Monday, November 26, 2012

The breakdown of the conversation

We see it all the time.  A particular group of people will believe something, and by virtue of believing that something believe that they are superior to those who disagree with them.  Simply by virtue of disagreeing with them.

Mark Shea writes a post about evolution as a metaphysical fig leaf.  While he is talking about another issue with New Atheism I notice a continuing trend in this us vs. them mentality that is exhibited by adherents of Darwinism.  The belief (seriously, belief is the word they use) in evolution that distinguishes the intelligent from the dangerous and unenlightened.

This coloring of people who disagree with them is not a new invention.  People have been doing it as long as there have been opinions (and for that matter people).  What is particularly striking is the fear and hatred that is being fomented now against those who don't hold evolution as the be all and end all of explanations.

 As we become more polarized and continue to isolate ourselves from the opinions of those we disagree with, two effects begin to emerge:

  • We become less able to defend our own ideas
  • We begin to fear the ideas that we disagree with
The first effect is due to laziness.  We only hang out with those who agree with us.  We only read that which we agree with.  Like Obama in the first debate, when you are surrounded by yes-men and sycophants you get soft.  Your ideas are not challenged.  You perceive yourself to be smarter than you are. 

This leads to a horrible inability to defend one's ideas.  The intellectual shallowness gives way to an emotional defensiveness that relies on ridicule and derision rather than engaging an actual position.  The ideas one holds become a part of one's identity.  Without a rational basis to defend such ideas, the adherent feels that they are being personally attacked when a disagreement arises.

The second point is more obvious.  If one cannot defend one's own ideas logically, it makes it almost impossible to understand let alone argue against the ideas of another.  This ultimately is why dialogue in this country is dead, and the ability to have an intelligent conversation as well.

Understanding another's views requires a deep understanding of one's own ideas and how they contrast with others.  This is something we are unable to do in modern discourse because we are not used to thinking about our own ideas very deeply.  The points of conflict where people disagree requires an exchange of diverging ideas, and often the core of the disagreement is rather up the chain of reason rather than the immediate disagreement.

We face a time where the ability to defend the rationality of the Catholic Faith is all the more important.  Presenting rational ideas to an irrational world may seem like an exercise in futility.  The human mind longs for reason even if our fallen natures would convince us to reject reason for the sake of immediate gratification.  This is why we labor to explain, defend and propose the Faith.

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