I plan to post about this later this weekend, but let me point you for now to Melanie's post "Do We Know What Victory Looks Like?"
She makes two good points. First,
Most people engaging in that battle of winning hearts and minds aren’t trained. Most...are flailing, and probably doing more harm than good, because they are more focused on being right than on really trying to win people’s trust, to build bridges and make common ground wherever they are able. Most people not only don’t know how to argue, they also don’t know why to argue.
In comment box wars I often get most frustrated by people I agree with who are making a botched job arguing with people I don’t agree with. As a former writing teacher, I am especially galled by the fact that so many people don’t have a grasp of basic rhetorical principles. So many people don’t even know how to try to see things from their opponent’s perspective. They can’t figure out why the person they disagree with believes what they believe. They assume ill will. They assume the opponent is evil. Or they assume good faith but think the kind of argument that convinced them should convince anyone. They argue with a ghost, their own past selves, or their atheist brother-in-law, instead of the person with whom they are actually speaking. They make too many assertions and ask too few questions. They don’t seek to find common ground. They don’t call on authorities their opponent will find persuasive.
Utopia is much harder to imagine than dystopia. There are so many ways things can go wrong and so few they can go right. I’m thinking you would need a handful of highly charismatic leaders showing up in several places all at the same time. ... In other words, it would have to be a coalition effort... I think a scientific advance would be easier than a cultural revolution. And easiest of all would be an apocalyptic scenario. But I would prefer not to go there. I’d prefer to imagine the peaceful revolution that is won without bloodshed, or at least without a major disaster. Perhaps I’d be willing to consider an equivalent of the Civil Rights Movement. Some injuries and passive resistance, some deaths even, but not full-scale war.
Also, the problem with utopias is that what looks like utopia to one person is another person’s dystopia. My utopia would seem like a nightmare if I described it to many of my more liberal friends. So how do we get there from here? I don’t want to impose a totalitarian regime on anyone. I want a true Utopia where everyone feels free. Oh there’s the rub indeed.
One thing I would like to point out is that the Civil Rights Movement was built upon the aftermath of a full-scale war. Which is an unpleasant thing to think about. And which means that perhaps we should not look too much at it as a model for "peaceful" progress, because at numerous points along the way that progress was indeed defended and enforced at gunpoint; and many people armed themselves for self-defense, too. See Ida B. Wells-Barnett. It was a moral fight, but she wasn't afraid to announce she would kill people to protect her family.
Gotta run, more later.
ADDED: This doesn't count as my "more later," this is just a copy of my comment at Melanie's post.
I completely agree with you on the rhetoric. What amazes me is that people don’t see how much better they would be able to argue if they understood their opponents on their own terms. Even leaving aside general benefits like a higher level of discourse or better mutual understanding—you could really approach it completely self-servingly. “I won’t win unless I grok my opponent and his argument.” Yet people on all sides of an issue routinely behave as if to attempt to understand an opponent’s argument from his perspective is to concede ground to him. How small-minded, and how foolish.
You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of how in the years during and after WWI, several states banned instruction in the German language. (Google Meyer v. Nebraska for this—an important case in compulsory-education history)
Really? Don’t you think if you want to win a war against somebody, it might be useful if some of your young people entering the army can understand the enemy’s radio transmissions and interrogate captured soldiers? Why even bother with cracking the Enigma machine?
But I digress. On FB and twitter, where communications are short, I have taken to the decision that victory generally looks like “convincing someone that their opponent might possibly have reason and good will, and be led astray as the result of holding different assumptions or having different information, rather than being a caricature of evil or stupidity.” Unfortunately, this means that I am often attempting to wrest that victory out of people on my own “side” of an argument.
I would like to continue this discussion, yes, mostly from the rhetoric point of view. I think it is related to the notion that no human person may be “used,” but may only be responded to with love. I see a lot of “use” of human persons on FB—repeating of stories and memes, often distorted, about real people in order to score what the repeater thinks are points or to make some kind of a wisecrack. I also think there is a lot of dehumanization going on—to give an example (that, i should add, i am guilty of because of using shorthand on Twitter to stay under character limit) I am personally disgusted by theuse of the term “pro-aborts” as a noun for human beings. I get the point, but I don’t like the implication that a person should be referred to as the embodiment of a single political position. Maybe the character limit is a proportionate reason to do so on Twitter, I don’t know, but surely not anywhere else.
I am off to morning Mass and then the gym, but I will try to post on this later this weekend. Suffice it to say I am more interested in tackling the rhetorical end than the utopia end, but I like your insistence that i you don’t want to live in a utopia that would be a dystopia for anyone else. Nevertheless, this isn’t possible. Our notion of Hell and Mercy coexisting is founded on the possibility that some would see Heaven itself as a dystopia, and so they must be free to remain outside.
I see a number of themes intertwined here.
1. Every Utopia can be someone else's dystopia. In the case of a supernatural, truly perfect Utopia, the possibility remains that some will view it as a dystopia anyway, because humans have free will and can reject even the perfectly good. In the case of quasi-Utopias created by humans, it is guaranteed primarily because humans cannot create a perfect world (all human attempts will fall short and contain design flaws, some quite terrible), and secondarily because some humans will always reject some of the good elements in a quasi-Utopia.
2. This is related to the theme of "judging by loving."
3. Government of any kind implies the threat of force and forced punishment against those who would endanger the government and the people it protects. It always carries the danger that the force will be turned inappropriately by representatives of the government against the people it protects. Even the enforcement of just laws requires this. When we say we want laws to protect a wider class of people, we are suggesting the use of power to defend those people: the power to search for, to arrest, to hold for judging, and to incarcerate those who would violate the protective laws that we want to set up. So when we say that we hope to achieve this by a change of hearts rather than by force, what we are really saying is that we want a large enough majority to have the instinct to protect those people, that we are willing to bear the costs of using and threatening force against the people who don't; and ideally, that the majority who want to protect the wider class of people becomes so large that only very few remain who would even WANT to violate the protected people, let alone risk the law coming down on them.
4. Christians cannot actually make a human justice system (courts, procedures, sentencing, rehabilitation) that mirrors our vision of God's justice, but if we want to try -- and we should -- then contemplating this idea of "judging by loving" is a good place to start.
5. No human being can say or do anything that removes him or her from the class of "human beings deserving of love and compassion." In the name of Christ I reject either the idea that anyone has lost the right to compassion, or that invoking compassion somehow denies justice or truth. We can err both by denial of justice AND by denial of compassion. Maybe no human is capable of any act or statement that perfectly combines justice and truth with mercy and compassion. However, it is our duty to try always, because that is the example we are given.
6. And the same attempt -- to combine justice and truth with mercy and compassion, always remembering that persons never can waive their right to be treated as persons rather than as objects -- that has to underlie our rhetoric as well as our attempts at social change. This means we can't "use" persons in any way whatsoever. We must always respect their autonomy, complexity, and identity as a child of God.
7. That is a principle of morally upright argument. It isn't necessarily a principle of effective argument (although in the end, I believe morally upright argument has the better hand). We have to be willing to forgo what may appear in the short term to be effective, if it is not wholly in the service of truth -- including the subtler aspects of the dignity of the human person -- such as "my opponent is a human person worthy of respect for that reason alone."