The opposite of agreement isn’t disagreement, it’s confusion. Until we fully understand what the other person is talking about, we can’t join them in a discussion about it. Without a discussion, we can’t really know if we agree or disagree. We can only be confused.
That idea, explored deeply by John Courtney Murray, is the key to understanding what’s being said on the FCPA Blog about anonymous offshore companies and secret bank accounts.
Everyone in the Paradise Papers debate wants the same thing — less corruption. That’s a huge area of agreement. There’s no confusion about that ultimate goal.
How to achieve less corruption is an area of disagreement. That’s understandable. People have different views about the human condition, about how institutions behave and respond, about the role of government, and so on. There’s a lot there for people to disagree about.
But anyone with the goal of reducing corruption is starting from the same noble place. It’s common ground. From it, people see different paths forward. That’s pluralism — a messy but welcome aspect of our human freedom.
What’s important is first recognizing the shared goal of reducing corruption. Without that recognition, what follows isn’t disagreement but confusion. What is confusion? Murray said it’s literally not understanding what another person is saying. The lack of understanding then leads to distrust and fear.
Confusion causes a breakdown of civil discourse. Yelling in someone’s face, name calling, running away, sometimes even physical violence — those are the outward signs of confusion.
Disagreement, on the other hand, is engagement. It’s listening first, then reasoning things out. It’s applying facts to a theory and testing outcomes.
Disagreement doesn’t always end in compromise. Two people, or groups, or nations can go on disagreeing forever. But if they remember how much they must have in common in order to have achieved disagreement, they can still live with each other in relative harmony and peace. Ask couples who’ve been married a long time if they agree about everything. Chances are they’ll laugh and say, “No, but we still love each other.”
We’re thankful today for our editors, authors, and readers who achieve disagreement in this space. Disagreement is a mark of thoughtfulness and maturity and mutual respect. And of something deeper that we all share.
May you have many more disagreements in the days, months, and years to come.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.