Monday, April 20, 2009

Dialogue - really?

In this controversy over inviting Obama to be commencement speaker, the word "dialogue" gets tossed around an awful lot. We should be open-minded, say the Obamaites, and engage in dialogue with the whole world.

Well, the comment about the need for open-mindedness brings to mind a Chesterton quote about the mind being like the mouth - we open it so that we can shut it firmly on something - whether a morsel of food or a truth. But I am more baffled by the constant insistence that inviting the president to speak at commencement and honoring him with a degree is "dialogue." Here's the definition of dialogue, courtesy of Webster's Online.

Note particularly the second definition, which is what I believe these folks are driving at: "a) a conversation between two or more persons b) an exchange of ideas." I really wish some Obama enthusiast would explain to me how a commencement speech amounts to a dialogue. It sounds more like a monologue to me. (We're awfully fond of those at Notre Dame, it seems, whether they are delivered by female sexual organs or presidents with teleprompters.)

Is POTUS actually going to sit down and discuss his views on abortion with pro-life students and professors, and listen to their arguments? Is he going to explain to us why he believes it is just to deprive the unborn of the rights of personhood? Or is he just going to show up, pay lip service to "diversity of thought" and "freedom of religion", and leave with his pro-choice agenda completely unchallenged by his hosts at Notre Dame?

I am sure the last scenario will be what actually happens. But the Obama enthusiasts will continue to insist that a monologue is actually a "dialogue" so that they can frame the opposition as simply being closed-minded and against academic freedom. See how much easier it is to debate when you can simply make words mean whatever you want?

To quote Inigo Montoya, "That word you are using, I do not think it means what you think it means."


James Garrison said...

Do Catholics need to engage the culture? Yes! Will inviting the President, honoring him with a degree, and giving him a venue in which to speak in any way indicate to him that his policies could be considered wrong and against natural moral law? I don't think so.

One of the spiritual works of mercy is to "admonish sinners", not to dialogue with them. Yes, dialogue is important, but it can never trump the requirement of recognizing wrong when it is wrong. The term dialogue, as well, has been hijacked, like the terms ecumenism and diversity, and in the names of these words much scandal can be perpetrated.

As you point out, the crisis is especially one of language, and there are forces which shape the meaning of words representing goods, to justify that which is not good. If dialogue is good, and we make this be what dialogue means, then this must be good.

Christina said...

I'm seriously considering sending this to the Observer. The continuing abuse of the word "dialogue" in the Viewpoint section is starting to really grate on my nerves.

Words have meaning. You can't just twist them into whatever you want them to mean and then use them as clubs to beat your opponents with.