Monday, September 22, 2003

Dogmatism of the political left

Last week Tristero responded to my post on hating the sin and loving the sinner, in which I discussed his comments at another blog on the topic.

It's a long post, and I welcome you to read it. At this point, I'm going to make just a couple of points...

Between that post and some private email exchanges -- which were generally amiable -- it's apparent that Tristero has no interest in discussing the contentious issue of the moral evaluation of homosexual/gay sex acts. He prefers to dismiss those who offer intellectual arguments against the morality of such acts as "intellectual perverts" (that's a quote from his post), and the arguments are dismissed as "a sickly sugar coating of logic over someone's bigotry."

Tristero asserts that "there is no rational basis - none - upon which to condemn same sex intimacy and pleasure" and that "there is no sensible case to be made against gay marriage (which does not prevent the immoral moralists on the right from confecting them)." He has the luxury of making these assertions without reading the arguments for this reason: "I know, just as I know a priori that there can be nothing important in the writings of the Intelligent Design IDiots, there is nothing of interest in the writings you proffer for my study." He just knows.

Tristero justifies his refusal to read the "sickly sugar coating" by these "intellectual perverts" in this way:
    There are people, like Immanuel Velikovsky, the Heaven's Gate people, Richard Perle, and my friend L who's into crystals for healing, who believe the nuttiest things. Each one of them, when you enter their world, has a consistent, rational explanation for their beliefs. Their delusion starts with their basic premises, which is just plain bonkers. I'm not interested in learning more about Heaven's Gate cosmology; I know there is no UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet.
Now, I actually agree with Tristero on this... there is no point in researching every single idea out there, because there are some pretty nutty ideas. However, that approach does not hold in the issue at hand, because we're not talking about the beliefs of one, two, or twenty people, but rather the beliefs of hundreds of millions of people, and that alone requires a more serious engagement instead of mere dismissal. To give a mirror example, millions of Americans hold the pro-choice position viz. abortion, a position which is demonstrably incoherent. Now, if it were only two people or twenty who held this idea, I probably wouldn't waste my time refuting it. But because millions believe it, I need to be a bit more engaging. So too, I would argue, should Tristero be more engaging on this issue.

One other thing on this: Tristero correctly notes that the problem typically comes from faulty premises, upon which are built and otherwise-consistent belief-system. Again, I agree. However, shouldn't Tristero point out those faulty premises which serve as the foundation for those bigots [sic] who view homosexual acts as immoral?

Tristero's choice of action on this issue strikes me as dogmatism. He rejects the opinions of millions of Americans and scores of scholars and philosophers going back millennia without investigating them, because he just knows they have nothing to offer.

This is a good example of the kind of thing which I believe is deteriorating public discourse in America today and further dividing the country: one party flat-out refuses to investigate the arguments offered on a contentious issue by a substantial number of people, laity and scholar alike, preferring to inveigh against them and impugn all sorts of motives to them (near the end of his post, Tristero states, "I'm not wrong either about the ugly intentions of the Christianists," a group which apparently includes anyone who describes themself as Christian and also understands homosexual acts to be immoral; although elsewhere he seems to identify "Christianists" as those like Robertson and Falwell "and those who are even more radical in their mission to transform the US into an explicitly fundamentalist "christian" state," his usage of the term implies a broader scope, including non-fundamentalists like Scalia and Santorum [see this comment]). I am well aware that people on both sides of the aisle commit this intellectual crime. But usually, it's the right (in politics and religion) which is accused of being close-minded and dogmatic, when in fact, people on the left in both realms do the same, as Tristero evidences. I wonder, in fact, how he would respond if someone said, "anyone who attacks Bush and the war in Iraq is anti-American. I just know it."

If anyone thinks I've mischaracterized Tristero, feel free to comment. As I've said on numerous occasions, I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but nothing in the exchange of posts and emails thus far indicates that Tristero is not dogmatic, at least on this issue.

More generally (apart from this discussion with Tistero), it seems to me that reason is being thrown out... it's not the most rational case which wins the day, but the one offered by the side which shouts the loudest. In other words, might makes right.

(NB: I don't want to foster the impression that every liberal blogger out there is dogmatic on any issue, let alone every issue. And I want to reiterate that Tristero's dogmatism may very well be limited to the single issue of homosexuality; we haven't discussed much else, so I have no idea how broad his dogmatism is or is not.)

Addendum: it's definitely possible that not everyone has blogs because they are interested in a real exchange of ideas with others, whether in agreement or disagreement; some people may simply chose to "monoblogue" rather than "diablogue". Fine. People are, of course, free to do as they will. But I think they should accept some responsibility for the manner of public discourse when they decide to blog. I'm well aware that I've violated my own directive on this matter, and I've said as much on more than one occasion. But I also think that I've made a real effort to engage those with whom I disagree in a manner which I hope is more likely to promote the exchange of ideas.

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