I had intended to post the next selection from the writings of F. W. Boreham today, but I’ve pushed it back to tomorrow because of how last week’s discussions here at InFocus (see here and here) and Jeremy’s post yesterday have raised the issue of online discussion. I think there is value in taking some time to think this through again here.
My goal in today’s post is twofold. First, I want to explain some of the issues that I wrestle with in handling such discussions. Second, I would like to get your feedback on how things are handled so I can deal with these sorts of situations more effectively in the future.
The goal of this post is not to chastise anyone, to bring up personal criticisms, or necessarily to discuss the particular conversations we had last week.
I’ll bring up these issues under three major headings. Each section will end with a question.
The economics of truth
This might seem a strange expression, but it is fundamental to why InFocus exists. It comes from something my brother-in-law, Lawrence Lantz, said to me many years ago. Roughly put, he said “Truth can stand on its own in the marketplace.”
That single statement worked its way into my soul and completely changed my life.
Now that I’m an academic in the field of business, the language of market economics is familiar to me. Free market economics holds that markets are self-regulating. That is, that a free market, with only very limited outside regulation, will accurately determine the appropriate value of items in that market at any given level of supply and demand. Adam Smith referred to this idea as “the invisible hand” which works for the good of society.
The alternative to a free market is a controlled market where an outside influence sets prices and regulates who may buy and sell, to/from whom they may buy and sell, and how and what they may buy and sell. Many are familiar with the Communist expressions of controlled markets in the previous century and continuing to today in some places.
The point here is that in much of Fundamentalism, there is a controlled market for truth. Truth is highly valued, but it is also highly regulated. And as in any market, such an approach leads inevitably to shortages and distortions in the market.
As a younger man, I believed that such an approach to truth was neither healthy nor biblical, and it was out of that conviction, primarily, that InFocus came to be.
I believe that truth can stand on its own in the marketplace. I believe that a free market for truth, with only very limited outside regulation, will accurately determine the appropriate value of items in that market.
This is the rationale for allowing a variety of views to be argued in the comments section. Views which are poorly supported will eventually be recognised for their bankruptcy in the open market of ideas.
But even the freest of free market economists recognise that some level of regulation must occur (e.g. taxation, anti-monopoly laws, laws against extortion, etc.). And this raises the question, in the free market of ideas, how much regulation is necessary? Where do we draw the lines?
It goes without saying that the discussion of Christian truth should be done in a Christ-like way. At least it should go without saying.
The basis of Christian grace towards others is rooted in our experience of God’s grace towards us (1 John 4:7-11). Scripture teaches that those who show no grace towards others, have no basis on which to argue that they have experienced God’s grace themselves (v. 20). Yet we all live at times as if we needed no grace.
So here’s the question. Can we “regulate” grace? Should we try?
I have typically drawn the line at personal attacks. Is this too early to draw the line? Too late?
I’ve suggested that open discussion, and that done graciously, should be the normal modus operandi for the Christian comment thread. But if that is true, it is no less worth suggesting that sound reason should be the norm. To draw on the economics parallel, to argue through fallacies is to create counterfeit money, or to hold a monopoly, or to price gouge, or any number of other economically dysfunctional activities. This holds even if the arguer is unable to see that his argument is a non sequitur.
This is one of the key values of discussion. It is through the free market of ideas that logical weaknesses or fallacies are exposed in order to reveal the true value of an idea. Still, in the short term, people are likely to differ on the value of various ideas and permission to do this is inherent in the idea of free market.
So the problem is not logical fallacies per se. The problem is stubborn persistence in logical fallacies after they have been pointed out. But for those who have not made it a practice to study logic and who have not grasped it well yet, how much allowance should be made? If someone’s arguments are riddled with logical fallacies, is there a point at which their contribution should be excluded? If so, when?
I would value your input on these issues and others and your ideas on how best to answer the questions raised.
Grace to you.