There is a lot of talk about the importance of promoting the culture of debate, of the urgent need to debate this or that issue, but the truth is that in general we debate little. Because to hold a debate you need not so much desire to be right as intelligence to listen to the other’s reasons. Therefore, to debate is the opposite of caricaturing to the absurd the position with which we disagree, it is to contend honestly with the best possible version of the opposite argument. Debating is not about one point of view imposing itself on others, about “closing the mouth” of the one in front or about “winning” an argument, it is about comparing arguments in dispute, clarifying what are the premises and implications of a discrepancy, to help better understand what is being discussed.
The purpose of a debate is not, it cannot be, to resolve a difference of opinion and reach a single conclusion. That almost never happens. Not only because people hardly change their minds but because, even when we do, it is a process that takes time, has its costs, and rarely occurs in a linear or immediate way. Our differences exist for a lot of causes and it is naive to believe that they can or should be “resolved” by debating – as if plurality were a problem and not, as Hannah Arendt was able to warn, part of the very condition that constitutes us as human beings – . The plurality (of visions, of ties, of values) is a social fact with which all political action has to deal. In a sense, therein lies the distinction between democratic or authoritarian forms of organization: the former recognize and manage plurality; the latter stigmatize it and try to suppress it.
To say that the UNAM has become “conservative”, “neoliberal” or of the “right” and that, therefore, it needs a “shake up”, is not to call for any debate. It is to make a tricky generalization that, moreover, starts from an aberrant assumption: that a university must opt ideologically, as if it were a school for the indoctrination of cadres and not an educational space to promote critical thinking. The UNAM is too large, diverse and complex to admit such a simplistic and stupid definition. It is not the nest of outdated communists who assume some rights, nor is it that brand new neoliberal barracks that lopezobradorism indicates. But the matter, knowing what those epithets mean to the president, is not an oversight, a mistake or a show of ignorance. It is a provocation.