There’s a great story about the famous wit Sydney Smith. He was walking with a friend through one of the narrow “closes” of Edinburgh, and looked up to see two women, one leaning from a window on the left side of the close and one leaning from a window on the right side, screaming wrathfully at each other. “Those women will never agree,” Smith remarked to his friend. “They are arguing from different premises.”
I have a new post up at the Hedgehog Review on the contours of some of our current disagreements and the places at which our premises converge, or might be seen to converge. The most famous advocates of free speech are rarely, if ever, absolutists; people who deny that “cancel culture“ exists often acknowledge that the rush to judgment and rage for punishment can get out of control. Twitter and that minor adjunct of Twitter that some people still call “journalism” like to portray all disagreement as stemming from radically “different premises”; but what if we occupy similar and contiguous premises and simply differ on the most prudent and useful way to negotiate them? Our condition then might not be as bad as I sometimes fear and as the more hateful among us often hope. There are useful conversations to be had if we want them.