28th November 2010
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I have decided to split this report into a few posts, probably three, perhaps four if the spirit moves me – as it were.
THE UNDECIDEDS HAVE IT – JUST
OR DO THEY?
Resolution: ‘be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world’
MUNK DEBATE – HITCHENS Vs BLAIR
PRO: 22% CON:57%
PRO: 32% CON: 68%
Christopher Hitchens won in the end with a huge gap of 36%, gaining more than two-thirds of the overall vote. Here’s a snippet –
Notice the heading in the video? This ITN report, in the usual way with British media “reportage” is inaccurate and insufficient. Defends “his religion”? He was defending RELIGION. An entirely different matter. And although titled so, there is only 20 seconds of this video given over to Blair’s “defending”. Most of the clip is dedicated to Mr Hitchens.
In the expected way the usual suspects in the British press are announcing “Hitchens defeats Blair”. Let’s be blunt it’s always comforting for the press to think that their nemesis can be defeated. After all, if those AGAINST anything that Tony Blair believes start off on a high of 57% then move up to 68%, it’s a day for celebration. Isn’t it kiddies?
I watched the debate on Friday night/Saturday morning and also kept a close eye on the chat at The Munk Debate’s website as well as tweeting on it.
I have these initial observations:
- One, the debate was fairly evenly balanced, though Hitch probably won, just;
- Two, most of the commenters at the live comment stream seemed to support Christopher Hitchens;
- Three, Hitchens had an easier task than Blair since Hitchens’ call for the irrationality of the unproven existence of God hit several of the west’s ‘rational’ spots;
- Four, Hitchens may have had the sympathetic vote in the bag as he is very ill with terminal cancer. I concede that this can be an overstated argument and does not account to any measurable extent for the huge winning discrepancy of 36%.
But there is something far more important than any of the above four points
The combatants did not start from the same place.
The starting position was announced as against 57%, c/w 22% for and 21% undecided. So, right from the start those AGAINST the motion numbered 35% MORE than those for it.
This made the 21% who said they were undecided the only ones whose votes counted.
It also meant that both men were speaking against this backdrop. It was thus understood that Mr Blair had a mountain to climb. It was understood by all; by him and by Mr Hitchens and by the audience.
This is not to criticise the procedure. It is right that we should know where people stand before a debate in order that we can judge the result of the competing arguments at the end. But it does tell us something we should note:
To put it bluntly, if this audience is typical of western thinking, most people do not accept that religion is a force for good.
And when asked to decide one way or the other after the debate they still, even if only slightly, rejected the ‘goodness’ proposition. [I am unaware as to whether or not they were permitted to still be “Undecided” at the end. I notice that there were no “undecideds” listed in the final score.]
So let me repeat this, because it is highly significant: before a well-honed phrase was uttered in this most civilised debate – no, the Christian wasn’t thrown to the lions – well over half (57%) of the 2,700 present in the hall started off with the view that religion is not a force for good.
Since we can probably agree that on balance few of those who took one definite position or the other were easily moveable (or if they were they would have balanced out the other side’s shifts) it is clear that the UNDECIDEDS are as yet evenly split, if leaning slightly to the NAY side of the argument.
That original 21% Undecideds divided after the debate into – NO – 52.38% and Yes – 47.62%
Regardless of that element, the end result still means that only one in five was ever at any stage undecided. And that almost six in ten, rising to almost seven in ten were against the motion.
That is most intriguing. And not just a little disconcerting.
Though as far as Mr Blair’s vote on the night is concerned perhaps he can take comfort for RAISING the vote hugely compared with this at The Globe & Mail.
You might wonder why I, as an individual aware of no deific being or feeling no need to search for one, should be concerned about this.
See the next post. UPDATE – the next post but one. The next post has the transcript.
- Munk Debates – results at the end
- Munk Debates Forum
- At Munk there is a thread on the “Undecideds”. Not that the question has yet been answered.
RELATED – PRESS REPORTS AND OPINIONS
- There is some audience reaction at Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation website
- BBC report & Video from Paul Adams
- The Canadian Globe & Mail reports
- Telegraph: “Tony Blair Defends Religious Faith”
CHICKEN OR EGG?
‘Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday his religious beliefs did not play a role in his decision to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq during a debate about the merits of religion in Toronto.’
Guessed yet which was first? It was The SF Chronicle. The Huffington Post shuffled in with a regurgitation job half a day later.
Paul Harris at The Guardian headlines with “Christopher Hitchens 1-0 Tony Blair”. While no-one expects a return bout, at least Mr Harris does point this out:
“Throughout the 90-minute debate Hitchens seemed to have the crowd’s sympathy. That might have been to do with his ill appearance due to cancer, but was far more likely to be down to the sharpness of his verbal barbs and the fact that 57% of the audience already agreed with his sceptical position according to a pre-debate poll, while just 22% agreed with Blair’s side. The rest were undecided.”
He balances that by being the only so-called respectable publication online pointing this out –
“It even attracted a small but vocal knot of anti-Iraq war protestors accusing Blair of war crimes. Demonstrators unveiled placards that read “Arrest Blair” and “War criminals not welcome here”, proving that, as with the merits of religion, some arguments are unlikely to ever be settled with a single night’s debate.”
Well, it IS the Guardian, after all. Don’t expect lack of agenda.
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
“All countries need a leader who isn’t afraid to fight terrorism. I believe Mr. Blair did a necessary job in helping his allies. Are we all just supposed to lie down and wait for them to come for us, I don’t think so.”
And – “Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the privilege of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”
AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”
AND – “I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is an honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”