Rational discourse and the Marketplace of Ideas is a philosophical cornerstone of our Republic. It is also under attack like never before as Progressives/Socialists (no real difference) can’t stand the concept of competing ideas. I want to pull some key points from pervious posts here that were mirrored at Blackfive.
Yet it was still a core part of my beliefs, but recently there was some discussion by author John Ringo that caught my attention. He recounted and amplified on the concept of persuasibility as presented by former professor and current author John Barnes. Dr. Barnes states categorically that much of his presentation is nothing more than classical rhetoric, but if so it is an excellent summation of same.
It also is a very clear example of what I feel rational discourse to be about. Rather than try to distill it down, I am with his permission going to quote the key points as he presented them to me.
“Where it is: The obligation of persuasibility is a moral and ethical obligation that flows from the enthymeme of reciprocity, which in turn is one of the quasi-logical structures of informal logic. It is therefore itself enthymemic, so it’s more firmly rooted than a mere preference or value (like the rules of baseball, driving on the right, “the Backstreet Boys suck”, “patriotism is good”, “all you need is love”) but less so than an empirical law or a mathematical theorem.
What it is: the obligation of persuasibility is the requirement that if you enter into a dialogue with another person or persons, your purpose will be not only to refute their arguments or to convert the arguer, but to consider their arguments as candidates for your own belief. That is, you will not reject the possibility that it may be your mind, rather than theirs, that needs changing; or in utilitarian terms, the greater good may be for you to be persuaded, rather than them.
What it ain’t: Although, obviously, if someone converts, they were persuasible, the other side’s not being persuaded does not prove that they violated the obligation of persuasibility — it may be, for example, that you made a poor case. It is perfectly possible for people to disagree throughout their entire lives while still upholding the obligation of persuasibility. (Indeed, it is likely).
Why it matters: because ethically, two people who have placed themselves under mutual obligation of persuasibility can co-participate in a political and social order peacefully and of their own free will. The obligation of persuasibility is thus a possibility condition for liberal democracy. The areas in which the obligation of persuasibility holds, within a given society, are the ones where society can be both individually free and socially ordered. Or, as I used to put it to my class, tell me how much of the obligation of persuasibility your society is willing to undertake, and I will tell you how much peace and freedom you’re going to get.”
To me, this is the heart of rational discourse as practiced in the colonies. It may or may not have been the correct interpretation of the continental philosophers of the day, but is built on the foundations laid by Aristotle and still taught at that time. The sad state of education today is a topic for another day.
That said, there are some things that will invalidate rational discourse/persuasibility. Again quoting Dr. Barnes, the things that do this are:
“1. communications aimed entirely at conversion; that character on your doorstep in the cheap suit, who is not there to find out what you might think about God or God’s nonexistence, but to deliver a single-sided message and try to knock down your objections. 2. communications aimed entirely at expression (or maybe “venting” is a better word, since the legal term ‘freedom of expression” covers much that is intended to be persuasive), e.g. shouting “N-word” into a bullhorn on a crowded city street, 3. communications whose purpose is to dismiss any need to listen to the other side (e.g. ad hominem, sponsor boycotts, a habit of characterizing the other side as morons or dupes), 4. therapizing speech (treating the other person’s opinion as a symptom of disease or vice), 5. listening solely to refute, 6. some kinds of extreme relativism (“that might be right for you but it’s not right for me”), 7. apathism (the position that the other sides’ distinctions are without differences).”
John Ringo also brought up a concept that deserves mention, because it is an area in which rational discourse/persuasibility has no bearing. This is the concept of a “religious” belief, i.e. one that is held on a matter of faith such that no amount of evidence, data, or other will change it. These are beliefs that can be core to a person, or are simply such that they will not be discussed or modified. A former co-worker and I discussed this point at some length in some rather fun discussions, and the term we had settled on to describe such was “prejudice.” For such beliefs are just that, they are subjects on which a preconceived opinion exists that is not subject to rational discussion or debate.
Note the seven types of invalidation. Then, look at current media reports and what is coming out of various political leaders at all levels. It really does say it all about the goals of current efforts. The freedoms we take for granted are under attack, and if either the first or second amendment falls, all fall. Keep this in mind over the next several months as efforts to eliminate free speech grow rapidly and potentially exponentially.
This effort to overthrow the American Revolution and the Constitution must be fought in the Marketplace of Ideas, in Congress, in legislatures, and even in council meetings. Heck, even in HOA and other organizational meetings. It must be fought in the courts. It, most of all, needs to be fought at the ballot box and efforts to ensure a free and fair election without fraud must be overwhelming. For if it fails at any of these levels, what happens will be a choice between slavery or watering the Tree of Liberty.