I’ve written before about Rational Discourse and the Doctrine of Persuasibility. It is more than an intellectual exercise, and is not — no matter how much some might wish it so — a pseudo-intellectual bit of blather. What it is, is the cornerstone of the Marketplace of Ideas that in turn is a cornerstone of our current Republic.
The idea is simple: people are capable of rational thought, of making good choices to benefit the whole/greater good even at the cost of short-term gain for themselves. Or, simply put, to govern themselves per the ideals of the Enlightenment.
However, this is dependent upon people choosing to be rational, to consider the facts, and agree to be persuaded based on new information. Good discussions on the topic accept that for every person there are topics for which this will not apply, and religion is one of those topics for many. Hence, a position held as a matter of religious faith is one that is not subject to facts or debate, and will be held as a matter of faith. This led to defining all such beliefs as being a “religious” matter for the holder of that belief. John Barnes has done a very good job of discussing this and related issues, and I commend his works to you.
One of the cornerstones of any totalitarian effort is to shut down the Marketplace of Ideas, and to prevent rational discourse. Any political/philosophical effort that does so is totalitarian no matter how it bills itself, and as such I would note that this makes a good litmus test.
Efforts to limit debate, or to change terms of debate, as seen in the ever-expanding ideal of political correctness/racial (other) sensitivity, are contrary to the ideals of the Republic and the Marketplace of Ideas. It is not about making speech hate-free, but using the pretext to prevent a full and honest discussion.
I’ve been encountering a tactic that deserves a good and honest name, even if it is likely to evoke a strong reaction. This may be a corollary to a religious belief, but I’m not sure that it is as it appears not to be an honestly held belief.
This tactic is to make a comment about a topic in a way so as to appear to be a “religious” matter for the commenter; but, the real purpose is to demean and denigrate both a differing position and the person holding that position. In the process, it effectively shuts down any possibility of discourse with both the person committing the tactic and with the larger audience that is following the conversation in person or in the media.
I’ve seen this done with topics ranging from diet and nutrition to individual rights/power of the Federal government. The methodology is always the same, and the comment is snarky, devoid of substance, and done as a “drive by” to help prevent any effective engagement or response. In fact, the person so doing usually runs from any attempt at engagement (a position of intellectual and moral cowardice, IMO). I posit that such is rarely a truly held position, religious or otherwise, but nothing more or less than an attempt to “slam” both a person and the philosophical/political/religious/other concept held by them.
While I would normally avoid a label that is going to serve as a “hot button” that can limit debate, I’ve come to call this tactic an “asshole.” Unlike a real rectum, which serves a valuable and useful purpose in eliminating waste from an organism, this tactic is designed to prevent the discharge of waste from the body politic and to increase the level of vitriol even as it shuts down discourse. The fact that I also find it an accurate descriptor of the user makes it all the more appropriate.
There is more that I could say, but the basics for generating some discourse is here. To that end, what say you?