Dialogue and Reality

The above comic has been making the rounds on the interwebs. On the surface, there's nothing objectionable to it. But it does have me thinking: what is the basis for dialogue? Because the reality is that there are people with whom one cannot effectively dialogue.

Let me suggest the following: the object of dialogue is reality. When I dialogue with you it is because I believe that we can more adequate apprehend reality by working together than I can on my own. That reality might be your beliefs, views, experiences, in which case, quite obviously, I need your input. That reality might be, maybe, the history of early Christianity, about which I know much but hardly all, and your input might well help me better work out some of what I don't know while correcting for potential errors in what (I think) I do know. But if the object of dialogue is reality then any and all participants in dialogue must be concerned with discovering reality.

The reality though is that not everyone is concerned with discovering reality. We all have experienced such persons. You know them by their belief that they can just make up or deny facts. They say, "Homosexuals are all pedophiles." You say, "There is no evidence that homosexual persons are pedophiles in any greater frequency than heterosexual persons." They say, "Homosexuals are all pedophiles." They say, "The world is six thousand years old." You say, "We have loads of material that are older than six thousand years." They say, "The world is six thousand years old." Perhaps even worse, because they are incapable of thought, they assume the same about you. Because all they can do is spout off imbecilic ideology (the "imbecilic" is actually redundant), they assume that you must be doing the same. And somehow, in some of the most baffling of psychological moves, they suppose that the act of projecting their imbecility constitutes the most sublime act of reason. One cannot dialogue with such pathology.

Ideology, I would suggest, following Lonergan, is a way to justify a willful inability to discover reality and a unwillingness to cultivate the skills needed to do so. Realizing that thinking is hard and learning to think even harder, the ideologue finds some slogans that relieve him or her of that terrible burden which is thought. And you can't dialogue with such persons, because they are a walking echo chamber. All they hear is themselves. If you disagree, they hear confirmation that there is a grand conspiracy out there. You're either part of it or been duped by it: you must be, or you'd agree; since you don't agree, you must be. It's tautology at its finest. It's also incredibly, remarkably, staggeringly, impressively stupid, and one cannot dialogue with the incredibly, remarkably, staggeringly, impressively stupid.


  1. Hi Bernier. Actually the frustration you speak about has been studied by researchers and there are some very good explanations for what is going on when such contrary sides meet. One excellent work is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and another that builds on Kahneman and others is by Rick Shenkman, Political Animals.

    What I try to do is push such people to actually try to explain or sum up what they believe my case to be, while I do the same for their views. Interestingly I have never found one who can do that. Some are even unwilling to try. I like to think that such a confrontation at least will prompt a few of them to think there is something they are not grasping after all.


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