Nothing to debate
In this world that comes after the Candle Mass, I want to change my ways slightly. From a fairly good start in this anti-blog — my first posts were more numerous and often quite short — I have drifted by lugubrious habit into fewer, and longer. This would constitute a sin against Idleness. The long posts are all very well, or some people think they might be, and I will continue to publish them as and when they write themselves. But I need to do more towards the discipline of Idleness.
This morning, for instance, I was thinking about “arguments.” It startled me to see, from some decade-old newspaper clippings that had heaved up from my last pre-Catholic days, that I had expounded some particle of Catholic Christian teaching. It was a rational, and rationally defensible teaching, requiring no “Revelation,” no “mystical insight.” The question at issue was “same sex marriage,” brought to the boil (2003) by an essentially corrupt Ontario Superior Court decision, effectively overthrowing Canada’s marriage laws. (The chief justice behind this decision went out to party with the beneficiaries after it was done: a profoundly corrupt act by a judge, that to this day has not been punished; a complete and open breach of public trust. He is instead lionized, for having “delivered the goods.” His name is Roy McMurtry.)
What I had written was substantially correct: a reasonably good “journalistic” account of a biblical and doctrinal idea, which was also a natural and rational idea, and from which it could be seen that even “gay civil marriage” was a non-starter. Of course, it would help to be Christian to buy in fully, or arguably Jewish, since these two religions alone have, over the many centuries, tried to uphold the principle of rational consistency.
But if one could not buy in, or at least, if one could not pause to humbly consider the possibility that the contrary of current bafflegab even might be the inevitable Christian position, one could not then reasonably claim to be a Christian, as so many supporters of “same-sex marriage” were in fact claiming.
Indeed it was to them I was chiefly arguing: to those who at least nominally accepted the premisses I was working from, such as the possibility of a distinction between right and wrong; and facts on the level of “only women can have babies.” Hard leftists and atheists may not accept such propositions as in any way inevitable, but run-of-the-mill Christians and most decent people say that they accept them.
But if one rejects, and also rejects thinking about, something that one nominally accepts, what is one in fact claiming? That one is a cowardly fraud, whose obedience is not to Christ, nor to reason, but instead to every newly proferred idol of the Zeitgeist. Or alternatively, that one is a silly ditz, quite incapable of thinking through any position, and in anxious need of adult supervision and guidance. Or, as it were, a “typical Canadian voter.”
My determination to “debate” what the media said was then being “debated” — the whole idea of “same-sex marriage” — guaranteed my gradual removal from the “mainstream” Canadian press. My newspaper column was progressively dropped, first from the soi-disant “conservative” National Post, and then from one CanWest newspaper after another. I could not be surprised by this, however. As the much younger David Frum once wrote, “Canada is a country where there is always one side to every issue”; and as I once added, if you get it wrong, the media will “unperson” you.
Still, an argument is an argument, whether or not anyone is listening. And in the end it can only be defeated by a better argument. (That is genuine dialectic.) Those not listening will never be able to provide one. I grieve not only for their souls, which so need praying, but also for their minds: for almost all of my former journalistic colleagues suffer from intellects crippled by an inability to grasp this simple, initial point. Whatever damage any might have done to me, they did much more to themselves through their panic upon being confronted with an unwelcome argument.
Nor can they begin to come to terms with their own, “politically correct,” tendency to panic. They would never see it as panic, but rather as a kind of spontaneous righteous indignation, confirmed in the jiggling throughout their outward layering of smugness.
Throughout history, so far as I have read, the vilest acts of prejudice and suppression have been committed by the party that considers itself more “enlightened.” And it is natural that this would be so. For without the intellectual humility to pause, and consider whether one’s own position is actually defensible, or whether one might have overlooked something (Thomas Aquinas was the very embodiment of this kind of raw intellectual humility), there can be no effective checks on knee-jerk behaviour. The belief that one’s faction is “enlightened” militates against intelligent or independent thought, and in effect creates the lynch mob. No one will ever be able to out-argue the proposition, “I am right because everyone knows I am right.”
For paradoxically, the “enlightened” party is blinded by its own light. The prejudices are founded on the very notion that “any other position must be prejudice” — so that those who have actually devoted time and pain to thinking through the question are accused of blindly following the prejudice of past ages. This is made plausible because they usually are — coming to the same conclusion as other intelligent men and women came to, over many centuries; to a position which, often as not, fully anticipated the latest “enlightened” novelty, and consciously rejected it for good, stated reasons.
As gentle reader will see, my issue today is not with “gay marriage” per se. It was a political battle, over what should never have been made into a political question; and as a political battle, it is currently lost. But it is hardly unique in that way. There is a piece by Fr James Schall, currently posted in the Internet, entitled, “Fifteen Lies at the Basis of Our Culture.” Gentle reader may go there to review the other fourteen. In every case, “the culture,” including its “media,” will shut down hearing, box up its ears, from the moment a rational argument is proposed against the widely accepted Lie. To put this in unambiguously Christian terms, the devil has us that well trained.
Rational argument, and the ability to cope with it, are crucial to the survival of any culture or civilization, and perhaps the reason why this one is so obviously crumbling.
This is also why every tyranny collapses in due course: the inability to cope with the truth — with home truths, with internal contradictions. The position of saying one thing and doing another can only be maintained for so long. Sooner or later comes the rending crack, and the whole edifice of lies collapses (as we witnessed, dramatically, at the Berlin Wall, but also many other times on less dramatic occasions).
As the Christians teach, freedom itself is bound up with truth, and a society that can no longer confront truth must necessarily and inevitably lose its freedom. (The loss of which is itself a survival issue.) Just as, to use an analogy I hope everyone will understand, a major corporation will come down, once it starts relying upon accounting tricks.
The tyranny itself began, as every catastrophe, in small lies, in lies of convenience, in lies that had to be told to support those lies, and lies to support those new lies in turn, so that the lies accumulate to large, and larger, until no internal “reform” can save the edifice: in a swoosh, it all comes down. That is what we in the West are working towards, and have been working towards for well over a generation, piling lie upon lie, to get farther and farther away from the ground of our being. It is our Babel.
But neither is that my argument for today, which is trying to reach a little beyond argument. I began with my surprise over seeing that in the fake “debate” to which I was once “contributing” I had got the “argument” basically right. And yet it did not satisfy me at all.
Looking back, it now seems that in some fundamental way, I was myself still not getting the point of what I was, correctly, arguing. I was still struggling to see, as it were, not a truth, but the truth of that truth. The argument I was making was still external to me. I was arguing as if I were in an argument — which, I suppose, technically, I was, even if my opponents were only arguing that I should be shut down, silenced.
A former prime minister of Canada (very briefly) once said, in the heat of an election campaign, that an election campaign was no place to discuss public issues. She was telling the truth, and alas, a truth that tells sharply against representative democracy. Of course, she was easily made to look a fool, and the fact that she otherwise behaved rather foolishly clinched the landslide by which she was defeated. She was not a politician I liked or admired. Yet for one bewildered moment she had spoken a truth — a quite defensible truth, incidentally — and I was quite impressed.
It is something like that I am trying to say today. I could phrase it in a parallel way: “A debate is no place in which to have an argument.”
But that’s a little too clever. I mean that, by our current understanding or tacit agreement, “a debate” is a form of public theatre. It never was meant to decide anything. It is a public clash between sides, in the manner of an old Punch and Judy show. Real questions cannot be discussed until we have established real premisses; until we have come to some real agreement on the nature of the ground. That a genuine dialectic can help us to that point, I would hardly deny; all truth-seeking involves some form of dialectic. But “a debate,” as the term is currently understood, means a Punch and Judy show — in which both sides have agreed to act like puppets, and follow a script in what they have to say.
What follows from this, I believe, is that where the truth begins to be apprehended, and the most essential facts become agreed (that we are male and female, in this case), it is not debate that follows. Instead it is affirmation. And insofar as we might sometimes be right, all that we can do is affirm. And, “as Christ is my witness,” everything that follows from that is out of our hands. (Punishment, most likely.)
Perhaps this sounds arrogant.