Would we be better off expressing no views at all?
Anybody who writes the odd opinion piece, whether spurred on by momentary outrage at some public or private folly, or just obligated to do so in going about his lawful occasions, runs dry from time to time. Or rather wonders whether there is any point in expressing views at all, when it seems that nobody is ever persuaded by them.
Perhaps one who shares his views derives some comfort from seeing them re-stated, but otherwise the words waste their sweetness (if any) on the desert air. Henry Lawson’s description of Middleton’s rouseabout — who “hasn’t any opinions, hasn’t any ‘idears’” — may show the right idea: have no opinions, or at least keep them to yourself!
Those of us who are conservatives are tempted to think that there was once a golden age, but of course there never was. Every age had its share of vileness — that’s the way of the world. But perhaps there was a time when debates in parliament, or essays, or poems or novels, could actually influence and even reverse public opinion. By contrast today, as people daily blast each other on Twitter or Facebook, or confine their reading to the comforting pages of The Guardian or The Spectator, we are all pretty well rusted into position.
We at the Dawson Centre have taken some flak over our invitation to Prof. Ian Plimer to be a guest speaker. I was asked by an opponent if we would extend a similar invitation to Peter Singer or Richard Dawkins, and my answer was that indeed we would: If we really believe in objective truth, and if we believe that ordinary people are capable of hearing and considering opinions that diverge from their own, then there is nothing to fear from offering a platform. To seek to protect people from views that are deemed “dangerous” is to patronize them.
Fifty years ago an undergraduate friend and I decided to write an impudent article for the University rag. It purported to be a review of a book by Anthony Flew, at that time one of the world’s most aggressive atheist philosophers (think Richard Dawkins in today’s terms), in which Flew supposedly described his conversion to a form of Christianity and his intention to join the Dominican Order. Writing the “review” was such fun. We took it in turns, paragraph by paragraph, without any particular regard for coherency or sense, delighting in our outrageous bravado. The result was utter nonsense, with a good touch of pirated Chestertonian wit.
The project had two unexpected and surprising outcomes, one immediate, one delayed by decades. The first was that some of our readers believed the article to be genuine. The second, thirty years later, in 2004, was that Flew did in fact convert to belief in God! His book There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, co-authored with Roy Abraham Varghese, tells the story.
So there’s always a glimmer of hope to encourage us to keep on talking and writing.
And if you’d like to know how old Middleton’s rouseabout did, here’s the whole poem:
Tall and freckled and sandy,
Face of a country lout;
This was the picture of Andy,
Type of a coming nation,
In the land of cattle and sheep,
Worked on Middleton’s station,
‘Pound a week and his keep.’
On Middleton’s wide dominions
Plied the stockwhip and shears;
Hadn’t any opinions,
Hadn’t any ‘idears’.
Swiftly the years went over,
Liquor and drought prevailed;
Middleton went as a drover,
After his station had failed.
Type of a careless nation,
Men who are soon played out,
Middleton was: — and his station
Was bought by the Rouseabout.
Flourishing beard and sandy,
Tall and robust and stout;
This is the picture of Andy,
Now on his own dominions
Works with his overseers;
Hasn’t any opinions,
Hasn’t any ‘idears’.
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