The Death of Discourse

Political discourse is dead. What now passes for political debate or an exchange of political ideas is each side trying to force/ convince the other side to see things their way. More often than not, this leads to bewilderment and frustration on both sides as to how the other side could possibly see things as it does. People today get angry and offended by simply learning that someone has an opinion different from their own.

That people have differing opinions should come as no surprise. Some people love the New York Yankees. Some people hate them. Some people think Justin Bieber is a great singer. The same applies to movies, books, tv shows, etc, yet people with wildly differing tastes on these figure out how to get along. Why then, when a difference of opinion is expressed in the world of politics, all bets are off? I know that discussing abortion isn’t the same as judging Justin Bieber, but doesn’t the important stuff at least warrant the civil sharing of opinions and ideas?

We are all guilty of intolerance to opposing ideas to some extent. Even as I write this, my motivation is to convince readers who have opinions in opposition to mine to open their minds and see things the way I do. It’s only natural. It’s a twisted act of kindness really. We feel that we are helping people by guiding them to the “proper” way of thinking. Problem is, the other person feels as strongly that we are wrong, and take our “gift” as an insult. It is vital that we acknowledge this detrimental dynamic to discourse, if we are ever to survive and progress as a civilized society.

Here are some illustrations of “Anti-Discourse” (these are generalities to make a point. I am aware that not all individuals of a certain philosophy think exactly alike):

Conservatives can’t understand why liberals support same sex marriage when this is counter to Biblical teachings.

Are they correct? Maybe. Maybe not.

The thing is, liberals are not Christians. They don’t have the same beliefs or values as non-Christians. So, instead of conservatives accusing liberals of spreading hell-bound hedonism through society, and liberals calling conservatives homophobes, we should recognize that these two factions have differing opinions and figure out the best way to deal with these differences as a civilized society. There is no need for name calling.

Conservatives don’t believe in minimum wage laws. They believe they hinder small businesses who can’t survive and expand if forced to pay workers a certain salary. They believe that without minimum wage laws more business would open and hire more workers and create more jobs for those who, with minimum wage laws on the books, have no jobs at all.

Are they correct? Maybe. Maybe not.

This is a somewhat complicated economic issue. While many are willing to jump in and express how wrong the other side is, how many from either side have looked at ALL the available economic research to form a valid opinion? How many have looked at ANY research? In many instances, the Left doesn’t seem to take ANY possible financial outcomes of economic policy into account. They simply lash out at the Right as greedy monsters riding the backs of the poor into rich-person Valhalla, usually somehow followed up with cries of racism. This is not political discourse, this is knee-jerk bullying

Liberals tend to favor the legalization of drugs. They believe that regulation of the drug trade will eliminate drug crime and gang warfare, bring tax revenue to the states, and end the unfair prosecution of minor drug infractions, while alcohol, being more dangerous, remains legal.

Are they correct? Maybe. Maybe not.

Conservatives do not take any of this into account and lash out liberals as irresponsible, immature hippie hedonists who just want to get high every day without threat of legal repercussion. Again, knee-jerk, personal, emotional, incorrect conclusions.

Both sides are guilty of Non-Discourse. While conservatives tend to regard the Left with an attitude of “silly liberals, someday they will see the error in their ways,” the Left’s attitude seems to be “RACIST! HOMOPHOBE! ASSHOLE!!” It’s a bit ironic, don’t you think? The Left, tolerant to your beliefs, as long as you believe as they do, and you do it NOW.

Whereas conservatives wish the Left would “see the light,” and they sometimes express these wishes in socially barbaric ways, liberals seem psychologically unable to conceive of a world in which any humans think differently than they do. Take homosexuality. Given the fact that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all contain anti-homosexual doctrine, the fact that billions of people world-wide hold anti-homosexual sentiment should hardly be surprising. Yet liberals are mortified when they encounter ONE homophobe. Should anti-homosexual beliefs change? Of course. But liberals seem unwilling to give a few billion people answering to what they believe is an omnipotent higher power a minute to adjust with the times.

This complete lack of political discourse and its dangers extend beyond the Right Vs. Left. Radical Islamic fundamentalists would like to see the world Islamized, even if it means those opposed become dead in the process. They feel that Islamic practices are the best for inhabitants of Earth and feel it is their duty to create a world where Islam is practiced exclusively.

Are they correct? Maybe. Maybe not.

Most, if not all American liberals and conservatives are obviously opposed to this proposition. They can’t fathom a world of Islam that exists only because all opponents were eradicated. They don’t understand such a difference of opinion from their own. They want these people with this different opinion eliminated first.

Clearly there is a difference between encouraging debate on minimum wage and with fundamental terrorists, but the point is this- that same attitude conservatives take against liberals and vice versa regarding domestic affairs (“How could you possibly think that way?!”) is exactly the way fundamentalist Muslims feel about all of us. So, if we want to eliminate evil from the earth, it would behoove us to listen to each other, learn from each other, try to take the wisest, most moral path, and kill bad guys together when necessary. Or the bad guys will take advantage of our inability to think as one, mobilize as one like-minded unit, and defeat us.

Political discourse must thrive in a civilized society, or we’ll wind up hating each other at best, killing each other at worst. When someone has an opinion different than yours, check yourself. Don’t jump to the extreme defensive, as this usually indicates a flaw in your reasoning. If you are right, there is no need to be defensive. Simply defend your position with the facts that helped you form your opinion. If you don’t know the facts, or even if you do, LISTEN to those with opposing positions and why they have them. Two things can happen at that point, you will realize you were wrong, learn, and move forward with the proper opinion and perspective, or, you can realize you were right, and move forward with new found confidence in your position, and hopefully have taught your opposition a valuable lesson. And always keep in mind, the one that needs converting might be you. That is the beauty of discourse. If you do it correctly, everybody wins.

Be it social media giving everyone a soap box, or Barack Obama cultivating political interest in folks not normally attuned to such things, or some other factor, we’re seeing the advent of individuals both apolitical and hyper political at the same time. Those who only know one side of an issue, and advocate it voraciously. Their worship of their opinion actually weakens their position as opposed to strengthening it. You wouldn’t know it by interacting with these folks though. They all speak like religious fundamentalists when “defending their positions.” It’s better to know your position than love it. If you feel the need for love, then love your politics like an oncologist loves cancer. The oncologist doesn’t have a feeling about curing cancer then post it in all caps on Facebook. He immerses himself in it, finds out all facts and arguments about it before attempting to deal with it. In not doing so, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity at righteousness.

You can’t appreciate or denounce another’s opinion if your only motivation is to convert the other person. Wanting to convert everyone to your opinion is the antithesis of discourse and civility, and renders any attempt at social structure and peace impossible. Think. Listen. Learn. Live.

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