Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fite Club

Looking through the Winter 2006 issue of The College, the alumni magazine of St John's College, I was reminded of why I so love the place. The article, entitled "Fite Club: Tuesday-Nite Fites Allow Johnnies to Take the Gloves Off," explains the emergence of this new club at the Annapolis campus. It began with the announcement of a series of lectures that ended with the statement "there will be some etymology and prostitution." A student was so taken by this that he wrote these two words on a chalkboard in one of the seminar rooms. Over the course of the day students spontaneously voted for which concept they preferred. Hence began a weekly series of mock debates between two abstract concepts. Here's my favorite example:
In other words, the outcome does not depend on which concept people like more, but which one is demonstrated to be superior. For example, in the debate "Pants vs. Dance," at first the debaters were at a loss even to compare the ideas, let alone decide which one was better. Diagrams of pants were drawn on the chalkboard, and fiters vehemently tried to persuade that they were right. Eventually, though, the thought struck someone that "pants" could be the plural for "pant," as in panting for breath. And since "pants," as breaths, are necessary in order to "dance," pants ended up willing because of its priority. Often, if something can be shown to be a priori, that concept will will the fite.

This idea of equating priority with superiority caused something of a precedent, until the epic "Furniture vs. Friction" debate:
Most people sided with friction following the priority argument. But then one of the combatants, struck by the blindness of his peers, walked up to the blackboard and wrote, "Friction: too subtle to be serious?" And after a fierce debate, furniture won. "It won," says Sturm, "because superiority is based on a stronger concept, what affects the human mind more. For this reason, I often discourage people from using the priority argument. Many of the debates can be reduced simply to Nature vs. Art."

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