Literalism: Bane of the Modern Intellectual Debate

Civil debate grows scarce these days. This is no revelation, I know, but it bears repeating. The example given in the post by Brian Fields is not at all unique. That same infallible fervor crashes most any political or intellectual debate, drowning out the exchange of ideas in sensationalistic slogans for the sake of conformity.

One of the symptoms of this, I feel, is literalism. Literal interpretation is a necessity for empirical reference, but the(a) paradigm of a free idea exchange lends itself to looser guidelines. Metaphor and even tenuous analogy are the backbone of communication.

I've witnessed (and even participated in) countless arguments over the definition of secularism, atheism, religion, ideology. Communism, Socialism, Liberalism and Conservatism are more terms to which people seem to have a strict Websterian adherence. "Atheism is ONLY about anti-theism." "Ideology is not religion...you need to look up the definition." "Religion requires theism." These statements, taken directly from people I've debated, are very short-sighted. They aren't incorrect, but they aren't entirely correct, either. A great many of the words in Webster's--or any--Dictionary are ambiguous. One of the definitions of "religion" is: "scrupulous conformity." This can be applied to a member or members of ANY group. So a simile of an infallible Communist as a religious zealot is not an unfounded stretch. Limiting oneself to the literal definition and even more often the popular connotation yields an unproductive debate.

This suggests a subjective approach, but since no one is capable of being completely objective--since even literalism is subject--then semantic quibbling is pointless. Without the freedom to express an idea creatively...well, there would be no ideas.



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