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Saturday, October 16, 2004

JB15768-Jas #14: John 8:58 

(15768) Jason BeDuhn[Sat Oct 16, 2004 9:29 pm](John 8:58 -- Jason #14)


Dear Rob,

In my post 10, I apologized for any inadvertent offense I may have caused you by the manner in which I expressed my criticism. I assured you then, as I do now, that any such thing is indeed "inadvertent" because, as I went on to demonstrate in that post, I had the impression that my remarks were decidedly milder than the norm of use on this site, and than the sort used by you personally. You found that use of your own remarks on this site to demonstrate the company I thought I was in "amusing." You did not, however, acknowledge that my manner of expression is indeed in line with the norms for this site, and you have a second time characterized my manner of expression as "insulting" and "maligning." Believe me, I live with daily consciousness of my many faults as a human being. But I do not believe your characterization of my remarks is at all fair. I find your repeated attention to the surface form of my criticisms, while ignoring their substance, to be just a bit too convenient to your predicament in this debate. You would go a long way in ridding me of these suspicions if you had chosen to respond to the substance of my criticisms at the same time that you faulted how I expressed them. I believe there is an inconsistent standard being applied to me by the person who, in his very first remark about me on this site (Message 12330, March 10th) characterized something I had said in print as "condescending and arrogant." Now I am sure you do not intend to place yourself in the company of those people to whom Jesus is quoted as applying a Greek term for an actor or poser because they criticize others for faults they themselves have. And since I am confident of that, I will use this example of yours to help clarify what I mean when I use critical words in reference to things you have said in our exchange.

What precisely did you mean to convey by calling my statement "condescending and arrogant"? Did you mean something about my words or about me personally? If I was as prone to feeling insulted as you evidently are, I would surely feel personally maligned by what you said, since the words "condescending" and "arrogant" refer not to features of text but to the personal attributes of a person. Now it is a very fine line indeed between making a characterization of what one sees as the overall tactic behind a set of sentences and drawing a conclusion about the intentions of the author of those sentences. To say that someone's statement is "condescending and arrogant" is to say, at least, that the person is performing in a condescending and arrogant manner, whether those adjectives reflect the person's personality generally or only in the moment of making statements. So a less than generous person would feel "insulted" and "maligned" by words such as you used in reference to me, about a person you did not know, concerning a statement whose full context you had not bothered to check. But of course, already aware of that remark of yours, I not only consented to come to this site and discuss these issues with you, but refrained from bringing up the issue of your choice of expression when you repeated your criticism of the same statement in slightly different language early in our discussion here.

So what I would like you to understand is that in the moment we go from talking about a problem in the text written by each other, to speaking of what the other is doing in composing a text or series of texts in a particular manner, it becomes impossible to avoid referring to something about the tactics, principles, and competence of the other as author of the texts. I know nothing about your state of mind other than what is expressed on the screen. Based on the latter, I can posit a number of hypotheses about what stands behind those textual products. Given the problematic nature of what I see there, any one of my conclusions will be seen as "insulting" in some way, whether it is a matter of suggesting a deliberate misreporting the evidence, a disability in reading or math, a muddled grasp of sound argument, and so forth. You will note that I initially refrained from any of these equally unhappy choices, and simply pointed out the many errors, asked you to withdraw conclusions based on such erroneous accounting, and warned against making similar miscitations in the future. All of this proved to be of no avail. There was no acknowledgment of fault, no correction of false accounting, no withdrawal of wrongfully drawn conclusions. That's frustrating, to be sure, and no doubt it induced me to raise the level of rhetoric to forcibly draw your attention to what I regard as a very serious matter indeed, one that was in fact making it impossible for the discussion to go forward. I think my statement that you were not representing the grammars "in good faith" is an accurate characterization of the pattern of misrepresentation in your postings. If you check the major dictionaries, I think you will find that this expression refers to making a presentation of things that is misleading or misrepresentative of them, and that is in fact precisely the case with how you are using the grammars in your argument. Would it be less insulting to suggest that you are handling the grammars incompetently? These are the usual two choices of interpretation when confronted with reports full of factual errors. Could I have somehow refrained from making either interpretation? I tried at first to simply say that these quantifications of the evidence were so inaccurate (as well as contrived, but that's a separate matter) as to be worthless for advancing the discussion. But when you continued to use them, continued to generate new ones as inaccurate and therefore useless as the ones before, my protest necessarily grew louder and harsher.

I have tolerated quite a lot in this exchange. I have tolerated arguments of astounding circularity with good humor and patient rebuttal. I have tolerated your habit of ignoring my criticisms and moving on to new topics, because I take this as tacit acknowledgments that you have been bested. I have tolerated certain limitations you have placed on the evidence without complaint. I have adopted your list of grammars, your list of parallels, all with the confidence that they were sufficient to make the case clear. But I will not tolerate misrepresentation of the evidence, because without honest reportage of facts we can never reach the truth of a matter, but only surrender to prejudice. And I will not tolerate tactics that make me, rather than the emerging facts of the discussion, to be the issue at hand. So because my criticisms have not been dealt with fairly, and because this aspersion has been cast on my criticisms as somehow personal ad hominems rather than the substantive criticisms they are, I feel compelled to go back over the last three months' exchange and justify myself anew.

None of this should have been necessary in a fair and honest exchange on this site. I should not have to devote precious time on such a negative task. We were supposed to be clearing the air on the issues surrounding John 8:58. That this noble endeavor, in which we were not bound to agree but only to improve the caliber of argument on the subject, has been reduced to this sort of confrontation is as sad to me as I am sure it is to you. I am sure you feel the weight of disappointment as greatly as I do. So what do we do about it? I am conscious of the promise and commitment we made to those who requested this exchange. I hope I have made clear my view of the standards of conduct to which I feel we are committed, and why I feel the importance of the issues at hand is being shortchanged by the direction this exchange has taken. I ask you to refrain from "pressing on" and to bring this phase of our discussion to a point of summation. If you are willing to do so, I may be inclined to resume the discussion at some future date, after a hiatus. As it is, your refusal to acknowledge the wishes of our audience this last week has already cut into the time I will have available to answer their comments and questions. Surely that was not your intent. But this once again reflects a stubborn determination to proceed with a presentation of your own, rather than engage in the give-and-take that this forum was supposed to be. I have tried repeatedly to advance the discussion by seeking clarification from you on what you see yourself defending, so that perhaps we can skip over issues that are not that important to where we are trying to get to. Regrettably, you have found reason not to answer those questions, while taking the trouble to reject my attempts to imagine your answer. That, too, has been frustratingly rude of you, and has led me to conclude that you are following some predetermined course of presentation that will not be interrupted or redirected by my participation in the exchange. This is not what I was invited to as your guest on this site, however much you may think it serves your purposes. I will proceed to sum up the discussion to this point, and await an indication from you whether there is any prospect of coming to agreement about where things go from here.

Best wishes,
Jason B.

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