You were taught in school that you must try to find common ground with your opponent in a debate. You were taught that it is a mark of civil and mature discussion to hear the other party out, to grant those points of his you find reasonable, to make concessions. You were taught that if you did this, you and your interlocutor would reach an understanding—a compromise. Unfortunately, you must now unlearn all of this.
Recently, Twitter’s official “Books” account tweeted that “reading the classics doesn’t make you a better person.” Entre nous, dear reader, I will admit that I can see some ways in which Twitter's claim may be true up to a point. Were I feeling maximally charitable, I might concede that reading classic books doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else, or that reading alone is not sufficient unto moral excellence, or that not all people who read classic books internalize them in such a way as to become personally edified.
But I was not feeling maximally charitable, and I did not make any of those concessions. Here is why: whoever runs the Twitter Books account did not write that tweet to engage in a nuanced debate about the relationship between great literature and character formation. The point of the tweet was simply to undermine and obscure a basic, general, and obvious truth: making you a better person is exactly what reading the classics does.
There are now entire industries—many of them—devoted to undermining and obscuring the basic, general, and obvious truths of life. Consider Cosmopolitan, a magazine ostensibly devoted to lifestyle advice, whose cover recently featured images of aggressively fat women with the caption “this is healthy!” It is not healthy to be obese, and the point of the cover was not to invite dialogue about the range of bodyweights which are healthy for different people at different times of life. The point was to make you personally feel like you don’t really need to go to the gym this morning.
There are many such cases: institutions and corporations which claim to be on your side but are really devoted to confusing you, anesthetizing you, and wedding you to your own mediocrity. They have no intention of modifying or qualifying their doctrines because of a good counterpoint you can make in open dialogue with them. They have no intention of entering into open dialogue in the first place. They have one intention only: making you worse.
Here is how I know that our ruling classes do not care about the truth: they are completely uninterested in making concessions of their own. They routinely state the most extreme and provocative versions of their own positions, without qualification or moderation. “Trans women are women.” “Abortion is healthcare.” “Whiteness is racist/evil/oppressive.” They do not back down from these positions. They do not footnote them. They promote them, everywhere and always, in every forum they can.
To succeed, this tactic depends on the politeness of people like you: people who were taught that good guys make concessions. And so they do—when their opponents are also good guys. Ours are not. They have no use for your concessions except as one inch more of ground gained in a ceaseless march toward victory. They have no use for your “yes but” or your “well, in one sense yes but in another no.” That is the language of a reasoned discussion in which only you are participating. Your opponents are not discussing. They are dictating. And like the proverbial ratchet, that relationship can only move in one direction.
You can watch this happening in real time as red-state governors like Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem give implicit consent to transgender extremism for children because, in Hutchinson’s words, “you have parents involved in very difficult decisions, you have physicians that are involved in these decisions.” Hutchinson was referring to puberty-blocking drugs, and to castration both physical and chemical for minors. That is a man who has been gelded by his own concessions, backed meekly into a corner by ideologues who want nothing from him or from you but total submission.
“Could you persuade us,” asks Polemarchus at the opening of the Republic, “if we refused to listen?” The whole dramatic premise of Plato’s masterwork is the impossibility of compromising with a man who is deaf to your arguments. There is no halfway house here. In private conversations, with friends and family, sure: talk things out. But in the public square, in the battle between the ruling classes and the rest of us, the time for concessions has long passed. We have conceded quite enough, and we are doomed to concede still more—unless we start making some assertions of our own.