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“How little we know, how eager to learn.” — Sir John Templeton
There’s really very little to be said for trying to carry on a conversation (online or otherwise) with people who have nothing but an instrumental view of conversation as a means to their own anti-pluralistic or illiberal ends, who concern-troll every debate in the hopes of getting someone to take the bait. There are a set of writers who work hard every day trying to create a framework where the only right answers can be some kind of dogma, who will never for one passing second acknowledge the legitimacy of evidence which contradicts their own pet doctrines, who are never even momentarily in any danger of being persuaded by any countervailing viewpoint. For these writers, all online discussion is a colossally elaborate manipulation. I spent too much time in developing this blog arguing for an indiscriminate openness to conversation. Pursuing conversation with the comprehensively dishonest is a fool’s errand, and I’ve sometimes been just such a fool.
Preach it. One of the things I’ve worked hardest for on this blog is to keep the concern-trolls off the comboxes, and to eject people who, as Burke puts it, see conversation as instrumental (that is, who see it not as an open-minded give and take, but as combat in service of a particular dogma). The combox threads are not as free here as they are at other blogs, but I hope that in a more important sense they are more free, in that they allow people to express doubt, and to respond to what is said by their opponents without having to fear a personal attack, or that her point will be drowned out by incessant shrillness. I sometimes err by leaving things up that probably should be taken down, but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted taking down a comment that crossed a line.
Anyway, I don’t consider anything I post here the final word on anything. I like having my ideas challenged, as long as the challenge is civil and respectful. I hope I treat you the same way. Tell me if I don’t, and I’ll get better. It took some difficult events and discoveries humiliating to my intellectual pride over the past decade for me to realize how little I know, and to come to a place where I’m eager to learn more, even if we’re destined to disagree. Yet that opportunity to learn via conversation is not possible as long as those loudmouths who see conversation as instrumental are present. That’s why I try to keep them out. Yeah, I censor.
By the way, I found Tim Burke’s blog through Alan Jacobs, who calls him “one of the most consistently thoughtful bloggers I know.” What a great discovery — I’ve bookmarked Tim’s blog. Alan’s too, by the way.