- Upfront admission. I dared to disagree with Simcha Fisher on her Facebook page a few months ago and was thoroughly castigated by her friends and fans. I swore I would never try to have a reasonable discussion in a Facebook combox again. I was called uneducated, a wannabe writer, and a troll who was just trying to get clicks for her own blog.
- Which is why I am writing here. Her most recent article for the National Catholic Register, Broken Windows and Depersonalization is actually very good. So it is really frustrating to see the following exchange between her husband and Register columnist Mark Shea in her Facebook comments about this article:
This is coming on the heels of Fisher's post on inappropriate responses to allegations of rape that she claims are coming from "Conservative Catholics". She names no names and links to no web sites. She just says this is what conservative Catholics are saying. You know, her point could be made just as well without smearing Catholics in the process. I would guess that most readers of the National Catholic Register would consider themselves conservative, orthodox, traditional, faithful, or some other such adjective.
So do Simcha Fisher and Mark Shea really regard their readers with such disdain? Are they the Catholic equivalent of Jonathan Gruber and laughing all the way to the bank as they manipulate those clods who read the Register?
I have no idea. You will have to ask them. What I do think is that this sort of broad brush labeling is exactly the kind of depersonalization Simcha Fisher is arguing against in her piece linked above. We don't need more labels and categories. We need to listen to each other as individuals and address each other as individuals. It is very lazy to refute an argument by just claiming someone's viewpoint is unworthy of consideration because of some ideological label. For example: "You know his opinion is suspect because he reads the National Catholic Register, likes the Latin Mass, works at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center, votes Republican, etc."
I am also very certain that you can search my blog and come up with a long list of examples where I have done the same sort of thing. I am guessing that many of us are guilty of this. What I am suggesting is that we make ourselves more aware of how destructive this tactic is. It is great for preaching to the choir and rallying your base. But it does nothing for reconciliation and advancing civil discourse. We accomplish nothing if we depersonalize and demonize those with whom we have ideological disagreements.
This is not to say that we ignore statistics. We can analyze demographics for trends and use that information to help craft solutions to poverty, crime, addiction, or any other social ill, but individuals are not statistics. They are unique human beings with unique stories. Likewise, I can assess the odds of a person having a given viewpoints based on whether he reads the National Catholic Reporter or the National Catholic Register; whether he votes for Democrats or Republicans; whether he drives a pick up truck or a Prius. However, I cannot know for sure until I talk to him. I drive a Prius and love to shop at the farmers' markets but contrary to many people's assumptions, I am not an environmental activist.
It would have been very easy to write this post without giving specific examples and just complain about "professional Catholic bloggers", the "Patheos" mafia, and other euphemisms as is often done in the blogosphere. But such vague and veiled references offers no opportunity to correct misunderstandings. So I am going to do my best to talk about specifics and avoid such imprecision. If others do as well, perhaps we can recover some degree of civility in public discourse.