Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – I was reading this essay by Alan Jacobs at The Imaginative Conservative last night, under the title of “Agreeing to Disagree.” Mr. Jacobs posits that there’s not enough agreeing to disagree out there. Too many people are not agreeing to disagree, practicing judgment porn and using microaggressions to get angry at people. Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
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Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: I was reading this essay by Alan Jacobs at The Imaginative Conservative last night, under the title of “Agreeing to Disagree.” Mr. Jacobs posits that there’s not enough agreeing to disagree out there. Too many people are not agreeing to disagree, practicing judgment porn and using microaggressions to get angry at people. He cites Mollie Hemingway, who writes at The Federalist blog, who we’ve talked about because she is one of the writers that’s covering the Center for Medical Progress sting videos on Planned Parenthood. I thought this was provocative enough, combined with Trumpzilla’s presence, to talk about it. There’s a point to be made here.
In an excellent recent article,
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Mollie Hemingway wrote, “We are slowly forgetting how to dislike something without seeking its utter destruction.” I would only replace “slowly” with “quickly”—very quickly. This makes me think about disagreement: what it is, what it means, what it is for. So let’s explore.
Many years ago, the philosopher Michael Oakeshott wrote that “The view dies hard that Babel was the occasion of a curse being laid upon mankind from which it is the business of philosophers to deliver us, and a disposition remains to impose a single character upon significant human speech.” By “Babel” here Oakeshott does not mean the diversity of languages but the diversity of beliefs and positions. His statement is a challenge to philosophical hubris, to the idea that arguments can be produced that will defeat the opposition once and for all.
Bernard Williams likewise appreciated the value of disagreement: “Disagreement does not necessarily have to be overcome. It may remain an important and constitutive feature of our relations to others, and also be seen as something that is merely to be expected in the light of the best explanations we have of how such disagreement arises.” The context here is, broadly speaking, ethics—how people should live—and Williams thinks that ethical questions are immensely complex, so that disagreement about them is “merely to be expected.” Indeed, any attempt to shut down disagreement on such matters will be an impoverishment of thought, and perhaps, of life itself.
But that doesn’t help us very much unless we know what “danger” is, and its sibling “harm,” and no concepts have undergone more radical alteration in the recent shifting of social opinion than these. Thomas Jefferson famously said, “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”—but that was in a simpler time. In a culture devoted to a minutely particular screening of language for microaggressions, the injury inflicted by opinions becomes the most talked-about form of harm. There are no socially useful gadflies in the Microaggression World—unless, of course, you think it’s okay for some ideas to be challenged but not your favorite ones. No one would ever be so inconsistent, would they?
How might such people come to see, with Williams, the virtue of moral and epistemic humility? How might they be brought to see that it can be a positive good to belong to a society in which people with deep disagreements, even about sexuality and personal self-determination, can live in peace with one another and, just possibly, converse? I have absolutely no idea.
Mike: Let’s just think about that proposition for just a moment here. Opinion then can be divided into two realms. There is the opinion that you may have that is, that you have reached and that you agree upon the conclusion of a certain set of arguments. Then there would be the opinion that you had that you disagree with the conclusion of a certain set of arguments. The philosopher in me, what little I’ve been able to challenge thanks to Brother Francis Maluf and philosophia perennis, which I must say I wish more and more of you would sign up for because it would enrich your thinking and your life to the point where you cannot underestimate the impact it would have to study philosophy, scholastic or Thomistic philosophy. [/private]
The philosopher in me says: Hold on, Mike. Hold on, philosopher Church. Just wait a cotton pickin’ minute here. So you’re telling me that it’s okay for someone to disagree with a conclusion that I have reached, and we can issue this as some sort of a universal statement. Everybody with me so far? That is what I would term as intellectually slothful, lazy, and that is what I would term as patently incorrect. That cannot possibly be correct, and I’ll tell you why, and we can apply this to some examples in the news today. They cannot possibly be correct because it is possible for you to reach a conclusion that is an erroneous one because we don’t know how to philosophically and correctly think. If you form an argument incorrectly, if your terms are incorrect, it’s very possible that you reach a conclusion that’s not valid.
If you have reached such a conclusion, what am I doing if I agree to disagree with you? I’m agreeing that you have made a valid conclusion when you haven’t. That’s in the negative. Let’s do it in the finite and the positive. You’ll see the danger here of why this is just crackpot philosophy. Unless I’m misunderstanding Mr. Jacobs, he’s got it exactly backwards, and so does Miss Hemingway. If, however, I have reached a conclusion, and if I can demonstrate it in a conclusion as a logical syllogism and it’s correct and true, you don’t get to disagree with it because it’s truth. If you disagree with it, you’re denying the truth. Again, what’s truth? Conformity of the mind to reality.
If I have reached a conclusion — it doesn’t have to be me. I say me because I’m in the first person tense here. Let’s say you reach a conclusion. You’ve reasoned your way through it. You know it’s true. If you fancy this, you can make a logical syllogism and you could pronounce that: Here’s my syllogism and this is correct; it’s true. Someone can’t disagree — if someone disagrees with that, they’re disagreeing with reality and with truth. You don’t get to disagree with reality. You can. It’s not advisable. This is what leads to the error of the world. This is what leads to the error in my modern thinking here, the idea that error has rights. Error doesn’t have any rights, that’s the whole point. An error can’t have any rights.
No one denies this in almost every field of endeavor until it comes to either A, morals, or B, politics. If we’re talking about politics, politics and morals are very closely related, or they should be. We sever the relationship and we’ve severed it out of convenience. Why? Because we want to believe in things that aren’t true. Does this make any sense to anyone? If I said to you, just as an illustration — this will be a really simple one. If I said to you, for example, it is raining outside right now, therefore the ground is wet. That’s a perfect, concise, major term, universal, logical syllogism. It cannot be faulted. It is perfectly designed. It’s a simple one.
End Mike Church Show Transcript