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Monthly Archives: July 2010

“Disagreement Is An Accomplishment”

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. –Attributed to Voltaire

What an eventful 4th of July weekend for social media national pride…and thoughts on the contrary…and also everywhere inbetween.  We heard thoughts on our independence, interdependence, idolatry, infantry…what other “i” word did I miss?

Throughout all of this there has been quite a bit of disagreement centered on the premise that “national pride in the United States of America is being worshipped over God on the 4th of July in churches”.  I already posted my specific thoughts regarding this topic on twitter and facebook (and might have to blog about it later) but this morning I received an email that I found quite apropos.  It was from my weekly subscription to Mike Metzger’s blog (DoggieHeadTilt) from the The Clapham Institute.  The email doesn’t speak of national pride but instead about disagreement and our ability to disagree and progress from understanding  – not necessarily agreeing with – the other argument. And once again, I’m not a fan of saying, “we must agree to disagree”, but instead let’s continue the conversation by saying, “good men can disagree”. (coined by Mike Metzger)

I’ve pasted the text of the email below.  Enjoy.

DISAGREEMENT IS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT

“The principal objection to a quarrel is that it interrupts an argument.” – G.K. Chesterton

Vigorous arguments are necessary, if one cares about truth. Sadly, we don’t argue very well.

The proverbial problem of corporate leaders being surrounded by “Yes Men,” has its rhetorical parallel. Here a “Group Hug” is preferred to careful thinking. “Why can’t we just all get along?” couches arguments over ideas as relational deficits. The more cynical may wonder if the motivation is not to offend potential financial contributors. The concern for cash may trump conviction.

But there is an opposite tendency to be avoided as well. We’ll call this “Partisan Pandering.” In this case sectarian critique coupled with a heavy dose of Nietzschean hermeneutic of suspicion plays loose with the facts in order to score points with a partisan audience. Blogs do this on steroids. As Andrew Keen warns, “Every posting is just another person’s version of the truth; every fiction is just another person’s version of the facts.”

James Davison Hunter’s paradigm-challenging book, To Change the World, has seen both forms of criticism, “Group Hug” and “Partisan Pandering.” There are those who want to dampen disagreements by obscuring difference and those who would exaggerate difference by sheer distortion.

Whatever one thinks of the book, one cannot help but wince at some of its reviewers. Cultural critic Denis Haack writes, “A refusal to listen, to reflect, to discuss with both intellectual rigor and civility is the mark not of the wise and godly, but of the fearful and unkind. It is one thing to disagree; it is quite another to disagree disagreeably.” He provides these maxims of intellectual etiquette:

  • Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment until you can say, “I understand.”
  • Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
  • Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgments you make.

Catholic scholar George Weigel once observed, “Disagreement is a great accomplishment.” Much that poses as vigorous debate is anything but, ranging instead from ignorance posing as knowledge to slander posing as scholarship. Quarrels are not arguments. When the issues matter most, it is best to lead with our better angels. Truth is lost when it is not.

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Posted by on July 5, 2010 in Uncategorized