Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series where Colorado Times Recorder contributor Gregory Hill asks readers to email him their concerns about the Biden administration in order to engage in meaningful conversation. Read the first “Conversation About Socialism” here, read part 2 here, and read part 3 here.
For the past seven months I’ve been corresponding with a reader named Leona, who holds very strong–and typically conservative–opinions largely based on a specific understanding of Christianity. Leona and I have spent thousands and thousands of words in a civil debate on matters that have ranged from the nature of English grammar to the age of the universe, with our main focus being on American politics.
Because our letters tend to be insanely long, and because an opinion column cannot possibly accommodate unedited contributions from sufferers of both chronic logorrhea and congenital tangentialism, I’ve tried to focus on a single topic, socialism–and even then it’s been a monumental challenge to keep ourselves on any sort of linear track.
The resulting columns, by my own reckoning, have not been very good. They’re published sporadically, which means that by the time a new piece comes out, the reader has forgotten the contents of the previous piece. Further, for a debate to be compelling (either viscerally or intellectually), there must be at least some sense that the two parties are honing in on, at the very least, an understanding of each other’s positions. It’s also nice to have a proper dispute now and then. We have not exactly managed to do either of these.
My larger point here is that, while Leona and I will continue to correspond, I’m nearing the end of my attempt to share this correspondence within my columns, if not with the glassy-eyed innocents I frequently corner at social engagements.
But first–and thanks to a normally-useful obsessive streak–I must make a couple more attempts to vanquish this windmill. And so, once more, into the world of socialism.
Previously, Leona and I have attempted (to little success) to come to an agreement on a definition (or definitions) of socialism. Later, in that same column, Leona challenged me to name a country that has successfully worked socialism into its government. I offered her a list of seventy-three countries (including most of Europe, Scandinavia, and, well, lots of countries) that seem to be doing just fine with socialized health care. Leona’s rebuttal included the following: [edited slightly for clarity]
So, to get back to my initial comment on the qualifications of a “working government,” I would list: 1. A government that respects and treats ALL of its citizens the same — doesn’t commit genocide of any sort. That eliminates a number of countries on your list. 2. Governments where dictators and others in power aren’t living in HUGE mansions while the vast majority of the citizens can barely keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables — this eliminates the rest.
I was not pleased with this argument.
Here’s my reply:
I ask you to take a moment to reflect on your recent assertions. Ask yourself if they consist of anything more substantial than generalized assumptions which happen to reinforce your own beliefs. And then ask yourself if any of your assertions could apply to the USA.
It troubles me to think that this message may leave you feeling resentful or defensive or contemptuous, and that, in writing it I may be hastening the conclusion of our correspondence. My desire to avoid making you uncomfortable is outweighed by my desire to offer honest feedback in hopes that you might consider a more effective means of engaging with someone of a different mind.
If you so choose, this liberal heathen would happily assist you in this endeavor. If not, neither my respect nor my gratitude will wane one bit, but I will be left wondering if we haven’t perhaps reached an impassable and discouraging barrier in this conversation.
I had hoped this would inspire Leona to revisit her words and quickly sus out the multitudinous flaws within her logic. My hopes were based on the assumption that Leona’s definition of logic is the same as mine. That assumption was misguided. You see, Leona’s threshold for proof is entirely different from mine. And so her reply, rather than including an acknowledgment of her arbitrary movement of the goalposts, instead consisted of several different ways of saying more or less the same things she’d already said. In the end, it was clear that I could point out all the logical fallacies I wanted; nothing was going to make the slightest dent in her beliefs.
This marked a profound failure on my part. At the beginning of this endeavor, I had been convinced that, if I could just sustain a civil discussion about a single controversial subject (in this case, socialized health care), I could, by the sheer force of reason, offer someone (in this case, Leona) a fresh–and less terrifying–perspective (Leona thinks socialism is evil) on that subject. This has not come to pass. Beliefs, once they’ve become established, seem to be impervious to logic.
The ramifications of this, at least to me, are almost entirely depressing. But there is one silver lining, and we’ll examine that in my next column.
NEXT: LEONA, IN HER OWN WORDS, DESCRIBES WHAT SHE’S LEARNED FROM OUR CONVERSATION