One of the hallmarks of contemporary culture is the naive notion that dialogue can conquor all disputes. You hear this sort of nonsense all time, i.e. If we could communicate better we would be able to resolve our differences. The fact is dialogue only works with people who share a sufficient number of values to allow compromise (unless of course, one side capitulates). A classic counter example to the belief that dialogue can resolve all disputes, is the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Does anyone really believe that both sides don’t understand each other?
It seems to me that both parties understand each other all too well, that is why they are fighting so much. Both sides disagree at such a fundamental level that compromise is unlikely. I suggest that the same idea pervades certain animal protectionists who regularly call for “dialogue” regarding the use of animals.
Dialogue is most successful when there is truly a misunderstanding between parties. Otherwise, if there isn’t a misunderstanding and compromise is not possible, then dialogue will do little more than provide more reasons why the two parties cannot agree.
Despite their calls for dialogue, I have never been asked to speak at one of their meetings. I was asked to attend a local debate, but never dialogue or engage them on a larger level. It seems to me that if a group is regularly asking for dialogue that one should expect said group to actually be reaching out and trying to initiate it.
I suggest that dialogue is only worthwhile when parties commit to outlining their agenda, make public their presuppositions, and speak honestly. If this isn’t possible, then dialogue is little more than a politically correct waste of time.
I have written more on this topic in an article entitled, “The ethics of wildlife control in urbanized landscapes: A Response.” It and other publications of mine on the animal rights movement is available from my website.
Stephen M. Vantassel is tutor of theology at Kings’s Evangelical Divinity School.
Copyright 2009 Stephen M. Vantassel