Sunday, 3 May 2015

In Defence of Moderation and Reasonableness

ADDED: the link to The Federalist below contains a transphobic remark. I don't endorse this remotely, as I'm not a transphobe (and I don't mean that in a wish-washy libertarian way either, I actively endorse gender-transition as a legitimate response to one's socially determined gender identity). Just wanted to make that clear.

With the general election only a few days away now, I think it prudent to talk a little about the value of talking. A friend of mine is a Catholic, and at university we often talked about our conflicting opinions on religion, the Church, spirituality and so on. Well, I say 'talked'. Often he'd be irritatingly moderate and reasonable (title drop!) while I'd try and turn him into a kind of socially-conservative straw-man I could then try and rip apart. Try, and usually fail. Again: damn moderate, damn reasonable.

In particular, when same-sex marriage was being debated in Parliament a couple of years ago I was somewhat insistent that it probably wasn't something that we could really discuss, on grounds (call it lazy Wittgenstein-ism) that we inhabited two very different worlds and our definitions of marriage would basically just pass one another by. He, however, would have none of that, and held that there was no good reason at all to try and shut down discussion of the matter just because we came from different religions traditions (I was brought up in a mainline Protestant church and now attend an Anglo-Catholic church, somewhat ironically). And, of course, he was right and I was wrong. There was never any reason to avoid having a serious, moderate and reasonable discussion about what legal redefinition of marriage might entail, for good or ill. 

But there is a worryingly noticeable trend in politics these days that seems hostile towards discussion, towards dialogue. This often feels particularly true of the Left. Indeed, it almost feels as if the Left considers having to explain itself to be an imposition. One sometimes observes almost religious horror when the Left encounters different opinions, as if only monsters could posses them. None of this is exclusive to the Left, of course, there has been much character assassination courtesy of the right too. But I do definitely feel that the single greatest failing of the modern Left is its refusal to feel uncomfortable, its refusal to consider potential flaws in its own arguments. The title of this article from The Federalist says it all- The Paradox of Dogma: How the Left is Crippling Itself. 

Of course, the tone of both the pieces I've linked to suffers from the same problem- they both are, to a greater or lesser extent, attempts to rubbish the Left by accusing it of profound irrationality and intellectual cowardice. They are, of course, wrong to suggest that this is a universal quality of Leftism, but they are right to acknowledge that the tendency is present and, in my experience, the Left is not doing enough to combat this plea for silence rather than conversation. All attempting to avoid dialogue does is miss the opportunity to examine how water-tight one's principles are. If one's principles do not survive their encounter with an opponent in debate, how do you expect them to survive their first brush with reality?

I am picking on the Left here, though. What I am talking about is true of of the Right as well. I just tend to notice it more on the Left, probably because I'm looking out for it and, frankly, because I don't know many conservatives. It does worry me, though, that many people I know who are around my age and come from the same background as I do are Left-wing almost as a matter of course. Another friend of mine, when I was telling him once about Neoreaction, asked me how I could tolerate 'those people'...

Accepting dogmatic Left-wing principles simply because they are in opposition to conservative thought is an act of un-thinking, and nothing more. And, again, this does obviously apply to the Right as well. One wonders if this would have happened if the Right had been more willing to reflect upon its own received wisdom, rather than merely shaking its fist at modernity because it is different.


Some final, hopefully both moderate and reasonable points. 

None of the following should ever be considered synonymous with 'Left-wing', 'Right-wing', 'conservative' or 'progressive':

  • Stupid
  • Intelligent
  • Good
  • Evil
  • Always correct
  • Always incorrect
  • So obviously correct we don't need to discuss it
  • So obviously wrong we don't need to discuss it

To refuse to enter into dialogue with your opponent is rarely a sign of intellectual virtue. 

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