By David Snyder
What a fantastically confusing time. The talk of the town is all about some comments Trump made a decade back, comments of profound repugnance and bile. Of course, the defenders of such disgust came out of the woodwork, spinning their wheels on CNN and in the feeds. Such is the way of things. After all, the Nazis, the Klan, rapists, and discriminators at large always have and always will have their defenders. Bad apples are quite good at finding the microphone good and with the jack plugged in.
And what say we who are so contrary to the rhetoric and philosophy of such a morally bankrupt person, a person who finds himself with such a steadfast following regardless? That’s the question that has kept me awake most nights. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that every debate is worth having, every conversation worth trudging through — no matter how far apart the two sides. This worldview has been bent and broken by this election. I no longer believe such a thing. Now, I believe that there are discussions which shouldn’t be had on account of how thoroughly void of anything constructive they would be. There are debates which would lack any infinitesimal chance of persuasion or empathy. Those debates should be put on hold or cancelled entirely.
Bertrand Russell, the 20th-century philosopher, was a great man, a reasonable man. Below, I quote his response to an invitation to debate with a fascist.
Dear Sir Oswald,
Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.
I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.
I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.
Russell, as he so often did, gave the nail a great big whack on its head. The reason I refuse to debate with the staunch supporters of Mr. Trump is that, like Russell and the fascists, I have so actively opposed such a cruel worldview, such a bigoted way of life. There is nothing Trump’s supporters could convince me of, and nothing I could convince them of. Such is the way of two parties with such different ethos, as Russell put it. I wish it weren’t so, but we must deal with the world as it is, and not as it ought to be.
It is as Russell said, “not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.” I value the fantastic spectrum of humanity too highly to cede any ground to such bigots, and if they wish to convince me otherwise they’d be wise to bring provisions, for the night is long and their wait’s end is distant.