Here’s a series of tweets Alastair Roberts recently posted:
To which I replied:
I realize my response may seem a bit flip; given the fact that I support gender neutral marriage and Mr Roberts opposes it, it may seem natural to take it that way. But in fact I’m quite sincere.
I first became aware of Mr Roberts’ through his 2012 blog posts (five of them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, but especially 4) on the peculiar social conditions necessary to permit people to engage in “heterotopic discourse,” discussions in which stark disagreements are received, not as personal affronts, but as a part of a process that can move towards truth. This is something like the distinction between a fistfight and a dance. People have to feel safe with one another if, when they do not want a fistfight, they are to engage in footwork of a sort that could be useful in a fistfight. And they have to see that there is some value in that particular form of footwork, that it adds up to something, if they are to cultivate it to the level where it becomes a substantial pursuit in its own right. Likewise with debate. People have to be confident that those with whom they are reasoning are not going to trick them or to insult them if they are to engage in debate, and they have to see a way that the debate can lead to a fresh truth if they are to give that debate the time and attention it needs to get there.
I value this sort of thing very highly, and am continually disappointed when issues that have the potential to make outstanding thought experiments in philosophy get bogged down in emotionalism and political point-scoring. I suppose emotionalism and political point-scoring are the main things the higher functions of the brain evolved to do, while philosophy is a fairly marginal pursuit in the grand scheme of things, but I still think it’s a terrible shame.
Anyway, Mr Roberts replied to my tweet with a remark about how different forms of intelligence represent different levels of danger in different sorts of bullies, with which I agreed. But it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Mr Roberts is a theologian, soon to be known as Dr Roberts, and I was thinking of members of his profession who have over the years, in the midst of their academic pursuits, taken active part in efforts to uphold the orthodoxies of their faiths. Some of these efforts have been pretty gruesome, by our standards, but I’d still rather read a first-rate treatise by someone who did something ghastly than have to deal with the sort of person Mr Roberts has in mind as the enforcers of the nascent orthodoxies of niceness. So I wrote: