Agree to disagree

“Let’s agree to disagree” can mean more than one thing. Perhaps no statement has a broader span of consequential meanings. Here’s a few:

  1. Alienation: “Let’s agree to abstain from all encounters.” This means living in complete intellectual isolation from other individuals. Through destruction of communication – through taboos, unclear habits of speech, favoring forms of etiquette that undermine dialectical exchange, and reforming/deforming forums where true encounters might occur and replacing them with counterfeit forms of parallel talk – people become unable to disagree with one another enough to feel  the presence of a mind that is different from one’s own.
  2. War: “Let’s agree to settle this on the battlefield.” This means closing the embassies, sending the diplomats home, and ending attempts at mutual agreement. Each side makes an all-out attempt to forcibly impose their own perspective on the other. Rarely does this form of disagreement announce its intentions. In fact, nearly invariably, it marches in waving both the flag of peace and of unyielding principle – as if it can serve both these causes.
  3. Competition: “Let’s settle this on the playing field.” This appears to be an agreement to disagree, but in fact it is making a far deeper agreement — an agreement on rules of engagement in cases of disagreement. This, in turn, is founded on an even deeper agreement: that local principles to which we are loyal should be tempered by a higher order of principles that preserve a kind of unity and order within the profoundest diversity. Nietzsche observed that competition (agon) was the kernel of Helenic values, which is hardly surprising considering the structure of Greek religion, where each individual, and each polis maintained its allegiance to one or two gods, but even deeper loyalty to the Olympian order. The Greeks maintained this deep order of local conflict against barbarism, which knew no order above the either-or of violence and isolation.


It should be kept in mind that coming to agreement on valid principles of competition is not an easy matter. The task goes far deeper than merely formulating rules of competition. Of course, precisely for this reason the majority of people will want to cut directly to mere formulation of rules as if the principles are a self-evident matter of nature – if they even get as far as thinking in terms of rules. Most will prefer to limit disagreement to matters of fact. The expectation is that facts, once established, will “speak for themselves” and will dictate to us, in clear and unambiguous language, the entire rulebook of reality.

Competition is not a silver bullet solution, and to choose it as a way out is simply to acknowledge the true scope and depth of the problem of rising above the barbarism of alienation or war.


2 thoughts on “Agree to disagree

  1. Also:

    4. Relationship. Let’s agree to put this issue on hold and see if reflection and experience bring us closer in the future. Our relationship is more important than this singular difference of opinion.

    Not exactly you’re point, I know, but just sayin’.

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