”Come on man.”
ESPN has a segment called “Come on man. . .” There we see football players who should do something, but inexplicably do not. Imagine running for the end zone, then looking back, and so getting caught, the football knocked out of your arms: the coach turning salty seeing his player do a Lot’s wife. “Come on man,” run for the end zone as fast you can and worry about the opposition during your touchdown celebration.
Acquiring wisdom is hard work and so we are tempted to take short cuts, especially if they are lucrative. I was reading a very bad Christian book recently, one all the rage, that is full of cherry picked historical examples and bad argumentation. Heaven forfend you ask questions while reading: “What about this other case?” “What if this position being attacked is correct?”
The book assumes that the Evangelical academic establishment grifters, running dying colleges funded by usury charged to duped parents, will commend the sentiment while the tuition paying parents will miss the book or (best of all!) take it seriously. After all, the style is fetching, the title cunning, and the opinions popular in the demographic marketed. This book is not doing the hard work of dialogue, but is “eristic.” There are many words, some footnotes (!), references, and the person is a Christian college academic who probably actually believes the tricksy equivocation on display.
“Come on, man.”
How can the rest of us, those who want wisdom and the truth, wherever the truth leads us, know when someone is just marketing the latest intellectual fad? Sincerity will not help as the academic sub-culture is perfectly capable of ginning out scores of “scholars” with inter-disciplinary degrees full of Great Pumpkin level sincerity.
First, the person will engage with critics who are qualified. If the writer is criticizing left-of-center Christians, then he or she will find the most effective spokesmen of that position.
Second, the arguments will consider the best case for the opposition. Once I made an argument, carefully took care of all the texts that could falsify my take on Plato, only to have my professor ask: “Why would anyone assert this thesis in the first place?” I had been clever, eristic, but not dialectic. I had not given my own ideas a real challenge.
Plato wrote the Parmenides, still one of the best attacks on his views. Too often, we argue for the “home team” regardless of the merits. Winning is everything.
Third, any long discussion will try to clarify what the opponent means by the language they use, and not try to trip them up on what they say. I once ran into a guy who was harassing a person for whom English was not their first language. They had one idea of what “animal” meant and that idea was simplistic. As a result, the skeptic was able to confuse them, make them look bad, and “win” the discussion. This was sad. They were a “talkie-man” and not a lover of wisdom. They might have won, a lucrative skill online and in courts, but wisdom was far away.
Fourth, the discussion/book/film/argument will not merely advance an establishment friendly thesis that ignores the best critics. The “establishment” can vary from person to person. Some want the favor of a tiny, eccentric out group. They wish to be king of the Cultists. Others wish to be big fish in big ponds and so find a way to fit what they believe into the service of the Great Masters.
The dialectic goes where the student and the teacher go. The eristic man follows the money.
Clarity takes time.
In any discussion, there is a need to clarify terms used so that everyone is making the same claims. Being “understood,” clarity, is hard and can take a long time, much discussion, and frustration. We know what “knowing” is in common talk, right? We do, but when we get to harder questions we have to distinguish between shades of meaning and usage.
The lover of wisdom is willing to be wrong. The lover of eristic is not, to which the lover of wisdom can only say: “Come on, man!”
From a devotional for The College program at The Saint Constantine School on Plato’s Euthydemus.