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     Volume 2 Issue 65 | April 20 , 2008|


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Debater's Diary

What's in a Name?

Shakespeare famously wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." Shakespeare was wrong in ignoring the power of the name. A rose by any other name would not smell half as sweet, because the indelible perception created in the mind of human beings by names may persist even when it is contrary to reality.

Examples of names being used to create confusion as to the real purposes of any enterprise can be found throughout history. The Interahamwe (meaning "those who stand together") was a Hutu paramilitary organization of Rwanda formed in the 90s. But despite the name, this Hutu militia were resposible for the most divisive activties witnessed by mankind, when they carried out the systematic murder of Rwanda's Tutsi minority during the Rwanda Genocide of 1994.

Pol Pot, the Prime Minister of Cambodia from 1976 to 1979, was the leader of the communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge. During his time in power Pol Pot imposed a version of 'agrarian collectivization,' which is a social and political philosophy emphasizing the viewpoint that the cultivation of plants, or farming leads to a fuller and happier life. However, the most brutal atrocities were carried out in the name of this apparently harmless philosophy, including slave labour, malnutrition, poor medical care and executions of intellectual personalities. And who can forget the ploy of the war criminals of 1971, as they tried to create confusion and discord among the people of Bangladesh by calling themselves 'Rajakaar' - which literally meant patriots.

Changing names in order to change the perception in the consumer's mind regarding a product have proved to be a potent tool for the advertising industry as well. Hog Island in the Caribean were not able to attract much tourists until they changed the name to Paradise Island. TCI Cable in the USA experienced rapid growth of customers once they changed their name to the familiar and reliable AT&T Cable in the year 1999.

As a debater, you may often find yourself at the short end of a difficult motion. Its times like these that you can confuse the issue by changing your opponent's words or what he or she seeks to prove. You can call the same thing by a different name so that your position becomes a favorable one. For example suppose you are debating against the motion 'UN has failed.' Your opponents will predictably cite examples of the Rwanda Genocide, the Darfur crisis, the Kosovo crisis and the unsuccessful WTO talks to prove why the United Nations has been a failure. Now you have two options at your disposal. The first option is to reject your opponent's assertion completely and try to prove that these are not examples of UN's failures. However, it may be difficult to hold your own in a direct clash of arguments when the topic is difficult and your position is already a precarious one. The second option is to confuse the issue by introducing new terms to describe a phenomenon. For example you could argue that UN do not have any 'failures,' what they have are 'limitations.' Their first limitation is that they have to respect the sovereignty of each member state and cannot intervene in the internal affairs of a country without being called upon by the ruling authority. Their second limitation is that they do not have an army of their own and have to depend on member states for military personnel. Another limitation that UN face is the inevitable conflicts within the self-interests of each member state. You can then go on to explain the 'failures' of UN in the light of these limitations and prove that UN have achieved a lot even with the limited leverage they enjoy.

When you are giving new names to a phenomenon, as in the example above, it is necessary to provide an analogy to establish the distinction. For instance to clarify the difference between a failure and a limitation, you can say that the fact that a human being cannot fly is not his failure, rather it's his limitation. Similarly, UN has to operate with many constraints which are not the same thing as failures.

Playing with the terminology often shifts the focus of a debate. You can use this to your advantage as long as you know how to establish the logical link between an occurrence and its name.

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