As I write this I am watching C-SPAN and listening to Michael Eric Dyson drone on and on about his new book Is Bill Cosby Right?. The new book addresses the rantings of Mr. Cosby’s “now-infamous assault on the black poor when he received an NAACP award in the spring of 2004.” On Dyson’s web site there is a section called “Talking Points: Bill Cosby vs. Michael Eric Dyson.” This page gives the reader a taste of the book. I assume this since I have not read it. I have read Dyson’s Race Rules, however, which contains an entertaining and telling chapter of self-deprecating humor about black intellectuals. I now think back to this chapter and see much of what he frames as battling egos in that chapter particularly relevant to this new book.
What I find interesting with Dyson’s current method of attack on Cosby is that it is one example of the ever-increasing trend to promote one’s product/opinions/ideology/worldview by pitting it or them against another’s product/opinions/ideology/worldview. The logic is simple. Because I can show that you’re wrong, I must be right. The most overblown example of this kind of dualistic thinking in the “culture wars” of contemporary America is the so-called “creation/evolution debate.” Evolutionary theory does not explain every dimension of the broad and complex story of life, so creationism must be true, or intelligent design must be true, or aliens must have created life on earth as an experiment, or … take your pick. As long as I can dismantle the arguments of the “other side,” I can rely on the assumptions of debate to validate my own arguments. However, the assumptions of the debate format, especially because it is applied and appealed to in too many situations and with too many issues, do not serve us well in pursuit of common understanding and appreciation of diversity and difference.
We would all do well to remember the third possibility in the debate format … that both sides are wrong.