I have realised that over the past six months or so my view of intellectual discussion and what kinds I want to participate in has changed. My interest in pre-theoretical discussion is much lower than it was, especially as concerns politics, and by pre-theoretical I do not just mean ‘current affairs’, but discussion of political principles and ideals as well: I’ll discuss political philosophy, but am less interested in classic left vs. right than I am in current affairs.

One possible reason for this is becoming more dogmatic about my political views. I’m economically (very) left-wing and socially liberal, and lots of other people aren’t, and I don’t really care all that much about trying to convince them of my point of view anymore—but also I’m not bothered about entering discussion because I sort of know I won’t change my mind. Such dogmatism is really really bad but this way of looking at it may not be the right one. An alternative is that I’m just being very sceptical about politics and non-commital, and I’m undecided as to whether that is appropriate on something as real and as important as politics.

I had a friend to visit me at university recently and we went to a friend’s house for dinner, with a number of philosophy and politics students, and since both of us were a little bored of the pre-theoretical political discussion, we were discussing this lack of interest that we were both feeling to some extent though perhaps for entirely different reasons. My friend levelled at me a criticism of his that he has brought up before, which is that I am too cautious about arguing for things now, and I often defer making points to writing them out more carefully on this blog, or something, too cautious to engage in discussion right then and there.

I think this is something that I have absorbed as a university humanities student, and I think it’s defensible (my friend here is a maths student so he won’t have seen the same thing). Academics around here are always very cautious about having points of view, in general, preferring to discuss the precise view at hand and if there’s anything obviously right or wrong with it, leaving it to the papers and books to stand their ground on things. It’s sometimes then a bit jarring to recall that these papers and books are written by academics just like one’s tutor or lecturer. I think there’s something similar going on here. When they are in a position to set something down very carefully and clearly, they do so, and then they can be rather forceful about it, but these things are hard and you can’t just do this verbally a lot of the time. My unwillingness then comes from a certain amount of passive absorption of the attitudes of tutors, a realisation that writing things down clearly is already very hard, so saying it on the spot is going to be even harder, and also my experience of noticing how much rubbish people say in such debates: how many things they say that aren’t precise, how much ambiguity there is in what they actually mean, and how this is actually important and significant and gets people confused. As I learn more I notice such speech more and more.

Something positive is that I’m certainly detaching my ego from this sort of activity, which is good, as defining oneself as verbally opinionated is not such a good thing to do. I’m confident that I can think these things out and remain sceptical if that’s the way it goes, rather than having to talk about them out loud to boost my self-esteem.