Some years ago, before the housing market blowup, Francis was posting on Eternity Road about the tendency for Americans to live beyond their means via excessive debt. While I fundamentally agreed with him at the time, I disagreed that all debt was necessarily bad, and suggested that mortgages were not as toxic as other forms of debt.
Naturally, I was wrong in the worst way possible. Indeed, my assertion seems almost laughable now. I don’t remember the exact reply Francis posted, but I do remember it was a gentle and polite form of disagreement, the sort a wiser man might use to enlighten the hotheaded young men every generation inevitably produces.
That sort of polite discussion and gentle disagreement is fast becoming a lost art. Yesterday, I chose to criticize the conclusions of an educator in the UK, a former President of the Cambridge Union known as Tim Squirrell. The gentleman had written a long-winded post about racism, sexism and the usual progressive talking points. Naturally, I chose to disagree with him and replied to him on Twitter.
One of his followers chose to defend his master. At first, the discourse was relatively polite:
Like most Progressives, there is a false veneer of civility atop a writhing sea of hatred. Having failed to prove his case about the original topic of conversation, he proceeded to criticize my command of the English language. Now, I know that grammatical errors crop up in my work often enough, but I’d like to think my basic command of the language is sufficient for Twitter.
The irony is that the grammatical error he was citing was actually a direct quote from a fellow Progressive, illustrating that his claims were erroneous. That was lost on him, however, and he spent the bulk of the next 20+ replies trying to harp on grammar rather than discuss the matter at hand. Eventually, even that spurious claim was dropped, and the final form of the monster revealed itself.
Having failed to prove the original point, the Progressive fell back on trying to prove a minor point of grammar. Failing that (for this was Twitter and nobody cares about perfect grammar there), he fell back on claiming how smart he was because he had multiple degrees.
As you can see, this was never about me, my views or Tim Squirrell’s original farcical article. This was not a discussion or even a proper debate. It was all about this follower, GeorgeC, feeling good about himself. He wanted to beat somebody in an argument so that he could go back to his daily life with a little extra narcissistic supply. Since I declined to give it to him, he ended the debate by patting himself on the back for his own education.
No doubt, this whole affair was a waste of my time. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to see the Progressive beast in all its glory. As you peel back the layers of the onion, each successive layer is more rotten than the one that preceded it.
Contrast this with the pleasant discussions on Bastion of Liberty, even when in disagreement with others there. My wife’s family has a friend of some decades, so close that he might as well be family himself. He and I vociferously disagree on a number of substantial intellectual matters. Yet each time he arrives at my house, we smoke a cigar, drink some scotch, and discuss the intellectual matters at length. Those are truly pleasant evenings, for both of us walk away having learned something.
Being right or wrong has little to do with it. This is a matter of learning from others. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Progressives have forgotten this. They see debate as a sort of sport in which there must be a winner and a loser. Furthermore, since they cannot countenance losing, if they feel they are falling behind they will invent some means by which they can declare themselves the victor. The idea of discussion as a mutual exploration of intellectual matters is completely lost on them.
Those years ago, at Eternity Road, I was wrong. So substantially wrong that the memory of it sticks with me to this day. But I’m a wiser man for having discussed the matter. And knowing when one is wrong is, perhaps, the most important characteristic for anyone who wishes to describe himself as an intellectual. There is no dishonor in error, but there is a terrible folly in attempting to rationalize it away.
And there is something utterly horrifying in seeing the twisted minds of Progressives, tying themselves into intellectual knots, just so they can walk away feeling good and superior to others. Worse, they think other people don’t even notice this behavior.