Let us disagree about crematory, but civilly

David Madden Guest columnist

My fellow town folk, as we debate the pros and cons of the issue of whether to have a crematory in the heart of Black Mountain, let us stay mindful of universal principles of democratic and civil discourse.

As we launch upon our various arguments, we would do well to review the features of what we generally may agree are the characteristics that make our small town what it is. And as background, let us call to mind the narratives of historical and recent controversies.

Knowledge is power, said Sir Francis Bacon in 1597. So first, seek the facts. Know about the nature of modern crematories and about the situation of crematories in other small towns. Assert the power of those facts coolly, in print, in private conversations, and in public assemblies.

It follows that facial and voice expressions of emotion exhaust the power of facts and that in an atmosphere of competing emotions, witnesses are less likely to take note of essential facts.

I’m confident that many of us in our country are well aware of a prevalent feature of argumentation about an array of issues. Far too many people on both sides of an issue emotionally assert an opinion, then immediately leap to a conclusion. Logic is a casualty in private and public discourse. It is as if opinion is sacred; logic is elitism. It is as if the right to declare one’s own opinion, especially with explosive emotion, confers upon one the right to be right. Forgotten is the fact that not even an arsenal of facts logically presented guarantees that one is correct or right.

Democratic, civil argumentation is by its nature difficult, sometimes very difficult, and usually time-consuming, making insistence on instant gratification nearly impossible. But opinion that overleaps logic to assert conclusion or convictions results in unresolvable conflict.

“I violently disagree” used to be a favorite, rather benign figure of speech in academic discourse. Too often today, violent disagreement out of one’s deepest conviction is prevalent, recorded on private cellphones more often, at times, than on television cameras. Another expression was “This is my deepest conviction.” During the Irish War of Independence, the poet William Butler Yeats despairingly observed that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.” The deeply rooted problem these days is that advocates on both sides of issues are “full of a passionate intensity” and assert unalterable “conviction.”

When we appear at public gatherings on the crematory issue, we would do well to be mindful of the atmosphere I have just described, illustrated every day privately and publicly, making it difficult to conduct civil discourse proceeding from logical, factual analysis. Let us agree, however, that we are capable of rising above that toxic atmosphere.

David Madden is a novelist and historian living in Black Mountain.