It has been said that there are two types of philosophers: those who focus on topics they are certain about and those who examine their uncertainties with the hope of finding clarity. I believe that this is an apt dichotomy, and one that translates to a world outside the ivory tower. There are two types of people who engage in dialogue: those who are already so convinced that they are right that nothing will sway them, even proof of their own logical failings, and those who are genuinely seeking to fill some lacuna in their world view.
I recently encountered the former manifested in the rage of friends who could be called America’s neo-conservative. The incoherence of this position is glaring. This camp jumps to the defense of civil liberties when the right to bear arms or say racist crap in public is challenged, but denies others the right to marriage or control over their bodies. It is a belief in life, liberty and freedom for some. The Duck Dynasty fiasco highlights these contradictions. For those who haven’t heard this pathetically irrelevant story, the star of the world’s worst reality television show was suspended after publicly denouncing homosexuality and comparing it to adultery, terrorism and bestiality. In response, the right-wing, neo-con camp jumped to the defense of this idiot, claiming freedom of speech. The problem here is the very premise. Nobody said he can’t say whatever he wants, only that while there is no legal recourse for bigoted speech, there are consequences. The punishment here is being doled out by TV viewers, networks and sponsors, not by the American judicial system.
While prominent politicians like Palin and Cruz have stood up to defend the Don of Duck Shooting in the name of the 1st Amendment, these same bulwarks of constitutional rights don’t hesitate in denying basic civil liberties to other less biblically acceptable groups. Of course if rational discourse is what you are seeking, it may be best not to engage with conservative America at all: what other group supports the death penalty while calling abortion murder? There is really no point in trying. When people become so convinced of their own dogmatic, albeit logically flawed, views, the potential for rational discourse drops to nil.
Another example of the dogmatic debater comes from the far-left anti-Israel BDS camp. While Syria self-destructs, the Sudan disintegrates into increasingly more terrifying violence and the population of Gaza suffers under the dictatorial rule of Hamas, these consistently incoherent haters can only find fault in Israel’s “occupation”. The security fence and manned checkpoints designed to stymie terrorist activity aimed at civilian non-combatants within Israel called “apartheid”. No matter what one says, no matter what the facts actually are, this group will never sway or falter in their irrational condemnation.
We don’t have to look very far to find examples of destructive dogmatism. Lately it seems that everybody is so convinced that they are right that they are willing to flush the proverbial baby just to prove their point. It is happening on both sides of spectrum. Ironically both the far-right and the far-left share this blindness regardless of the conversation. While I believe both sides would bristle at the comparison, there is really no difference between them. Both are so trapped by their cultish belief system that they cannot see past the tips of their own noses.
So what about the other type of thinker, the self-critical explorer? Well, they are largely silenced by the raucous shouting of extremists, falling through the seam where two-sides meet. But this is the voice that truly can bring change. Only by recognizing the flaws in one’s own arguments can better arguments be developed. Only by recognizing one’s own weaknesses can greater strength be found. Only by hearing the other can compromise be reached.
When we become overly convinced of our own rightness we become no different than those we perceive of as wrong. When we lose the ability to check ourselves, we will inevitably wreck ourselves. To believe that one’s opinions are infallible is the height of ignorance and arrogance. It is to shut oneself up in a dank Platonic cave and live only for the shallow shadows dancing on the walls. It is better to walk in the sun and be forever wrong, than live in darkness and be right.
And so I invite extremists and radicals of all persuasions: gun nuts and hippies, feminists and misogynists, libertarians and socialists. Follow the seekers and crawl out of the cave. Come walk in uncertainty. Come bathe in questioning. At the very least you won’t be a closed-minded A-hole.