Three years ago a friend and I started a discussion club. It’s purpose is dialogue o important issues across ideological lines. We are now over twenty members and the following is a recently posted essay about our group by my fellow founder, Tony.
From time to time, someone will ask about the Curmudgeon Club. Rather than reinventing a “wheel of explanation”, two discussions are provided below, one each from the two founders.
Rabbi Phil Bentley’s views can be found at his blog, https://pearleafblog.com/; scrolldown to the January 28, 2013, Dialogue: How We Talk.
Tony Jeric’s shared his view in his email of February 14, 2013; see below.
We are all about dialogue by which is meant a civil exchange of ideas, opinions and what we believe to be knowledge. We enter with the conceptual understanding that we are all blindfolded, touching different parts of the cosmic elephant and discussing what we believe to be reality. Sometimes it is not clear we are touching the same animal or are even in the same universe. There is no such thing as a sacred cow that cannot be disputed or more importantly subjected to critical examination. The number one sin that will not be tolerated is a personal attack, i.e. “you are stupid” is not acceptable. “That is a stupid concept” is generally tolerated but becomes infinitely more respectable if followedwith “because of A, B and C”.
The club was intentionally built to be made up of a wide range of varying persuasion by examining letters to the editor in the Times News and offering invitations. Lately membership has grown and without any such overt action but appears to remain balanced.. You will find some members do not fit a classic left right liberal conservative characterization. If you think the club is tilted against your particular beliefs it is most likely because your other associations are comprised of too many people who think like you do. You therefore are not used to your sacred cows being shot at. Get over it.
In any case different crowds show up at different meetings so there will be shifts. One of our objectives is to create (and I am plagiarizing from the former owner of the New Republic) “little mental insurrections”. i.e. bringing in a wide range of knowledge,research, opinion and analysis we may each end up with a reevaluation of what of whatever our own orthodoxy happens to be. Collectively we may stumble into some unique truths found nowhere else. At worst case we will have participated in a civil dialogue that is increasingly hard to come by.
For those among us who are a little more on the timid side – please keep in mind no one is truly an all-encompassing expert on anything so do not be afraid to challenge and ask for verification, substance or proof behind any assertion. Cross examination is a great way to learn more. Do not be afraid to ask questions for clarification such the definition of an unfamiliar term or concept. Most likely half the group would like to ask the same question so you will be doing many a favor. In the same spirit those being asked the question should not take cross examination as a personal attack. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
The club procedures were inspired by meetings previously held by Socrates, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. A subject and subject leader for the following month is determined at the start of the current meeting. Ideally there is something to read in advance via e-mail sent out by the subject leader. The subject leader gets 20 minutes to present whatever he/she wishes to convey. There are no interruptions except for clarifications such as for a term definition or to better explain a concept being put forth. Each attendee then gets up to ten minutes to agree, disagree ask more questions etc. After all have had their shot at it we might go around again or break down into free for all over an entirely different subject. We don’t have any official officials. Phil and I are the founding fathers if you will, Harold and I share coming up with a suggested agenda and Barry, being the only self-identified moderate ( we sometimes claim wishy-washy moderate because whoever heard of a flaming moderate) handles the timing bell and the best we have for a moderator.
There is a considerable dialogue by e-mail between meetings. It is very ad hoc. All are welcome to get their two cents in or use the delete button. No offense will be taken if any opt out of some or all of it but do watch out for meeting announcements and info.