Sunday, March 18, 2007

"The argument is over"

In the April edition of First Things [subscription required] Richard John Neuhaus comments on the current state of public discourse:
"The argument is over," announced former Vice President Al Gore. The subject was global warming. The television announcer then asked, "You mean there is no argument about global warming?" Gore solemnly nodded and said again, very much like a judge pronouncing the final verdict, "The argument is over." When and where, one might well ask, did the argument take place? Who was invited to take part in the argument? There are many very reputable scientists expressing skepticism or disbelief with respect to global warming. Never mind, they're too late; the argument is over. As the presumed moderator of public discourse, Mr. Gore declares that the argument is over and that his side won. Writing in the Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman goes further, comparing global-warming skeptics with Holocaust deniers. They are not only ignorant, they are culpably ignorant. In fact, they are evil. One detects a growing pattern of refusing to engage in argument by declaring that the argument is over. It is not only global warming. Raise a question about the adequacy of Darwinian theory, whether scientifically or philosophically, and be prepared to be informed that the argument is over. Offer the evidence that many who once coped with same-sex desires have turned out, not without difficulty, to be happily married to persons of the opposite sex and you will be told politely - or, more likely, impolitely - that the argument is over.

It does seem that there is a new spirit of anti-intellectualism abroad. Public discourse is increasingly aimed not at exploring the truth of a matter but at terminating the discussion. Conversation is displaced by propaganda. Self-appointed thought police patrol the conceptual borders against ideas and facts they find inconvenient .... Some arguments are rightly declared to be over. For instance, the argument for the legal segregation of the races. For instance, the argument that real communism hasn't been tried yet. For instance, the argument that people should divorce for the sake of the children .... But there are subjects - for example, whether we are facing catastrophic climate change caused by human behavior, whether reason and spirit emerge from mindless matter, whether sexual desire is identity and destiny - that are eminently deserving of intelligent discussion. ....

One of the places where such intelligent discussion can still be found is in the articles, letters and responses of First Things.

Source: First Things, The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life [subscription required]

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