Friday, June 01, 2007

A Shibboleth

I am hereby announcing a rule for my blog.

This is significant because it is the first rule ever to be declared on my blog. And really, I don't like making rules. Usually, most people are already following all the rules they are willing to follow, and they don't need any more rules, kthx.

But after visiting other blogs and encountering the same exasperating, circular conversation over and over again, I am going to institute a rule ... not because the readers of my blog have a big problem with this issue, but because I think this rule should be a "best practice" that will help create thoughtful and productive blogging communities.

The rule is this:

If you are unwilling to admit the possibility that you might be wrong, I will delete your comments.

I think this rule will be fairly easy to enforce. We will simply use the phrase "but I might be wrong" as a shibboleth. If you are incapable of admitting even the *possibility* that you might be wrong, you're not discussing, you're proselytizing, and we'll thank you to go away. Take this discussion for example:

Biff
: THE USA IS EVIL! IT IS DESTROYING THE WORLD! WE HATES IT!
Sully: The USA is evil? Do you think it's *possible* that you might be wrong about that?
Biff: No, there is no possibility that I am wrong. I am unequivocally right, I know the Truth and I am here to share it with you.
Me: Biff, please go away. You are in clear violation of the first rule and your subsequent comments on this topic will be deleted.

So beware! At any time, you may be called upon to pronounce the Shibboleth.

21 comments:

scoots said...

Are you sure this is a good rule to go by?

Matthew said...

Ha! Hooray for Scoots!

Uh ... I *think* it's a good idea, but I could be wrong.

shane said...

seriously though,

"But after visiting other blogs and encountering the same exasperating, circular conversation over and over again, I am going to institute a rule"

you are sounding more and more like a parent every day.

**But I might be wrong about the content of this post**

scoots said...

I think it’s probably a good rule too.

Here’s my take: The good thing about this rule is that it acknowledges that no argument is ever final. So for example, I can hold to any position I want, even in the face of arguments that seem to refute it, as long as I admit that I might be wrong. That just means I think no argument is ever absolute, so I’m choosing to be skeptical of the arguments that seem to refute my position.

I think I can even hold a position and refuse to admit that I might be wrong, and that, in and of itself, is ok.

What’s not ok is for me to hold a position, refuse to admit that I might be wrong, and then make arguments in favor of my position. Arguments, by their very nature, have to be open to response. If I set forth an argument, and then I refuse to admit that I could be wrong even if the argument is refuted, then I’m showing that the argument really has nothing to do with whether I believe what the argument supports––and yet, here I am trying to get someone else to accept my position based on the argument that I don’t really think is grounds for believing the position anyway.

So it’s disrespectful to the other person, not because I’m sure they’re wrong, but because I’m trying to get them to accept a position by giving them reasons that really aren’t good enough for me.

BIMBW

Matthew said...

Scoots,

Very nice. I think you're spot on in your characterization of proselytizers as disrespectful.

I balked at first at the idea of someone who provides no arguments being exempt from the rule, but I'm coming around ... I might add the qualification that repeating the same belief over and over again is a form of argument.

I also like BIMBW. If you have no objections, I'm gonna pronounce it "bimbo".

Richard Beck said...

Fantastic idea. More and more I'm becoming convinced that doubt is a moral virtue.

Matthew said...

I prefer the term GKB used: "epistemic humility". =)

shane said...

"epistemic humility"

I am fairly certain he nabbed that from Aquino.

**BIMBW

Matthew said...

He did, he even cited Aquino. But I suspect Aquino picked it up somewheres.

ConcernedEngineer said...

I would say that I think this rule is a bad rule, but by merely using the word "think," I would be dishonest.

I would say that I think there are certain moral, ethical, and theological absolutes, but by merely using the word "think," I would be dishonest.

ConcernedEngineer said...

"Fantastic idea."

Richard,
Are you sure about that?

ConcernedEngineer said...

I think that postmodernists would love this rule, but I think that this rule makes no room for God to insert His thoughts.

Matthew said...

CE, you don't have to say "God might be wrong about this," just "I might be wrong about this."

Buuuuut if you don't want to pronounce the Shibboleth, that's your decision.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Rape is wrong. Absolutely.

Matthew said...

I certainly agree with you there!

ConcernedEngineer said...

I see (I think).

So, it appears to me that making absolute statements is cool, so as long as Matthew agrees. But if ever Matthew disagrees, then we must pronounce the Shibboleth - I think.

By the way, Matthew, are you sure you agree with me about rape? You need to pronounce the Shibboleth - I think.

But am I thinking? I think that I'm thinking - I think. Or do I?

ConcernedEngineer said...

Hey Matthew,
Are you an insecure person? (Remember the title of this thread is "A Shibboleth" - that is, I think that's the title of this thread).
I have to admit (I think), that I am having fun pointing out the ridiculousness of the Shibboleth rule - I think. I hope that this is not seen as malicious or mean. I just (a) like to debate, and (b) I like to help people realize that all of us are holding to some set of presuppositions.

Matthew said...

Um ... okey dokey. The *point* of the rule is to create a space for honest discussion by weeding out people who are simply here to pontificate ... people who insist that they are absolutely right about something, and that there is no possibility that they might be wrong.

If no one disagrees (like with your statement regarding rape), then there is no need for further discussion on the topic, and therefore no need to pronounce the shibboleth.

But if it will make you happy, CE, I'll admit it: I might be wrong about the absolute wrongness of rape. By saying this, I'm not saying anything at all about rape. I'm merely acknowledging that, as a human being, there is always the possibility that I might be wrong about a particular belief. As a human being, I have fundamental limitations in my ability to know.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Matthew,

You concede that you might be wrong about the "wrongness" of rape?!

I mean - honestly - not just to honor your own rule?

If you honestly think that a possibility exists that rape could ever be okay, then it would seem that you have some serious problems.

How about that question about whether or not you are an insecure person? See, that's not just semantics. Theologically, philosophically, and pragmatically, it is important to overcome any and all insecurities that we might have. Your rule basically says, "That's not allowed."

See, it is easy (and it seems noble) to make and live by such a rule when you are not leading very many people. But if you are ever in a position where you are leading many people and your decisions affect lives, then you realize that there are times when you are going to have to make a ethical judgment, and you'll be tempted to lose your nerve, and you would need to have the confidence and courage not to lose your nerve.

By encouraging people to offer their opinions, so long as they admit they might be wrong, you are actually encouraging people to take the easy way out. See, if morality, theology, and ethics are absolute, and we are either right in our thinking, speaking, and doing, or we are wrong, then we are compelled to humble ourselves and consider more carefully our words. But if we can always offer the "that's just my opinion," then we always give ourselves an out, and we learn how to avoid responsibility.

It is not God's will for His people to be insecure, but to be fully confident in Him. Of course that confidence must be balanced by humility, but admitting to the possibility that you might be wrong does not always equal humility.

Have a great weekend.

connor said...

Just noticed these comments. Maybe a little late, but I got a good laugh at the irony.

ConcernedEngineer said...

Matthew,
Is it possible that you are opposing God by deleting my comments?