Worldviews have consequences – sometimes inevitable and destructive consequences. There is an argumentative move being made more and more in our culture that is about as irrational as it gets. What is so infuriating about it is that it is pervasive and persuasive among sizeable chunks of our population.
It probably has a formal name I don’t know, but I am going to call the move “Emotional Sabotage.” (It could also be an instance of the non sequitur, the ad hominem, or some version of a genetic fallacy.) The Emotional Sabotage happens when instead of dealing with the claims or ideas of someone with whom you disagree, you attack their emotional or psychological stability instead. Though it is a natural and unreflective reaction many times in the heat of the moment, it is abhorrently childish in thoughtful conversation. This argumentative move is driving me nuts because it is about all we hear right now, often times from alleged Ph.D.s.
Without even dealing with the embarrassment that is Jimmy Carter, let’s move to a more influential and “mainstream” voice, Maureen Dowd. The pull-line from her column, “Boy, Oh, Boy,” says it all: “Joe Wilson’s outburst in Congress revealed one thing: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.” The rest of the article fares no better in the rationality or logic department. It is one long ad hominem attack on Wilson making him out to be a racist with only one-half a sentence devoted to whether Obama lied or not. She says he didn’t. Case closed.
So, the pull-line is the argument. Someone disagreed with an African-American, so he is a racist. That’s on par with arguing: You disagree with the usefulness of hypnosis, so you are an anti-Semite. Or: You disagree that chocolate is the best ice cream flavor, therefore you are a pedophile.
Dowd pulled the Emotional Sabotage, and it seems to have taken over the debate regarding the actual details in the bill and the facts contained within. Whether Wilson or the President is right on the merits is not an actual question for Dowd – all she wants to do is make you afraid to disagree with her side and be labeled something vile.
But, I would argue, the Emotional Sabotage is the inevitable result of a worldview Dowd and others likely hold. Theirs is a more morally and religiously progressive point of view, which entails the belief in the ultimate authority of the individual. Without a non-subjective and intolerant reality to deal with, they are left more and more with only “their” sets of preferences, which end up outweighing facts. The symbolism meaningful to them outweighs all argumentative considerations, because all they have left is their symbols. Literally, the only moves they have left are appeals to their symbolic social gestures. Therefore, the worst sin that could be committed is not to mistake reality or the facts of the matter, but to disagree with their social sensibilities.
So it is frustrating, but not surprising, that many in the public discourse have only the Emotional Sabotage or its corollaries in their philosophical tool boxes. May it not be with those who follow Christ – those who believe in the ubiquitous truth of God.