. . . Rather Than Fair Dialogue
Oftentimes today we see people writing about who-knows-who: someone they refuse to name; therefore, we can’t see his or her comments in context and in their entirety. And they can’t respond. You know: that thing that used to be routine: letting someone defend themselves against a charge . . . Free speech; fair and open and open-minded dialogue . . . quaint and antiquated notions, now becoming as rare as a dodo bird.
This leads to a scenario where we almost always end up bashing a mere caricature of the person’s views, because we have shaped it according to our cynicism towards it, rather than letting readers with a brain and a critical faculty read it for themselves and then compare two competing views.
This is distressingly common these days (especially on Facebook): the other “side” (real or imagined) is caricatured and dismissed as “obvious” examples of imbecility and sheer stupidity, and then the choir joins in and says “rah-rah” and “yes!” and back-slaps and remarks on how profound the bashing of the [quite often] straw man is.
Such childish foolishness immediately disallows or discourages actual dialogue, between one view and another. The “other side” is demonized as beneath contempt. “Why would anyone ever consider such an idiotic view?” etc.
And so by this process, politics and even internal discussions in the Catholic Church (both theological and social) become increasingly polarized. We wind up constantly preaching to the choir, only hanging around people who agree with us, and demonizing anyone who is even slightly different from the fashionable views of our trendy, faddish in-club and cheerleaders’ team.
What good is cynically describing another view, with which one disagrees, and then acting as if the biased, second-hand account is the equivalent of the thing itself? It’s not! The original article or actions or words of a person being critiqued are what they are, and ought to be able to be read, in order to form an intelligent opinion of them: not merely an opinion on a jaded opposition description. Or else we actually talk to the person as a human being: let him or her have their say.
Some things never change. I was writing about very similar behaviors back in 2003 when I left Internet discussion boards and explained why in great detail. In a nutshell, it’s because they weren’t fostering true dialogue: about which I am very passionate.
It’s the same old junk, but I think it is far worse (in degree) now than then. At least in those days, opposing views “slugged it out” on forums. There was still an antiquated notion that there might be more than one legitimate, respectable view on a given topic.
Today, everyone gets into their little comfortable cliques, where everyone agrees with them, and they have fun putting down all the idiots who happen to honestly be of a different opinion. There is almost no interaction across opinion-lines.
I recently wrote an article critical of someone else’s criticism (if it can even be called that, since it was mostly mere mockery) of the strike on the Syrian air base. A massive discussion then occurred on my Facebook page (including much input from the person I had critiqued).
Now, note that I encouraged from the beginning, an airing out of different views: fer or agin’: all were welcome. This is what true dialogue is. I didn’t just sit there and talk about someone else, with a smug, cynical air of condescending superiority, while never providing even their name, let alone the linked article, so that people can read the person’s own opinion in their own words. I named the person and gave the link, and he was also allowed to make his case at extreme length in my venue. That’s how it used to be, before mushy postmodernist PC thinking almost completely took over academia and virtually every gathering place of thinkers anymore.
Ironically, I’ve been accused as of late (complete with a mountain of extraordinary insults and “feeding frenzies” across several web pages) of being intolerant of more liberal (or non-conservative, or non-Trumpist) political views. This is untrue (not mere disagreement, which I have a ton of, indeed, but intolerance), and my behavior on this thread I mention expressly and decisively disproves the false accusation. There were probably ten to twelve people who opposed the air strikes: all expressing their opinion and accorded respect and freedom to do so by yours truly, the webmaster. Accordingly, I repeatedly reiterated these notions of free speech:
I’m not denying that there is such a thing as a principled argument against it [i.e., the air strike], or a tactical one, etc.
There are a number of commenters here who disagree with the strike. They are all welcome, and I’m glad they are expressing their views. It proves that I allow free discussion, and they know it. I have even stated here that one can have a principled disagreement.
[to a (Protestant and more “liberal”) friend] Thanks for answering the question. You think that is the solution, and I accept your sincerity and thoughtfulness. We think taking out the planes that drop such bombs is one of the solutions to children being slaughtered: not the solution to every problem whatever. Both sides want to help save the children. We can disagree on tactics and means.
Let no one claim that I don’t encourage free and open discussion on my pages. Note how many people disagree with the strike in this thread. They’re free to express their opinions without being insulted. I’m glad they are here, and especially that they feel that it is possible to disagree without being trashed, slandered, insulted, or hounded off the thread by deletions or a ban. I have said that their views are thoughtful, sincere, and principled.
I specifically made it clear many times in this thread that one could have a principled disagreement with the strike. Indeed, 8-10 people on this thread have expressed just that. I have attacked no one’s Catholicism at all. Zilch. [Name], however, attacks the Catholicism of Trump voters. Your ire is more accurately directed towards him, not towards me for a claim I never made . . . .
This thread was about how [Name] in particular reacted to the strike, with his usual hyper-rhetoric and sweeping condemnations. It’s not about any Catholic who opposes it out of “dove” foreign policy positions.
Despite all that, I was asked (as if it were in the slightest bit necessary; as if the answer were not utterly obvious, by my life’s work these past 35 years), whether I placed Donald Trump and/or the Republican Party or conservatism in my allegiances above that of Jesus, the Church, and the pope. I was accused of not defending Pope Francis, even though I have collected 274 articles (mostly from others) that do just that, and have written a book (now over three years old) along the same lines (Pope Francis Explained).
Moreover, I made it crystal clear again on my Facebook page yesterday that I oppose all insults and slanders and nonsense, and juvenile in-fighting based on someone merely having a different political view:
I condemn this sort of garbage wherever it occurs. I couldn’t care less whether it comes from left or right or up or down. That’s absolutely irrelevant, if someone is wrong, and defaming others. Until all political factions start monitoring the fanatics and extremists and fringe elements in their own larger group, nothing will ever improve.
Yet I was falsely pilloried as the supposed divisive, contentious, condescending one, whereas in fact the person I initially critiqued is on record stating baldly that all Trump voters are “bad Catholics” who are at “war” with the Church and magisterium on several fronts. He has also argued that he could fully understand a Catholic pro-lifer voting for Hillary Clinton (indeed urged it for swing state voters), while he could never justify to the slightest degree a vote for Trump. But I’m allegedly the intolerant, insufferable one, you see. Why? Not because of facts or evidence, but because a bunch of people (by mere coincidence, virtually all third-partiers, Never-Trumpers, or political liberals) got together and said so, despite the facts; thumbing their nose at readily available, relevant facts.
In other words, it was solely because of clonish groupthink (back to my original general thesis). Other people are now taking to writing veiled, vague, name-free, documentation-free accounts of some of these same conflicts that have recently occurred. I know a bit about these conflicts (to put it mildly!), and I know that one article in particular has reported as pseudo-facts at least eight or nine gross inaccuracies and fantasies that have no relation to the actual facts of the matter, regarding a person about whom I know a great deal indeed.
Why don’t I name names now? Well, in this instance, because the person has already decided that this would be “bullying” and “abuse.” So I’ll pass, thank you, and make an exception to the very principle I have here laid out. And that is part and parcel of our present PC, secular culture as well: now disagreements aren’t merely indicative of mere ignorance, or insanity (the atheist’s favorite insult), or even intellectual dishonesty and pride (the old standby charges), but rather, the result of a specific nefarious, wicked desire to abuse and bully. And that is because we no longer care about truth or falsity in terms of discussing them, in order to arrive at fuller truth.
Everything is subjective and relative. If I dared to disagree with my liberal overlord, I would immediately “prove” myself to be a bully and abuser: the scum of the earth (because other people abused her in the past, not me). So I ain’t allowed to disagree or name names, and therefore, I won’t! See how it works? But that’s okay. All is not lost by this one bowing to the reality that stinks to high heaven (almost despite myself). My main goal was to excoriate this terribly destructive mindset concerning what passes for substantive discussion these days. I can do that without names, because these things are clearly occurring very widely.
I’m such an atrocious, brutal, mean ogre, that the following account is how one woman (a wonderful teacher from Kentucky) once described me. We knew each other onscreen at The Coming Home Network forum, where I was a moderator. And then she met me in person in May 2009, as we traveled south on vacation. Like many people, she was burdened by the caricatured stereotype of what apologists supposedly are like. When she actually met me, it was vastly different:
What a special blessing it was yesterday and today to have as my guests Dave and Judy Armstrong . . . Judy Armstrong is a loving brown-eyed beauty, the kind of wife and mother many families could only dream of having. When she and Dave look at each other, their bond is obvious, a long history of shared crosses and blessings with a respected partner and an attraction which still has plenty of sparks and sparkle. Together, they are rearing terrific children and supporting each other in ministry. What a blessing it was to have hours of private conversation with Dave and Judy . . . Who is this Dave Armstrong? What is he really like? Well, he is affable, gentle, sweet, easily pleased, very appreciative, and affectionate . . . I was totally unprepared for the real guy. He’s a teddy bear, cuddly and sweet. Doesn’t interrupt, sits quietly and respectfully as his wife and/or another woman speaks at length. Doesn’t dominate the conversation. Just pleasantly, cheerfully enjoys whatever is going on about him at the moment and lovingly affirms those in his presence. Most of the time he has a relaxed, sweet smile.
What a mean SOB and macho “alpha male” huh?
To disagree or object to any manifestly bad, sub-Christian behavior today is to be a bad person: only fit to be pilloried, tarred and feathered and ridiculously caricatured and dismissed. In the name of anti-bullying and anti-abuse, there are mass feeding frenzies, precisely engaged in abuse, bullying, slander, and calumny. After all, it is every bit an abuse to falsely accuse someone of being an abuser. There is no such thing anymore as a legitimate, honest disagreement (at least in many, if not all matters and venues), because the PC / Orthodoxy Cops have proclaimed the sole authentic positions, and all who differ are dishonest morons.
I rhetorically exaggerate a bit to make my point, but sadly, not much. It was difficult to get into real discussions even when society still believed in a quaint thing called truth. Now that we don’t any longer, it’s a hundred times worse.