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August 09, 2012

An election-is-approaching observation (again)

Because I have a bunch of things on my list that I should be doing, I have (of course!) spent some time today reading old MOJ posts, and also catching up on some (broadly speaking) Catholic blogs.  Maybe it's just because there's an election coming up -- one that committed citizens on both sides think (a) is really important and (b) just has to go their way, or else -- but this post, from a few months ago (which I called, at the time, a "gloomy observation"), seemed worth re-posting:

Over the course of the last few days and weeks, consuming lots of (and contributing some) commentary in various forms about, e.g., the preventive-services mandate, the Bishops' religious-freedom statement, the Ryan budget and Catholic Social Thought, the Supreme Court arguments in the ACA and SB 1070, the presidential campaign and election, etc., I was struck by what seem to me to be some characteristics of our (and by "our" I'm thinking mainly of "reasonably engaged, informed, and formed Christian citizens) conversations about law, politics, policy, and faith.

It seems to me that, generally speaking, the following are true:

(1)  People object indignantly to tu quoque, "so's your mother!", and "if only you were consistent . . ." arguments and charges, and to double-standards, and also deploy, and apply, them often.

(2) People assume that those who disagree with them are, at least in part, motivated by something undisclosed, or by ideological precommitments that overdetermine the content of their claims, while they themselves are candid and transparent, and able to transcend ideology in order to identify what the right answer really is. 

(3) People object to pronouncements by religious authorities about "political" matters selectively and strategically / tactically.

(4) People are clear-eyed about the weakness of guilt-by-association arguments, and also entirely happy to press them.

(5) People are sensitive to the important truth that there is (this side of Heaven) almost always room for reasonable disagreement among intelligent, faithful, reasonable people about how best to apply principles, standards, and rules to those facts that are known; and also to the reality that such people will also often disagree about what the "facts" (which include, I suppose, predictions about the effects of particular interventions or omissions) . . . except when they aren't.

(6) People say that we should assume the best of others and their arguments, and avoid a "hermeneutic of suspicion", but don't.

To be clear:  I am, I am sure, among these "people."  I am not claiming innocence.  Sure, the merits matter, and I tend to think (as we all do) that, basically, I'm right about those matters about which I disagree with other people (assuming we are talking about matters about which it's possible to be right).  But still -- I'm not pretending to have entirely clean hands.  (I guess I'm overcompensating, in anticipation of (1)).

So, a serious question:  Given (1)-(6), is there really any hope for productive, charitable, and enlightening conversation and argument (about these matters), among people who don't already (pretty much) agree, outside the context of close personal relationships where trust (and even love) can reduce the incidence of the phenomena described in (1)-(6)?

I very much want the answer to be "yes", but it strikes me that it might be "no."  Hence, the gloominess of my observation.

I have to believe the answer is "yes", but pre-election blog-reading (especially blogs that touch on the relationships among religion, law, policy, and politics) can make it hard -- again, outside the context of "close personal relationships where trust (and even love) can reduce the incidence of the phenomena described" above.  Thank God for such relationships. 

Posted by Rick Garnett on August 9, 2012 at 02:34 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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