The original Reform Club was a place where individuals of many different dispositions could socialize, discuss, and yes, argue. Perhaps the best example of the spirit of the club was the friendship and debate between G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. The two men could scarcely have been more different. Chesterton was larger than life, jolly, mysterious, and Christian. Shaw was austere, a vegetarian, a great critic of religion. What they shared in common was civility and a common brilliance.
When Mr. Karnick and I opened the Reform Club online we hoped to foster the sort of conversations that happened at the original Club. The basic idea has been in our introductory header for as long as we’ve been posting. Along the way we picked up several other members with different gifts to contribute. We also gained a multi-religious cast. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and maybe one or two without much religion at all.
The goal of these conversations would be to start with a post and end up with something even more interesting through the comments offered. Commenters might know something interesting to add. A different angle, a new fact, a cheerfully offered critique. The attitude that would keep it all functioning smoothly would be epistemological humility. In other words, we all know we could be wrong. Thus, it makes no sense to blindly assert, to be churlishly insistent, to never admit an error.
Sometimes, we get exactly what we’d hoped for. A discussion is conducted on the plane of intelligent adults committed to civil discourse. We learn something or are stimulated to reconsider or discover a new line of inquiry.
Other times, we get nothing but competition and not the kind that makes you better. No, it’s the kind of argument that occurs between very little persons who have not reached adulthood. It is an enervating thing. One that causes one to despair.
Speaking for myself, I know I haven’t always had the patience of a saint. The patience of a Saint Bernard, perhaps. But I am always open to genuine conversation, the kind in which the disputants are not constantly engaging in ad hominem, committing the genetic fallacy, etc.
All of this is a long way of saying, if you want argument at the level of a radio call-in show or some of the less sophisticated blogs, please take it elsewhere. We are trying to cultivate something more like a graduate school or faculty lounge atmosphere. Everyone who participates should make the others better. We are not looking for an endless contest of slaps. Real scholars (credentialed or otherwise) don’t waste their time with that crap.
I’ve been harsh on a couple of occasions, but that is primarily because I’ve twice recently caught a commenter freely and arrogantly asserting facts and conclusions which are blatantly and obviously incorrect. In the future, I would like to see an ultra-amicable mode of discussion and yes, disputation.
Here’s to a better blog from here forward.