It is perhaps unsurprising that I have spent a great deal of my life as an observer or a participant in places where people found it impossible to communicate. This is not to say that I consider myself a great communicator by any means. Those who know me well, on the contrary, are frequently reminded of my own awkward silences . Even so, if I have not mastered the art of communicating or of overcoming my own native awkwardness and that of those people who happen to be around me, I still do my best to reflect on why it is that these silences occur, and why it is that people so often end up talking to people who agree with them. While this post is too short to be a sort of be-all and end-all to this subject–rest assured that I will return to this subject again–it does at least demonstrate some of the aspects of this problem that catch my attention and that make it so worthwhile to address silence once in a while.
One of the phenomena that strike me about these divides is that what one side views as obvious truth is viewed by the other as a mortal threat. Sometimes this manages to be true on both sides of the divide. I make little secret of the fact that I am a firm believer in Intelligent Design, and I am often amused at the way that those who hold to some sort of evolutionary worldview seem to think that conceding the existence of a Creator or Designer is tantamount to abandoning science as an enterprise. My own thoughts on the matter are rather unsympathetic: if “science” is destroyed by abandoning the presumption of materialism in our worldview, then that “science” deserves to be destroyed and replaced by something that better fits with reality and that does not put blinkers on us that keep us from recognizing and appreciating the reality of the universe. That said, it must be admitted that the corrosion of reductionism into all areas of life from those who hold to misguided scientific worldviews is itself a mortal threat to the well-being of humanity, but this is considered by such people to be an obvious consequence of having a materialistic worldview, which is all the better why such a worldview should not be promoted or even permitted.
One tends to find in cases where there is a heavy degree of awkward silence between two camps that there are fundamentally different views about reality on both sides, and sometimes neither of them happens to be entirely right or just. For example, when reflecting upon the recent State of the Union address, some people I know made jokes about the drooling of one of the people who offered a rebuttal to the speech, hoping to earn some cheap laughs by insulting someone whose political worldviews are obviously lacking. On the other hand, I witnessed the sound of one hand clapping among those who had all kinds of fallacious assumptions about the money being repatriated by big companies as a result of our president’s recent tax breaks. It would appear that some people are counting the taxes that would have been earned on the money that was repatriated as lost money to the United States government and then trying to make it look like the jobs and bonuses that have resulted from those breaks are no big deal. In both cases, though, the conversation is aimed at people who agree at the assumptions, that people who look to be drooling are in fact drooling idiots, and that one can engage in counterfactual economics. I do not like making fun of drooling idiots myself, nor manipulating numbers for political gamesmanship.
After all, there is a great deal that is worth opposing in this world, but also a great deal that matters about how we oppose it. To adopt an attitude of cruelty towards others only shows that we are cruel, and that we will abuse others if we have the power to do so. To believe that anything can be justified as long as it supports our desired ends gives justification for anyone who opposes those ends to do whatever they would like to us, and I am not willing to grant others that justification. It is only if we restrain ourselves from evil that we can oppose others with clean hands and a pure heart, and it is restraining ourselves from doing whatever can be done against others that is the most difficult thing to do when we are faced in situations where we have firm knowledge that our enemies would do anything to us that they thought they could get away with. In the absence of trust and in shared standards of civility and good behavior other people can only trust us as far as they know us to be people of honor, and showing honor to people we loathe is not an easy or straightforward matter. If we respected or honored others, we found likely find some reason not to loathe them, some reason not to label them as something beneath dignity, and some reason to see that they were merely human beings. If they are misguided human beings when it comes to the issues that divide us, perhaps it would be worthwhile to remember that they feel the same way about us, regardless of how wrong they are.
 See, for example: