The Patience of a Saint?

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.

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7 thoughts on “The Patience of a Saint?

  1. “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.”

    I can only infer you mean to say I am that way and yet I have on several occasions here admitted error. The problem is that when you feel self satisfied in an argument and I don’t agree you assume it is a fault on my part. Perhaps sometimes it is, but a closer examination of your own reasoning would be warranted.

    You might even give me some credit for being proven right on several arguments where the club in general has been unanimous in opposition, say Global Warming. Even Bush now admits it is an issue and must be managed by man.

    “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.”

    While I suspect that you are not *always* open to genuine debate I do think you *often* are and honestly, Hunter, you are one of the people I come here more to engage because I suspect that deep down you have this kernel that knows that so much of what you’ve been forcefed is simply not true. There are still hot button issues that get you riled up (we all have them) but in general I think you listen because you really do want to, and that is a good trait.

    “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.”

    By all means point them out, but don’t be surprised if those fact that are so “blatantly and obviously incorrect” end up supported by the evidence.

    I’m always willing to play the put up game. If I’m wrong I’m wrong and I learn something. If I’m not wrong I won’t pretend to be.

  2. Hunter, I also too often fail to moderate my tongue, and have found the best remedy is to open my eyes to those behaving better than I, and close them to those whose behavior I’d best not emulate. Thank you for being the first sort of person today.

  3. Look! A baby wolf! ::points::

    Can we (commenters, posters, general populace) possibly move on? Hunter, you’ve been an ass sometimes. Tlaloc, you’ve been an ass some times. Me, I’ve been an ass more times than I can count (and I can count up to twenty using my toes).

    Hey, how about a debate about the New Domino Theory)? Islamic fundamentalism replacing Communism as the boogeyman of American foreign policy! Rational fear or big-puffed up whiney-crybaby fear-response meets cynical opportunism? Today, on… The Reform Club!

    (BTW, I’m trademarking “New Domino Theory. To paraphrase Kevin Kline: “Nobody touch it! It’s mine!”)

  4. In other words, we all know we could be wrong.

    Hunter, you have just explained, and apparently agreed with, the essence of moral relativism.

  5. No, LA, I haven’t. What I have explained and agreed to is the fallibility of human beings in conversation. That would not have any bearing on the existence of truth is an ultimate sense.

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