Truth-seekers: Discussion or Dialogue
by Herb Douglass
In the pursuit of truth, is it found by ‘consensus building,’ or in ‘dialogue,’ or in ‘discussion?’ Or are there venues where each method is appropriate? For years I wondered what these words really meant. But after I watched how many people read and studied, amassing libraries of well-recognized books, and perhaps writing many articles and books of their own — I began to understand.
I watched and listened to the vast chatter of learned men and women, of which I did my small part. Slowly it dawned on me: there is a real difference between these words. Some say that discussion and dialogue are interchangeable but I suggest that they are not.
Discussion involves the sharing of ideas or concepts with others who hold the same mutually accepted principles. Dialogue assumes that each party has something to offer as participants move toward agreement/compromise. Putting it another way, the dialectical method is dialogue between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, who wish to establish a unified conclusion.
For example: Bible-based Christians discuss who God is with Buddhists but do not dialogue. Creationists may discuss with Evolutionists but they do not dialogue. (This does not mean that minds may not be changed in dialogue but that is not the general pattern.)
We often hear the lament: “Our political system [and lots of other divisions] is broken because of partisanship.” This is untrue, even absurd. Often one group will spin the feel-good version of, “Can’t we all just get along?” after they already have stacked the deck against the opposition. This is a favorite trick of any group when in numerical power. But the real problems remain unsolved — just kicked down the road.
Discussion and dialogue use different methods to gain their ends. Experts in dialogue use a time-honored skill about as old as the human race — today we call it Hegelian dialectics. It usually is the most successful way to rule the masses, whether they are countries (Russia) or churches (we have many choices), or school boards, or local church boards.
The Hegelian method works like this:
- Create a problem (real or manufactured)
- Stir up fear, even hysteria by every means possible
- When the mass or group demand a solution, people will give up their rights to those pushing the ‘hysteria’ that time is running out and we need to ‘compromise.’
In other words, there are three dialectical stages of development. A thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. (Most of us know Hegel gets most of the credit for this dialectic model, he himself never used that specific formulation. He ascribed that terminology to Kant and Fichte, who greatly elaborated it.)
We all have seen or felt the dialectic at work. It is often used almost silently at first (for example, Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, so ‘in your face’ these days). In clever ways, thoughts and actions are guided into conflicts that lead us into a dialogue with predetermined ends. Often, dialogues are called ‘consensus building’- and we all have seen how skilled leaders use this tool in turning a discussion into their desired end.
But what really happens? We lose our personal values and convictions in the interest of sharing some of them into a yaw of shared synthesis so that the end product is not what one believes at all. In so doing, we have conceded to someone else's desired end. We bought a little time for the sake of harmony.
Look at the histories of many academic centers, governments, and perhaps our own lives and see the difference from the beginning, once clear in purpose, to the change that came over time. Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis — as predictable as the atomic clock, unless we remember the difference between discussion and dialogue
When Paul describes the last-day passion for “always learning but never coming to the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1,7), he could not have been more prescient. Dialogue, the modern overpowering technique of using knowledge to get predetermined results is never the path to truth. All it takes is to get out of the box that most intellectuals have built and then observe what has happened in the last 150 years.
Hegel's philosophy is basically that mankind is merely a series of constant philosophical conflicts. Hegel was an idealist who believed the highest state of mankind can only be attained through constant ideological conflict and resolution. The rules of the dialectic means mankind can only reach its highest spiritual consciousness through endless self-perpetuating struggle between ideals, and the eventual synthesizing of all opposites. Hegel's dialectic taught all conflict takes man to the next spiritual level. But in the final analysis, this ideology simply justifies conflict and endless war. It is also the reasoning behind using military power to export an illogical version of freedom and false democratic ideals.
This philosophical principle was the cradle, some say the womb, in which the astonishing idealistic liberalism of the 19th Century became the sturdy backbone of Liberal Theology. This also aided in the launching of optimism like a virus in most all aspects of this planet's thinking, until the First World War almost changed all of this.
Let's get practical with an example: Hegelian reasoning was used to base communistic thinking on a balance between (a) rights and (b) responsibilities. Even today we have various, ever fresh ways to find (c) the entire theory of communitarianism on nothing but disproven theories. In other words, two misplaced (a)s and (b)s will not produce a sensible (c)
No time here to reflect on Hegel's dialectics that married Darwin's Survival of the Fittest principle with Karl Marx/Engel's social justice principles.
In summary, Hegelian dialects steer every political arena on the planet, from the United Nations to the major American political parties, all the way down to church entities, local school boards and community councils. Dialogues and consensus-building are primary tools of the dialectic, and intimidation is also an acceptable format for obtaining the goal.
The ultimate Third Way agenda is always power/control-oriented, whether through world government or ecclesiastical entities. Once we understand what is really going on, we can cut the strings and move our lives in original directions outside the confines of the dialectical madness. Politically, focusing on Hegel's and Marx's ultimate agenda, and avoiding getting caught up in their impenetrable theories of social evolution, gives us the opportunity to think and act our way toward freedom, justice, and genuine liberty for all. The same awareness applies in any venue where principles are at stake.
One of the lessons is that it is not easy to back out of the clutches of the dialectical formula. Sometimes it requires a reverse revolution. A good example is the American Revolution or the rise of the Advent Movement in 1844.