Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Unhappy Alloy

If people who are swayed by argument to your side are "open minded," while those who are swayed from your side are "weak," public discourse will remain fundamentally self-serving and hypocritical, focused more on shouting down or shutting out the other side, rather than advancing one's own understanding. This is, actually, somewhat acceptable, as the term "public discourse" as we commonly use it is, quite simply, somewhere between a bizarre oxymoron and an outright fiction. A hundred million one-on-one debates do not a nationwide consensus make. The concept is commonly maintained by people who feel that they should, by rights (rather than the strength of their position), win such a debate, and thus can be properly visibly angry that either it has not taken place, or they are "denied a seat at the table." It is a convenient stand to take, as the belief will never be realistically put to the test.

But the idea that one side or another of any contentious issue is objectively correct, and that only ignorance, weakness or evil intent stands between non-belief and acceptance of The Truth makes discourse and debate difficult at the levels of society in which it does matter. (Yes, I understand that I am admitting to the idea that world is run by a subset of our society who are more equal than the rest of us.) This, more than anything else, is the reason why Faith and Politics, while inseperable, make for a poor mixture.

1 comment:

Keifus said...

I think a lot of public discourse is in fact a bad balance between a pair of artificial (and usually poorly articulated) poles. So you get your idealogue blowhards, and for the "reasonable types" we're stuck with publicly thoughtful fence-sitters, Saletan's allegedly open-minded.

Would it be better if politicians and media, taking an honest assessment of the data at hand and with intellectual effort, argued the various strengths and weaknesses of policy positions? Absolutely. But if you're in the politics game, a less-cynical and clearer-thinking voter would probably make it harder for you to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

I personally find it doubtful that Obama's gradual support for a pro-torture view stems from the sway of better evidence or arguments, however. But for sure opposing it would have been the harder path.

(And thank you for not using the word "kabuki.")