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Why satire beats debate hands down

Disclaimer: This is not a post per se, only a follow-up to my last piece, “Could Mbeki be too smart to govern?”. If you found that one mind-numbingly boring, sit this one out. I’ll post something tomorrow.

The first time I heard about the existence of the worldwide web, my mind couldn’t even begin to process the information I was hearing. I thought someone was pulling my leg. At the time I was a teenager whose sole reason for living was to engage in (pseudo?) intellectual combat with all and sundry.

I remember predicting that the internet was going to drag the art of debating kicking and screaming from the Stone Age to the 21st century. There would be no more confusion, misinterpretation of words and downright twisting of one’s words to suit one’s opponents. One would simply go back, post a link of the original argument and — voila! — the guilty party would hang his head in shame. That was before I had a basic appreciation for human nature.

In response to “Could Mbeki be too smart to govern?” I received a higher-than-usual volume of emails, as predicted. I recently heard fellow blogger Eve Dmochowska mention that the typical reader of Thought Leader is smarter than the average person. I have no reason to doubt that. And I suspect that the responses I have received have something to do with that elevated intellect.

In the unlikely event that anyone missed the whole point of the piece in question, I made only two points in that piece:

1. I think President Mbeki is a very smart individual.
2. I think smart presidents are better than not-so-smart presidents.

And now, here comes the good part. I think that some Thought Leader readers’ bullshit filters are so efficient that these two points disappeared with the rest of the 900-word chuff like flatulence inside Hurricane Katrina. That happens to me sometimes when I try to read between the lines.

That is the most palatable explanation for the emails I got. The alternative explanation is too ghastly to contemplate. If I tried to describe it, I might come across as accusing the good readers of hallucinating or having erotic day dreams. I have nothing to gain by ostracising my readership.

For what it’s worth, this is a summary of what 20-odd readers who had problems with the Mbeki-smartness piece thought I was saying:

1. Mbeki is the intellectual champion of the land and a perfect president. Don’t second-guess his decisions.
2. Let’s change the Constitution and give Mbeki a third term.
3. Zuma is an idiot and therefore should not be the next president.
4. Mbeki already has the beard; slap a flowing robe and open sandals on him and we’ll be eating his body and drinking his blood every Sunday.

I am often asked why it is that I steer away from writing serious articles and engaging in “public discourse”. Why do I write satirical blogs about shagging sheep and guzzling Redi Direko’s bathwater? This experience with the Mbeki piece is part of the reason. You see, most people I know (myself included) debate for one reason and one reason only: to win. “Winning” debates is very easy if you know how to hurl insults at people, mock them and tell them they believe in hocus-pocus. But it always feels like a hollow victory afterwards, doesn’t it?

That’s why I would never accept it if someone nominated me for the post of leader of the opposition. I call that losing before you start playing. There is too much in that title: leader of the opposition. Because now you have to find things to oppose. And being perceived as competent at the job is a function of how well you oppose the government. There is too much danger that one might have to create things to oppose just to be seen to be doing one’s job. Ditto with debate. The word “debate” has the Pavlovian effect of sending all of us into an argumentative frenzy. I have neither the time nor the inclination.

I’m going to break my own rules here (by risking more debate) and respond directly to the four hallucinations interpretations of what I wrote.

1. No. While I do think that Mbeki is a man of above-average intelligence, he is far from perfect. Like most of us, he is subject to the lottery of decision-making. Some of his decisions are excellent and others downright crappy.
2. No. Two terms are more than enough for any one man. And that includes the presidency of the ANC. We have more than enough sufficiently capable people to run the country.
3. No. If anything, I think Zuma’s intelligence is underrated, even by some of his most ardent supporters. If he were to become the president, I think he would do as well a job as anyone. A lot hinges on that “if”, though. That’s not a typo.
4. Don’t be ridiculous. Mbeki does not resemble a lamb, which, as anybody who has ever read Revelations knows, is a critical criterion for being the Second Coming.

What I consider to be my biggest challenge as a writer is how well I can reduce the most complex ideas to the most basic, simplest level. That’s why I try to use short, simple sentences that border on the simplistic. It’s a tough balancing act. That’s the type of writing I personally like to read.

I guess could write well-researched (read as “with many links”) and insightful (read as “with big words”) articles. I could use phrases such as “he has a loquacious disposition” when I actually mean “he never shuts the eff up”. I hope that my simple, point-format clarifications up there actually make things clearer. I also hope there will be world peace and hunger eradication in my lifetime.

As clear as mud?

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  • Ndumiso Ngcobo

    Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he had lost his mind, quit his well-paying job, penned a collection of hallucinations. A bunch of racist white guys published the collection just to make him look more ridiculous and called it 'Some of my best friends are white'. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2). Nowadays he spends his days wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, munching locusts, mumbling to himself like John the Baptist and searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of beer mugs. The racist publishers have reared their ugly heads again and dangled money in his face to pen yet another collection of hallucinations entitled 'Is It Coz 'm Black'. He will take cash, major credit cards and will perform a strip tease for contributions to his beer fund.