Friday, June 16, 2017

In Forum, Field or Fane

The Irish Conservatives Forum continues to prosper. For something that I did on the spur of the moment, and that took about ten minutes to set up, it's been a remarkable success (the input of Roger Buck, especially as regards promoting it, was crucial). There are now thirty-seven members, seventy threads, almost 750 posts, and daily discussions. 

It's made me think about debate-- well, I'd already been thinking about debate. I love debate. I love the exchange of ideas, the clash of ideas, the play of ideas, the evolution of ideas. I've been browsing Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (which I'd bought years ago and never read), and it thrills me to think how Aristotle was engaging in debates which were already ancient by the time he came along, and that have remained just as lively all these centuries later.

I love anything that's written as a response to a previous text. It gives me a thrill. I think I have a deep-seated fear that all life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing-- that language and even thought is random and directionless, like the spasms of a dead body. But a debate, a discussion, is focused and structured in a way that seems to escape that accusation.

(Incidentally, I was pleased to see that Aristotle had actually addressed the "should you be moderate about moderation?" comeback, which I've heard so many clever-clogs raise, when it came to his idea of the golden mean. In fact, the idea that the "golden mean" is simply the half-way point between two extremes is far from his view.)

For me, debate is not only external but internal. I've been preoccupied with many internal debates, through most of my life-- since my teens, at least. And I think this actually suggests an interesting fact about debate. I believe that debate is not only divisive (of course, it can be) but also potentially unifying. Take the Gaelic Revival, for instance. It was full of debates-- whether or not to use the old Gaelic script, which dialect should become the national standard, whether Irish language creative works should follow traditional models or be allowed to experiment. It seems to me that such debates (or discussions) actually help form and define a community, or an interest group.

One contributor to the forum suggested that conservatives shouldn't be divided on subjects but should seek unity. I didn't say anything to that but I actually disagree with her. To quote Yeats again-- only dead sticks can be bundled together. Disagreement is a sign of vitality.

Obviously, when it comes to the Catholic faith, things are rather different. The Last Supper discourse of Jesus is full of appeals to unity. But, even within the Faith, I'd like to think there's a legitimate space for debate or at least discussion-- within the bounds of orthodoxy, of course. Indeed, Thomas Aquinas's works are themselves structured like a debate. I've often noted how our Lord's discourses are rather like a Socratic dialogue. So I hope this love of debate and discussion is not un-Christian.

1 comment:

  1. A caricature in today's WEST AUSTRALIAN reminds me of the ' dressing conservatively' bit.... Must try and got to your Gmail