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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Leslie Cannold on disclosure

A timely article by Leslie Cannold. It's something to reflect on as Melinda Tankard Reist seems to be doing her best to avoid discussion of her religious background and motivations in campaigning against pornography, abortion, etc. How far are we obligated (in some sense or other) to reveal our background worldviews when taking part in public debate on these heavily-moralised issues? Should a public figure who is deeply involved in such debates, and who attempts to hide her religious views be seen as evasive, duplicitous, or some such thing?

There's an argument, of course, that arguments on these issues should simply stand or fall on their merits. I see some attraction in this, especially if we're talking about papers in, say, academic journals. But in practice, political debate is rather different - isn't it? Public figures involved in these debates typically attempt to persuade through creation of an attractive public image. What if that image is disconnected from what might reasonably and responsibility be taken to be their true motivations?

Personally, I don't want to have to dredge out my full motivations every time I talk on public issues. Then again, I don't cultivate a cuddly public image. You pretty much get me warts and all, though what you don't tend to get is a lot of blather about my personal life experience (as opposed to my view of the world).

Furthermore, if someone who has read what I have to say about a variety of subjects wants to join the dots - even if they get it wrong - I'm most unlikely to sue them for defamation. And this is from someone who is far less a public figure than Ms Tankard Reist.


jon said...

If someone takes a strong public position on an issue, I want to know if it's because they've thought deeply about it, not because some magical sky fairy told them.

Legal Eagle said...

Precisely why I wouldn't respond to something like this by banning it - from a pragmatic point of view, you end up producing the opposite result of what you intended!

As I said over at my place, this case is essentially about how a person deals with things in the media which she doesn’t like. MTR’s approach to sexualised images of young girls is to seek to ban them via lobbying; my approach is to turn off the TV, and to dissuade my daughter from participating in such imagery. I wouldn’t seek to police the choice of other parents by calling for banning. This extends to something which I find quite grotesque and personally offensive, like child beauty pageants (Little Miss Sunshine = best ever critique of this).

This carries over to the blogging arena. MTR’s approach to a blog post which is critical of her is to seek to ban it via defamation; my approach would be to go to the blog and discuss/explain.

I guess my personal opinion is that banning stuff can have all kinds of weird consequences which are the opposite of what you intended, and you actually have more chance of persuading someone that they are wrong or mistaken by intelligent discussion.

Also I think my personal beliefs are important to informing how I have come to my views, and to allowing others to understand my view, which is why I usually disclose them in such a debate.

(The word verification is "opineso" - seems somehow appropriate).

Anonymous said...

As with anyone arguing a point, you need to understand the thinking behind how they reached their conclusion, which in turn allows you to frame your response.

This is especially true when someone is trying to force their moral norms on society as a whole, rather than making their own conscious choice to switch off from material they don't agree with.

And besides, with content filters widely available on TVs and the internet, it is easy to chose the type of material you want to be exposed to.

rorschach said...

Look, as I just pointed out on my own blog as response to the Pure Poison article, the argument that MTR could claim some kind of ad hominem argument is being applied by pointing out her religious affiliations could only possibly hold sway if religion in this country was regarded as icky, anachronistic and untrustworthy. And it isn't.

Russell Blackford said...

Even if it were, there is a difference between an argument being fallacious and it being fair game for being legally actionable.