Between Activism and Constipation: why maintain a dialogue with zealous idealogues?

January 23, 2007

So yesterday a good friend asked me a very important question: “why do you bother?”

The question was in regards to a series of posts I made in a public forum. The forum, which was loosely discussing Canadian politics, was very much dominated by a vocal minority of what I like to describe as postmodern conservatives.

What are postmodern conservatives? Well, what I mean by pomo-cons (as I affectionately refer to them) is a relatively quick growing segment of the 20-30 somethings educated population that have married basic critical thinking skills they acquired in university or college, a post modern critique of hope and optimism, and a petty bourgeois retreat to fiscal and political conservatism. The result is a group of young, relatively intelligent, ardent conservatives eager to point out the folly of civic engagement and touting a neo-con agenda dressed up in quixotic intellectualism, enter the pomo-cons.

Now lets pause for a moment. While I am probably describable as a ‘lefty,’ this is not about being against conservatives. Despite not usually seeing eye to eye with many on the political and social right, I do listen and respect those who are willing to discuss their ideas and beliefs. Even here in the close nit family of Beats Entropy, we do not all share the same political visions. I do not begrudge people the right to hold to what political and social values they choose, provided they (and I) remain open to a meaningful dialogue through which either or both views may change.

The distinction I make here is with those for whom this dialogue is closed, or worse still, those who zealously defend their apathy though it were a political stance. This sadly rising constituency often represents a very vocal minority, most especially in the all too accessible virtual public sphere.

So, to return to that ever important question: why bother? Why bother trying to engage civilly and intelligently with those who will not do the same? Why be patient and analytically rigorous when your opponents have already made up their mind?

Well, here is what I think:

I consider these forays as sorts of gladiatorial battles. Across a metaphoric expanse are the opponents, not other individuals who are willing to forward a position and listen to others, but (often) ignorant idealogues bent on a verbal bloodbath.

“Why fight?” my friend asks.  Or more importantly, why maintain some decorum while your opponent froths at the moth and spits insults regarding your parentage? Why fight when the goal of meaningful constructive dialogue cannot possibly be met? Why bother to engage when the only possible outcome is the unsatisfying defeat or analytic-emasculation of unreasonable and unreachable zealots?

It is not for this sadly unreachable adversary (like the frustrating pomo-con) that one must carry on, but for the invisible masses who watch.

It is for those who observe quietly from the sidelines of the public arena, watching and learning. It is for them that I try to always address, calmly and politely, the challenges (often neither calm nor polite) that are brought forward.

To believe, as I believe, in the power of discourse, is to believe that ones words carry weight and meaning beyond the scope of their primary recipient and into the ocean of common meaning.

We lead by both the manner and content of our speech and actions.

Whenever possible I try to make both of those worthy for others to be inspired by.


12 Responses to “Between Activism and Constipation: why maintain a dialogue with zealous idealogues?”

  1. Esmerelda Sconeflinger Says:

    Hear, hear !

    I wholeheartedly agree, and am delighted to be reminded, that it`s worth going through for all those listening from the sidelines.

    Very often, I suspect they feel just as you do about the issues, but don`t have the heart to participate in discussions where said zealots spew their apathy.

  2. Jive Says:

    Well said sir. The undecided and the confused can sometimes be swayed by idiotic arguments if they are delivered loudly and with suffecient zeal. Your calm and methodical analysis has no doubt opened the eyes of many to the world beyond rhetoric and name calling.

  3. Octaviousbp Says:

    Pomo-con is pretty good…

  4. Rox Says:

    have you seen the bbc documentary the century of the self? (people made me watch it, i’m not endorsing it)

    What about those who seethe and glare from the sidelines but aren’t elevated enough not to stoop to name calling?

    Do you do it for them to?

  5. w()rmwood Says:

    thanks for the feedback!

    I should say that of course sometimes you have to indulge and beat the proverbial snot out someone whose mouth is writing cheques their intellect cannot cash…

    but for the most part i try to focus on eloquently providing others with an alternative to listening to the loudest, sometimes most seductive, voice.

  6. Very well put and apt; but there is more than a hair of self righteous martyrdom to your noble burden.

    Apathy and disengagement can be a legitimate position, and to defacto assign anyone with that stance as misguided or insincere is practicing the same smug, intellectually uncharitable, posturing that you are railing against.

  7. w0rmwood Says:

    I think i could concede the element of self-righteousness in the above, though i would argue the martyrdom.

    I dont consider the continued engagement an act of martyrdom at all, I was attempting to point out that even in those instances where one’s opponents seem so unreasonable that there seems to be no more point in continuing a discussion – I think sometimes there is.

    I do hold the view that apathetic disengagement is amongst the weakest and least forgivable of human paths. But i didnt mean that to come off as smug. I have walked that path for a time, so i speak from both belief and experience.

    The path of apathy and disengagement is what Nietszche described as the last men, humanities weakest and most pathetic incarnation. I tend to agree.

    But i do take the comments to heart. My point was not to come off as some self-infatuated intellectual super hero, only to suggest that for those of you looking for a reason to keep trying, one such reason is the belief that discourse can have effects beyond the confines of those directly involved in it.

  8. thekenji Says:

    Very eloquent post.
    And I agree with it.

    The problem I struggle with at this point is how many of the systems around us are now geared in such a way that, next to them, the “pomo-con” argument in the gladitorial ring sounds incredibly appealing, logically solid and conceptually simple and streamlined as seen by the masses on the sidelines.

    The leftist approach is fundamentally more holistic; often highly relativistic and dealing in shades of grey; facing the problems of trying to manage large complicated systems.

    Using the pomo-con approach you can appeal to near-truths that pertain to individuals, while lefties would be hard pressed to logically delineate their plan’s ultimate utility for everyone in under a few hours of notes, slideshows and study after study.

    I’m not even that leftist myself; I may even be slightly right-of-centre. But I get concerned. And it’s not even that I think the right-wing approach itself is wrong; It’s just that I think human nature is naturally slanted in that direction (at least, when we have a certain level of wealth), and so a constant leftist pressure is required in order to maintain our position on the slippery slope even.

  9. thekenji Says:

    “I do hold the view that apathetic disengagement is amongst the weakest and least forgivable of human paths.”


    Apathy in general is one of the worst traits in a human, in my opinion.

  10. sungame Says:

    “To believe, as I believe, in the power of discourse, is to believe that ones words carry weight and meaning beyond the scope of their primary recipient and into the ocean of common meaning.”

    This is exactly why I bother…

  11. The Doc Says:

    Heard on the web:

    “Those who are not Liberals when they are young have no heart, and those who are not conservatives when they grow older, have no brains.”

    How old are you?

    ‘nuf said.

  12. w0rmwood Says:

    I am old enough to know that conservatism is the ideological safety blanket that people use to wrap themselves when the fear comes ….

    and young enough to remember what it was like not to be afraid, and therefore to feel the full terror that age brings.

    While i actually think the conservative/liberal dichotomy is not the most effective spectrum through which to analyze positions – I completely disagree with old Winston Churchill on the above quote.

    In my opinion, it is more accurate to say:

    It is easy to be liberal and to try to think through issues when you are young and without fear – but it is seldom useful. It is easy to be conservative and to try to cling to what little you have come to understand when you are older – but again it is seldom useful. The real trick is to try to understand and respect tradition when you are young, and challenge it when you are older.

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