The Myth of Dialogue
|by Diane Singer|
One of the foundational beliefs in Western democracies has to do with the virtue of entering into a dialogue with people who hold differing opinions. The idea is that, through open and honest discourse, we will be able to come to consensus, settle our differences, and avoid going to war (verbal or real) with one another.
Certainly, these are noble aims; but they presume certain truths about the participants which may or may not be true. First, we assume that the people involved are men and women of goodwill who truly want to find a peaceful way to mediate their differences. Second, we must assume that they are reasonable, discerning people who are capable of recognizing the value of a strong argument. In other words, they can be persuaded to change their minds, or to at least compromise to the point that the two parties can amicably agree to disagree.
But what if those assumptions are wrong? What if one, or both, parties are not people of goodwill? What if they are people who don't want peace, but who use endless talk as a delaying tactic while they prepare their armies for war?
To me, the world is full of such people -- like the current presidents of Iran and Venezuela -- and it does no good to pretend (or even hope) otherwise. This is why I find the reasons offered by the president of Columbia University for inviting Iran's president to speak such simple-minded, dangerous prattle. Neville Chamberlain stands as a sobering reminder of how a man of goodwill can be hoodwinked by a megalomaniacal, murderous scoundrel. As we look upon the world scene, it's always smart to be "as wise as serpents, but innocent as doves."