewarding CEOs with higher pay was that - even in the charity sector - it is a competitive market; such is the nature of capitalism. Which I could also follow as an argument. Not necessarily one I'm completely comfortable with (on different grounds), but in a statement-of-fact way, that could also be said to be true of the situation.
And these two statements don't necessarily contradict each other. You could easily appreciate that there was truth in both points of view. One at a moral level; another an an economic level.
And this was just two friends' takes on the scenario - other threads of discussion came out of this - some really great insight into the care sector, by friends who actually work in it (and have seemingly extensive knowledge of it); how charities came out of wealthy Victorians - and could well have been said to be exploitative at the time.
And all the time through this discussion which perhaps just took over WhatsApp over the course of maybe an hour? (With people dipping back into it later in the day) All whilst certainly the majority of us were likely at work - although arguably there felt more benefit in participating in the debate at the time, rather than what was occurring at work (certainly the case for me in that instance).
So the conversation became hard to track - lots of people had to re-quote themselves and clarify what they meant - and ultimately it wasn't the most ideal way to hold a lively discussion - and there were threads of thought all over the place. But it all felt good/positive - in the sense that it was great to be debating a Big Social Topic. And it was: To a point.
Here's the part of the article where I try and talk about the 'levels' of debates.
So from a 'moral' perspective, I felt very swayed with the argument that CEOs - particularly in the charity work sector (but also elsewhere) - shouldn't be paid excessively, especially compared to the charity workers.
I also couldn't disagree with the economic perspective as to why ultimately money is paid to tempt the best talent - well I could disagree because I don't feel people should be motivated by 'greed' [although I don't think greed is quite the right version of that driver in this particular scenario] - but there is no doubt that the mechanics of capitalism, which we are inescapably part of; was the reason why CEOs get significant reward.
And then there's a third level in this (well, there's probably a handful more, variations on the above); which is the underlying philosophical view I have on the world, that means... it ultimately doesn't matter.
Now I'm sure we're already throwing our hands up in the air and going 'yes, but "in real life" this DOES matter; in fact it is part of society functioning', which - I get. I do. I accept the reality of society most days, without much afterthought. I know technically speaking that I could have an entirely 'other' existence so very removed from modern Western society - it is just that I find it convenient (and have been brought up in the mechanisms of) to be given goods and services in return for an earned salary.
And I guess the argument goes that because I accept being in that framework, I also accept the conditions and debates around how much a CEO should be paid. Or how much a corporation pays in tax. Or how much MPs should be paid. Or whether Brexit should be prioritised over homelessness. Or whether our food should be from killed animals.
Or I could list on and on.
That's where I struggle with the range of debates on offer. They are seemingly endless. And surely if I invest in one of them, I have to invest in them all?
You might recall a few years ago (around the ice bucket challenge) I tried to argue what is the 'priority' charitable organisation. I think I tried to conclude that Water Aid - IE getting clean water in the third/developing world - was the top of that list. IE more "important" than cancer charities in the Western world (for example). Because humans having basic access to clean water is more "important" to those of us who have that for granted, having our suffering reduced when coming up against one of the most prevalent diseases we know.
And I don't think I convinced myself then; and I would say that you can't really compare the two - in fact people don't - often the charities that benefit the most, are the ones that more people are affected by.
Which is absolutely honestly a perfectly good way of approaching them.
Why not lean towards something that affects you the most???
And I think that's where I struggle with these sort of debates at the end - it is not like we were able to 'resolve' and then determine whether CEOs of charities should be paid high amounts of money, compared to the charity workers - and yet, it felt good and positive that we debated it. I think for a while it helped bring clarity to individual people's beliefs and feelings - or maybe just shed a bit more light on a particular issue that they hadn't considered so much before.
But I struggle - ultimately - to give consideration to everything I should be giving consideration to. Not from some righteous socio-political stance; but because I can't align these particular topics with the immediacy of existence.
I can already hear people jumping off at various points in these last few sentences at least, and - on some level at least - I will be able to either agree with them or vociferously disagree - and debate things for a while.
But unless I am being directly targeted or am suffering as a direct result of a situation; it is difficult to know how I will ultimately react or process it. Such is privilege.
Which on a very large number of levels feels wrong. I should be engaged. I should be outraged. I should be challenging the status quo. I should. I could.
But then there is that voice which reminds me that it ultimately doesn't matter - there isn't a right or wrong on the most fundamental of levels.
And 99% of the time, I would say that is a bad place to be. To have that 'get out' which ultimately frustrates everyone who gets to know me.
Though, in the current political climate; perhaps an escape isn't an entirely foolish concept.