Much to our astonishment, we received an angry response from a reader. The surprising part was not the anger or even the fact of the response. We've been taking the paucity of polemics inserted into the com box relative to the number of our readers as a sign that everyone agrees with us . . . right?
No, the astonishing part of the missive was the fact that, although we had explained our definitions of the terms we used to the respondent previously at great length, the excited letter-writer accused us of 1) not answering previous manifestos, and 2) not understanding the claims about money, credit, interest, or debt presented therein. By not accepting the writer's definitions (admittedly extremely garbled to the point of incomprehensibility), we demonstrated just how far out of it we are, that we must be operating in bad faith, why we will never convince anybody of what we're talking about, and so on, and so forth.
The respondent, however, was wrong - and not because of the disagreement with us. The fact is, the debate can never end because our two sides cannot agree on the meaning of the most important terms in the debate. We will therefore continue to talk past one another, the adherents on each side assuming that those taking the more or less opposite stance are actuated by malice, or simply too stupid to understand the issue. The debate can never be resolved because, in reality, without a common understanding of principles and terms, there is no debate. As G. K. Chesterton once pointed out,
It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else's principles, but not on his own. After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. (G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, "The Dumb Ox." New York: Image Books, 1956, 95.)
Thus, because the letter-writer ignored basic definitions, we could argue for all eternity without either side convincing the other of anything except, perhaps, that the entire world is crazy except for the speaker. It is the easiest thing in the world to prove that everyone else in the world is a knave or a fool (probably - and paradoxically - both) on your principles. The path of true reason, even faith, is to prove somebody wrong on his or her own principles.