Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Prospect of a Dialogue

A few days ago a fellow with blog called Mystery Achievement ("MA") stopped by the Dossier. He didn't much like what he saw here, as you can tell from this review. After that, Mark Shea took off after him in a post called "When Jingoes Attack.

I appreciate Mark's unsolicited support. He and I have some similar, but by no means identical, views on a few issues, including some aspects of American foreign policy. Those views aren't always happily synchronized with the program of conservative American politics. That makes some people nervous, other people angry, and still other people roll their eyes at the spectacle of misapplied Catholic and conservative values. Sometimes Mark and I get disagreeing comments which are trenchant, important, and thoughtful. Other times we get called names, not infrequently by people who don't know what the hell they're talking about. I realize that comparing my writing to Mark's is like comparing an oil-drum-and-driftwood raft to the U.S.S. Missouri. But differences in quality and scale aside, it was good to have an old friend who's been through much worse stick up for me, and to see him do it on principles we both share. Thanks, Mark.

Mark's commentary sparked off some back-and-forth in the comments boxes between MA's author and some bright people who disagree with his approach to what I've written. Predictably, MA's author has invited me to stop by his blog and discuss the whole thing in the comment boxes there. I say "predictably" because one of the last things anybody in the blogosphere, including me, wants to do is appear to be unwilling to engage in a match of wits and words. We're all here because we fancy ourselves wits, we like writing, and because we believe strongly enough in some things to publicly employ them on behalf of our causes. For one of us to decline an invitation to "discuss" things always leaves a bitter taste.

MA's author has, from what I can tell, decided that I'm guilty of several greivous sins. I'm no friend of my country, he says, and I also have decadent views that pretend to courage, but which will ultimately appear as what they truly are -- excuses that allow me to accomodate evil while striking a self-righteous pose. MA's author has decided that I believe Saddam Hussein should be reinstalled as Iraq's leader, so that he can kill people by shoving them into plastic shredders (as he did). My view on the project to create an Iraqi democracy are, in his opinion, adequately summed up thus: "Better a psychotic dictator in a country full of ignorant brown-skinned folk who neither deserve nor are capable of better than a bunch of Smirky McBurtonchimp clones running around chattering about freedom and democracy." More than that, I appear to be an anti-Semite who believes that Jews, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and other "usual suspect" groups are involved in a giant conspiracy to destroy civilization. My supposed hatred for Jews is so great that I've allegedly threatened them with pogroms.

Now these are important issues, and dire charges, and it would certainly edify me to have to defend myself against them in dialogue with someone who is vehemently opposed to my positions. Scripture tells us, "He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." Proverbs 18:17 (RSV-CE). For my part, I'd like to demonstrate that none of this is true, and that MA's summaries of my beliefs have been produced by a pretty thick layering of presuppositional filters and un-necessary conclusions onto text that won't support them and (for want of a better term) a history which actually contradicts them. This is especially true when it comes to that business about my being an anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism is a rank sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance, and that vengeance will come. I would hate to be a subject of it. I also believe it's possible for men to sin in guilty blindness; the dullness of mind that comes from wicked habit can achieve that blindness, as can vanity and arrogance (MA's author also accuses of of self-righteousness). Anyone, like myself, who would reject out of hand the possibility that he is himself blinded in that way, and refuse to submit his views to the scrutiny of a hostile witness, is surely on the fast lane (or at least the on-ramp) to Hell whether or not the immediate accusation is well founded. Even if I were so vain and stiff-necked that whatever real flaws MA might be able to find in my views went unacknowledged by me, the proof of his indictments would be there for anyone else to see and profit from.

The initial problem was that MA's author seemed the sort of fellow with whom rational discourse is impossible. The trigger there was his having declared his intention to be personally insulting:Warning: This post contains Bad Words deployed with the intent of Insulting Someone. No, seriously." I don't have a problem with someone who claims my opinions are pieces of excrement, although I would tell him that the splenetic vehemence of his words might well obscure the justice of his cause. I have to admit that, on occasion, I've been as bad when I lose my temper. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have a moment of clarity before I hit "submit." Sometimes I'm not. And sometimes I think "poltroon" and "moron" are apt descriptions and won't change my mind. It happens. But whether I'm worse or better than MA's author (a subject which is fit for God alone), nobody has a lot of time to waste hashing things out with somebody who thinks name-calling is an argument. When someone, like MA's author or me, is in that mood it means our anger has crippled us and we can't do justice to the subject. If there are two subjects which demand justice, it's America and anti-Semitism.

I was therefore very glad to learn that MA's author has regretted his invective about me personally, although he stands by the objective accusations that accompanied it:
I was very angry when I first wrote this. (No, really.) I am sorry for insulting S.A.M. the way I did. But I stand by my assessment of his posts. And the next time I read a blog post that denegrates our efforts in the GWoT, or insinuates ideas about Jews that sound like someone channeling Pat Buchanan, I'll probably get mad again. But I hope that if that does happen, I'll be able to exercise more self-control.
This proves, of course, that MA's author is a far bigger man than I am. I'm pretty sure I have one or two unpaid debts of apology in my wake. But no matter. MA's author (who I think goes by the name of "someguy," as I also use a sobriquet) has shown himself to be a Christian gentleman whose love for his country and hatred of anti-Semitism -- if not his ability to recognize when either principle is being contradicted -- is unquestionable. That's good news.

It's good because it means that I have misjudged him. He's not a witless snipe. He's a doughty fellow with important things on his mind. (He also wields a serious pen). Still, the questions are complicated on a rhetorical level because if one accepts, as "someguy" appears to have done, that any opinion of the Iraq war and occupation which does not eagerly and entirely approve of everything the U.S. has done is anti-American, then I'd have to concede the "judgment" while protesting the unfairness of its criteria. The same thing goes with anti-Semitism; if we define anti-Semitism as the ability to hold adverse opinions about the fairness and wisdom of anything the ADL or the State of Israel might do, then I'd have to make the same reply. If that's the case, then perhaps "someguy" could tell me beforehand and we could part peaceful company -- he, confident that he's run across some wicked beliefs and I, equally-confident that I've found some foolish ones -- and let readers judge when and as we write in future. If not, I'd be interested in going further with the exchange. The only problem I'd still have is time. To me, these are both huge subjects that require a lot of writing and re-writing.

So if this conversation seems agreeable to us, I can only promise to do the best I can in the time I have. For the time being, I provide these links to prior posts so from which some sort of response might appear, in the hope that "someguy" (who seems only to have looked at the offerings for November, 2005) can peruse them and see if I'm the sort of person who he thinks would be a worthwhile interlocutor:
Posts About Christianity, Jews and Islam
The Passion, the Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt

Canadian Cowardice

Letter to Loretto Girl

Musings on an Islamic Apologia

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

The Catholic Church and the Nazis
Posts about Church Matters
Commentary on the Burbling Church

Commentary on the Burbling Church (2)

Notes on Traditionalist Views of the Ordinary Magisterium

Army of One Interview

Butterflies, Traditionalists and Training Wheels

Miscellaneous Musings on Fr. Pater and ST. PIUS X
Political Miscellany and the War
Cry Havoc! And Let Slip the Dogs of War

The US Through Foreign Eyes?

I Support the Troops?

Notes for Catholics Who Can't Tell the Difference Between the Democratic Leadership Council or the Heritage Foundation and the Magisterium.

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