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Tuesday, December 28, 2004
More on Dealing with Ideological Rivals
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:16 pm

On Christmas Eve Eve, I posted a lengthy piece entitled On Talking to (and Viewing) the Opposition. The inspiration of my post was a piece on Barbara O’Brien’s The Mahablog wherein she criticizes Bush supporters and “righties�? generically (and rather harshly). Because I had had some (granted limited) pleasant personal contact with Barbara over her book on blogging, I thought I would take her post as a starting spot for a discussion (hopefully on numerous blogs) to deal with, in a modest way, the rather poisonous position that appears on a multiplicity of blogs that a give “side�? (right, left, Republican, Democrat, pro/anti Bush, pro/anti the Iraq War, whatever) is so overwhelmingly right (as in “correct�?) that they have to right (as in “privilege�?) to excoriate their opponents.

Please understand: I am not trying to start a flame war with anybody, nor am I attacking Barbara O’Brien personally. I am attempting to engage in a conversation with whomever it is that would like to talk. I will admit that I take exception to a lot (quite a bit, in fact) of what she writes on her blog, but in the spirit of what I am trying to get at here (i.e., increasing the quantity and quality of political discourse) I am not going to get involved in a food fight. Indeed, by not going bonkers over her characterization of “righties�? I am trying to demonstrate that she is simply incorrect in her views on this subject. At a minimum it should be quite clear that overly broad generalizations are neither correct nor helpful.

While I fully understand the fact that anyone who has an opinion on anything is likely to wish to defend it, and further, that political opinions are especially likely to inspire passion, but I have to question the desire from any ideological position to feel an entitlement to demonize one’s opponents—especially in a liberal democracy such as the United States. Surely we have sufficient common ground that we can, at a minimum, engage in discourse. None of us has a monopoly on truth, given that even if we have some possession of truth, none of us is perfect in either our understanding of that truth or in our articulation thereof (setting aside any question of whether there is truth or not). Further, when it comes to things like public policy debates it is unlikely that there is a Truth so perfect as to be beyond debate.

Perhaps the only issue that I understand as one that is difficult to come to compromise on is abortion, and even there it is possible for intelligent people to engage in fruitful conservation. Sure, there are deep feelings and diverse opinions on the Iraq War, but I can’t see it as a topic that should result in lack of conversation. And certainly moving to issues of taxes, Social Security, Medicare, education, or whatever, there is room for discourse. Look, you want to assert your right to commit genocide, then the opportunity for conversation is out the window (or say things like this and dialog is, shall we say, a tad hard to accomplish).

As such, I was quite disappointed that Barbara’s response to my post was a polite e-mail stating that she didn’t want to engage in a conversation. Quite frankly, to dismiss one’s opposition, and to not wish to engage them on the playing field of ideas is an extremely illiberal position, and therefore a very disappointing one.

Really, my ultimate goal here was twofold: 1) an encouragement of recognition on all sides that any claims of utterly perfection are misguided, to say that least, and 2) that civil discourse is a vital part of liberal democracy.

Again, I would remind us all of the words of J.S. Mill:

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true.

[…]

Let us now pass to the second division of the argument, and dismissing the supposition that any of the received opinions may be false, let us assume them to be true, and examine into the worth of the manner in which they are likely to be held, when their truth is not freely and openly canvassed. However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.

[…]

But there is a commoner case than either of these; when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and the nonconforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part. Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited. Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent, as, in the human mind, one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception.

Now, no one is, per se, advocating the silencing of the opposition in this particular case, but I would argue that by failing to engage in multi-party discussion, the basic result is the ignoring of other points of view, and therefore in silencing those views for oneself. Silence is silence, and if one utterly refuses to engage the other sides of an issue, one falls prey to one or more of the problems that Mill describes above.

The issue that seemed to hit home with the other bloggers who responded (such as Joe Gandelman, Jon Henke at QandO, and Doug Petch) was the fact that ideological/news and commentary self-isolation is clearly problematic and creates intellectually unhealthy mindsets.

I study politics and blog on politics because I find politics truly fascinating. As a result of studying and pondering the political world I do, in fact, develop opinions and views on a whole host of topics. However, my goal in doing this, and in pursing a career that is focus on things political, is to increase my knowledge and understanding of the political world, not to get everyone to agree with me. Do I like it when people agree with me? Sure I do, but I don’t see those who don’t to be my enemies.

If one wishes to be taken seriously, one has to be willing to take the views of others seriously as well. At a minimum one cannot truly refute a wrong opinion lest one thoroughly understands that opinion.

I am not espousing a simplistic Rodney King-esque “can’t we all just get along�? intellectualism. However, as a member of the academy, and as one who believes in the value and power of words, facts, logic and reason, I am at a loss as to why intelligent persons who claim to be students of politics, cannot engage in meaningful dialog, but would rather simply call names and stay in their clubhouses hangin’ with their peeps and their peeps alone.

Others who commented on my original post: Dean Esmay, Rick Heller at Centerfield, Whispers in the airstreams, The Myopist, and Signifying Nothing (x2).

Filed under: US Politics, Political Philosophy/ Theory | |Send TrackBack

Watcher of Weasels linked with Submitted for Your Approval
PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on Newmark v. O’Brien linked with [...] ll note that Barbara O’Brien does foster that view with great elan at MahaBlog-for example (and not to pick on Barbara, as I think she did a good job on her book, as I have noted, in terms [...]
PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » For Want of Reasonable Dialogue linked with [...] 20;wingnut"-which struck me as unnecessary). I share this lament (as I have noted here and here-the second post being more indicative of my general disappointment as I wrote it after a [...]

10 Comments »

  1. heh- Barbara sure is blind to irony huh?

    “All the righty bloggers are stupid idiots who spew hate and call names… Not like us more sophisticated bloggers on the left.”

    Your problem was Steven, you attempted to have a conversation with someone who did not actually want one… She just wanted to slam “righties.” … and her behavior bears that out.

    That’s a damn shame too… I expected better from her… I gave her permission to use one of my posts in her book… Now I regret it.

    Comment by Paul — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 1:31 pm

  2. For the record, I have nothing against her slamming “righties,” that’s part of life… I just wish she would climb off her high horse first.

    Pot and Kettle, you know.

    Comment by Paul — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 1:32 pm

  3. I don’t regret letting her use one of posts in her book, nor do I retract the good things I said about the book. I am, however, most disappointed and agree with you about the pots and kettles.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 1:35 pm

  4. roflmao- not to rub it in buddy, but when you reply to a point about “righties spewing hate” and the post you are replying to is subtitled, “Freepers are the new barbarians” you probably shouldn’t have gotten your hopes up. LOL

    Comment by Paul — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 1:46 pm

  5. Hope springs eternal and all that… ;)

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 1:49 pm

  6. Further, I can wholly understand why folks on the left wouldn’t be too impressed with the typical Freeper-heck, I’m not impressed with the typical Freeper.

    Similarly, I wouldn’t expect someone from the right to be all that impressed with you typical Democratic Undergrounder.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 1:57 pm

  7. I’ve noticed that the prevailing styles of discourse differ between the left- and right- hemispheres of the blogosphere. If you want an example compare Duncan Black and Glenn Reynolds. They occupy very similar niches in the ecosystems of the two hemispheres (not to mention similar positions in the Ecosystem). But their styles are very different. And I believe that the styles are, in fact, imitative.

    I suspect that left-leaning blogs are to some degree imitating the style of The New York Times (particularly op-eds) and The New Yorker. What are right-leaning bloggers imitating? The Wall Street Journal? The National Review?

    The styles themselves may be off-putting to members of the opposite hemisphere.

    What is acceptable as sources or evidence differs between the two hemispheres as well. What is considered an acceptable source or irrefutable evidence in one hemisphere may be considered a questionable source or completely debunked in the other.

    This makes a meeting of minds very difficult and may explain the kinds of analysis you cited from Mahablog.

    Comment by Dave Schuler — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 6:29 pm

  8. Submitted for Your Approval
    First off…  any spambots reading this should immediately go here, here, here,  and here.  Die spambots, die!  And now…  here are all the links submitted by members of the Watcher’s Council for this week’s vote. Council li…

    Trackback by Watcher of Weasels — Wednesday, December 29, 2004 @ 1:34 am

  9. […] 20;wingnut”-which struck me as unnecessary). I share this lament (as I have noted here and here-the second post being more indicative of my general disappointment as I wrote it after a […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » For Want of Reasonable Dialogue — Tuesday, February 1, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

  10. […] ll note that Barbara O’Brien does foster that view with great elan at MahaBlog-for example (and not to pick on Barbara, as I think she did a good job on her book, as I have noted, in terms […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on Newmark v. O’Brien — Sunday, July 17, 2005 @ 9:03 am

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