Page Two: Here and There
Inside the 'Chronicle' and out, we're looking for open minds
On the Chronicle Web home page there is now a link to Chronicle Forums (austinchronicle.com/forum). I realize this is like unveiling the Model T in a time of solar-powered cars, but we are well aware that this is just a way of beginning.
In order to participate in these forums, you do not have to register; there is no password to remember. You can immediately send a response. You can also critique a movie, disagree with a Chronicle review, plug a local band, discuss the art scene, vent on the Middle East or worry about Austin. Basically these are open forums with suggested general categories. You can respond to something that appeared in the Chronicle or offer your own thoughts on some completely new tangent.
Dealing with new forums, as with initiating interactivity in general, we encounter the classic publication chicken-and-egg problem. Unless there are a lot of people posting interesting new pieces on the forums, generating substantial traffic to read and contribute further will be difficult. If traffic is slow, people won't be regularly reading and answering new observations/thoughts/opinions, which means that, consequently, few others will be adding new posts. And so on.
The Chronicle by its very nature is designed to invite widespread discussion and participation. Certainly in this community this is true, by definition, of just about every publication, even if not explicitly intended. This is an engaged, perhaps even overly engaged, town.
So, we plan to offer more arenas for dialogue and debate because this is both interesting in and of itself, and healthy for the local culture. Considering the Chronicle as an entrance point because of those who read it and how they do so these exchanges should be lively and informed.
Please make the extra effort and help prime the pump. Read through the forums of interest to you, post comments, and offer replies. Sure it's in a very early stage, but over time, we are hoping that this should mature into an ongoing, open, and open-ended community dialogue.
AND THERE: In the next couple of weeks I want to return to talking about some major ideas that drive this column. On the way there I want to offer some assumptions that are basic to my overall arguments. There is no expectation that these arguments will change minds or invite agreement but simply that they may make things a bit clearer, eliciting more discussion and comment. Under the best of circumstances, clarity is a description rarely applied to this column. Trying to speak clearly, honestly, and broadly (considering objections and more fully rounding thoughts within initial discussions), I often confuse or lose myself when writing it. Usually I then rewrite and refocus, abandoning loftier points for simpler ones. Things are usually edited and smoothed out before you read this.
There are many basic assumptions, each impossible to explain in a single column. Rather than accumulate too many of them unexplained, I'll roll them out slowly.
1) The world of "I" is very different from the world of "you." Which is considered a bit below.
2) The past is not just a fiction but a lie, the present is misunderstood, and the future is unknowable. This I began to approach in a previous column ("Constitutional Conventions," June 9).
Okay then, 1) The world of "I" is very different from the world of "you." Most people argue very much from their own perspective without even considering that it is a perspective. Self-interest is instead viewed as common sense. The standard is personal, arguments start and end with one's views. Words, terms, facts, and so on are simply weapons marshaled to achieve ends; they have little external meaning. Those who screamed the loudest for "objective" news have been proven to have actually wanted the news to be even more extremely subjective. Only they want it in harmony with their own beliefs, not opposed to or questioning them.
Starting on very basic levels, let's consider how certain things are viewed. "Nepotism" is when someone you don't know gives a relative or a friend a job. "Deserving" is the label when it happens to you. People with lax morals get away with disobeying the law because of inept, soft-hearted cops and liberal judges. When you are stopped for speeding it is an outrageous example of misplaced priorities. ("Yes, I was speeding but only about 8 miles over the limit; isn't there something better cops could be doing with their time?") Other people who complain about being discriminated against or having bigoted misperceptions perpetuated in the culture and/or by speech are overly sensitive, politically-correct obsessives who are more interested in personal privilege than a truly democratic and open society. When it is happening to you (your religion, nationality, ethnic group, etc.) it is an outrageous show of oppressive prejudice being perpetuated for the worst reasons. In context, for example, white people complaining of "reverse" race discrimination are doing exactly what they hate about the logic behind affirmative action.
People writing to the Chronicle often accuse me of some of the many-more-than-seven deadly sins of secular humanism moral relativism, not believing in good or evil, not believing there is an objective, knowable truth, and so on.
There is, of course, a difference between believing there is a clear good and a clear evil and knowing exactly which is which. The former implies that one is on a lifelong voyage toward knowledge and toward God, hoping to come to an understanding of good and evil. This view takes religious belief, sacred texts, and learned teachings as marking the beginning of a quest, suggesting the acceptance that there is something unknowable about life, the universe, itself, and God's plan.
But those who write are almost never interested in this difference or are even distantly suggesting the former. Their belief in the absolute isn't about asking questions but, as is soon made obvious, knowing answers. The letter writers are not just certain that there is a very clear, unchanging good and an equally clear, unchanging evil but that they concretely and absolutely know them.
This leads to a corollary of statement 1): Just because people claim to believe in absolutes doesn't mean they actually respect them or even try to do so. My experience with those who insist that there are moral absolutes is that they are just better at shaping an argument about any circumstances so as to fit their vision. They don't act or respond differently, but their ability to rationalize and handily categorize their behavior and intentions, as well as everybody else's behavior and intentions, is flawless.
I do not believe the people who tell us how religious they are, how much more they believe in God, and what a better relationship with the deity they have than does ___________ (fill in the blank). Instead, this very bragging seems presumptuous and blasphemous, offered by hypocrites so actively and firmly criticizing others they don't really have the time to worry about or work on their own behavior, morality, actions, and righteousness.