Sunday, February 02, 2014


A recent book by J. S. B. Morse argues that even in heated arguments, people agree more than they think.  His title, “Everyone Agrees," puts the case too strongly. Nonetheless, in a modified version of the thesis, it may be that in many cases there is more agreement than at first appears - if only the disputants would stop and take a deep breath.  In the last analysis, most would agree with the following two statements:  a) government must continue to assist the poor and disadvantaged; b) government must act more efficiently if it is to retain the trust of the American people. 

Still, there are limits, and I would like to purloin the incisive remarks of one Amazon reviewer (slightly edited).  “Everyone does NOT agree.  Yet beyond the simple fact of disagreement lies the yet more important issue of WHY people disagree. Some sections of the book imply that apparent disagreements occur because people are ill-informed or because they do not think consistently. This is a polite way of saying that disagreements occur because some people are either ignorant or irrational. And of course, the sub-text is that WE are not the ignorant or irrational ones. In other words, if people were just better informed and more reasonable they WOULD all agree--with ME (i.e., with the author of the book).

“This position is arrogant. The fact of the matter is, there are many people who really do disagree with me (i.e., the writer of this review) on issues of substance, issues on which both I and they are reasonably well-informed, issues on which both of us understand the other's position reasonably well. Often the reason for our disagreements are presuppositional: we are not operating from the same set of (unproven and unprovable) assumptions. I am not enough of a relativist to believe that we can both be right when we disagree. Clearly, when a disagreement occurs, at least one of the parties is wrong. But it is often beyond the powers of either to determine with absolute certainty WHO is wrong. In any case, the disagreement cannot be written off by dismissing the other party as ignorant or stupid. And the search for clarity, understanding and (perhaps even) agreement is not facilitated by such intellectual arrogance. In disputation, humility is the queen of virtues, the one which makes all intellectual advancement possible.”

Perhaps it is because of the company I keep, but I find that many of the Facebook contributions I see, especially of the meme type borrowed from “Being Liberal” and other such progressive sites, propound  as their underlying assumption that the liberal view of matters is simply the way things are.  Conservatives and libertarians who disagree are just being stupid and obtuse.

At present the country is pretty much divided between the blue-state and the red-state people,.  The latter will not be brought around by rhetoric of arrogant denunciation.  Understanding and persuasion are needed.


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