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We Talk Dumb

Why have we gotten so bad at discussing our differences? The level of honest, genuine, and intelligent debate in our country is similar to watching kids argue about whose dad is stronger.

Have you ever been in so much trouble that as you are being scolded, busted, reprimanded or rebuked that you inadvertently begin smiling. It's a nervous reaction to not knowing exactly how to act. Yet, it also is a symptom of not being particularly repentant; because that requires some amount of sorrow. I guess that is how I feel about this article. I am sure some things I say will be misunderstood and might require apology, but don't be surprised if I smile while doing it.

This is, to be honest, my fourth attempt at writing this thing. I have three other versions, all very different from one another. Some of the versions would have caused me all kinds of grief because there are certain topics that when invoked will evoke the gears of war in the hearts and minds of many- the result being a near Pavlovian aggression and defense in the form of insult and accusation. And to be honest, I am simply not that committed to this blog.

So I am taking the easy way out by avoiding such topics in addressing this particular issue. The issue in question is the diminishing merit of Western (but to be honest, American really) discourse. Hold on, before you move on to some article or website more interesting give me 5 more sentences to explain.

Obviously, I am motivated by the political climate and political dialogue of our present communication mediums such as TV, radio, Internet, and printed papers. The boiled-down message of these debates or conversations intends to convince us, at primal levels, that this guy over there wants to destroy this country and your lives while this guy over there is trying to stop such evil plots and wants to save you and your family- which is pure rubbish.

(I still have three sentences)

Yet, if only it were the present political climate that were the only problem with our way of discussing opposing ideas, beliefs and thoughts. I lump the discourse surrounding homosexuality, abortion, public funding, education etc... and their accompanying rallies, conventions and protests in the same inscrutable, ugly and intellectually stunted pile of garbage.

(last sentence)

Our way of discussing things is making us stupid.

And I don't mean the way your college professor of physics might have been considered stupid by comparison to Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan. I mean stupid in the way that screaming guests of the latest tabloid talk-show show are by comparison to Thomas Jefferson, W.E.B. Du Bois or Winston Churchill.

One way of determining whether you are in the former or latter group would be whether or not you immediately began to formulate a dismissal to what I am saying because you find one of the aforementioned gentlemen repugnant to your personal paradigms. And if you found yourself doing so I intend no offense but must point out that such tangential thinking is what derails the actual and honest discussion of a thing.

For example, I am a bit of a science-fiction geek. I spent most of my adulthood denying myself this pleasure because of how I thought it made me look (I've always fancied myself a renaissance jock). But I have now reached the level of maturity (at a shamefully late age) where I know longer care how my affection of science-fiction geekdom makes me look.

If, however, I were to argue the intellectual, philosophic and literary merits of this particular literary genre one would expect the ensuing discussion to be rational, open-minded and authentic. However, if this sci-fi discourse mirrored the way so much discourse in our world takes place today one would likely hear statements like this:

"I cannot believe you support the exploitive nature of Hollywood. Four of the last five highest grossing films of all time lie within the science-fiction genre. Do you know how they force women to dress in those films?"

"So you are a fan of escapism then and would prefer not to actually deal with real world problems. That is the problem with people like you, rather than doing the work of trying to defend our country and our way of life you would rather read about aliens and wizards."

"How many science-fiction writers have won Pulitzer prizes? How many are part of Oprah's book club? See how few. It is a genre for children and forty year-old men who live at home with their mothers."

Setting aside the obvious judgmental nature and underlying arrogance of many of the above assumptions the real alarm bells go off when we see within those statements the complete abdication of reasonable, logical or rational discussion of the actual subject. So when I see topics more relevant and important to my family, community, and country (such as education, war, abortion, the economy, homosexuality) treated the exact same way within the national spotlight... I'm horrified at our idiocy.

I could write volumes on the inhuman way the issue of homosexual marriage has been addressed by people on both sides of the argument. This discourse, like so many, usually disintegrates into an insulting name-calling diatribe (however veiled it might be) where neither side is willing to recognize any part of the intellectual or philosophical positions of the other side. It is much easier instead for people to say "Well, if you agree with "X" than you are a (fill in the blank)" or "If you disagree with "Y" than you must be a (fill in the blank)."

We begin categorizing individuals for what they believe or think. Such strategic discourse has been the precursor to all kinds of atrocities within the "civilized" world. We might begin by categorizing people for their beliefs but then follow-up by persecuting. No matter what you believe about what is right and what is wrong it is a dangerous thing to begin marginalizing individuals based upon your personal paradigm.

I, for instance, believe abortion should not be pursued in 99% of all cases. Yet, I recognize that while my view possesses reasons related to social consciousness the majority of my opinion can be mined from my religious beliefs. I would never categorize those who disagree with me as evil or as people with whom I won't associate. If I acted in that way then I might deserve some kind of censure. But for my beliefs and the beliefs or opinions of others there should be no such marginalization- unless my beliefs negatively affect how I personally treat or act toward others.

Yet, the starting point of too many modern discussions begins with marginalization. "You agree in the right of gay marriage, then you must have no moral center." "You disagree with the right to gay marriage, then you must be a simple-minded bigot." I have seen this argument play out a hundred times without ever doing the work of finding the common ground where there can be peaceful co-existence that doesn't threaten anyone's social well-being.Furthermore, such rhetoric deceives all parties into believing the other side is not just wrong but evil- and we cannot live in a world where evil is allowed to thrive.

Thus all politicians have to do is convince us which side is evil, rather than doing the hard work of finding higher minded solutions to propel our communities forward and upward.

Listen, if we cannot discuss the fact that someone might have reasons for disagreeing with your paradigms, beliefs or opinions without crying "Injustice! Intolerance! Tyranny!" then we truly are becoming dumb. Such epithets applied to an individual with a difference of opinion is so wholly unfair and out of context with an educated society that I would soon expect mobs to begin packing the streets with torches and pitchforks looking for witches and vampires (that type of behavior should only be reserved for zombies).

As a Christian minister I live in a world where my paradigm is often divergent from those around me- people I respect and people I love and people I've never met. Despite the way many may think about our country, it is a secular nation that I believe shouldn't legislate religious morality. I would hate to ever be on the receiving end of such a stick. I would rather, we not legislate morality unless they have an obvious negative affect upon society (like murder or theft). Therefore, there are many things I believe to be morally wrong that are protected by law. I am fine with this. I can disagree strongly about a thing (about many things) for both moral and faith-based reasons without dismissing its advocates.

Furthermore, I know that in order to understand why a person might disagree with me I have to walk in their shoes. This does not guarantee I will ever agree with them, but it makes any argument I present more empathetic, thoughtful, relevant and intelligent.

In the end, I want to read my werewolf novel and argue its merits without the rest of my personality, beliefs and person being mindlessly categorized. I want to discuss the genius of the space opera as a societal metaphor intelligently without the discussion breaking into a name calling diatribe. I want intellectual discourse about vampires without fear of the conversation being hijacked to satisfy the personal self-righteous angst of someone else.

And if I have in some way unintentionally offended your system of belief during this article then let me say "I am sorry" (with unwitting smile).

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Alex Esche August 13, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Hello, In this article you didn't present logical reasons for or against homosexual marriage. I am for homosexual marriage because homosexual people are people and people can get married to each other. You don't give a reason why you oppose abortion in 99% of cases. I believe abortion should be legal because fetuses are alive, human but not people (see personhood and autonomy) and are thus similar to animals.
ridgeroadmike August 15, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Wow, dude. You COMPLETELY missed the point of the article, didn't you? The reason he didn't give arguments for or against homosexual marriage or abortion was simply because they were beside the point. The point of this article was the deterioration of public discourse, nothing more. It was an excellent article and points up exactly why I don't like to get involved in political questions. Everything is too black/white with no shades of gray allowed. Honorable debate, forget about it. And don't even bother considering such a thing as a loyal opposition. You're either for us or against us; part of the solution or part of the problem. And, if you're part of the problem, you must be eliminated.
Alex Esche August 16, 2012 at 02:05 PM
I'm sorry to disagree but I am the person here who feels these are black/white issues and A. Bravely take the opposite side, B. Say you don't take a side on one of these issues or C. Admit you are not saying anything which is not discourse. Discourse is saying something, which is saying a view and preparing to defend it. Our views may not lead to a valuable argument, which is why there are discordant arguments. Your view is a minority which believes a stricter code of ethics or morals is right for everyone. I disagree with that view for everyone. I do not understand why this is even wrong or right for homosexual relationships and think this is no longer a fearful misunderstanding and becomes hateful which is what I especially oppose because religious hate cannot be defeated by logical understanding and undefeatable hate leads to rage and violence. If we need to explicitly state a shared value oppose hate; I support love.
SouthSide August 16, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I support love too, Alex Ache. You are not alone in understanding that equal means equal. Every human being should have the same rights, assuming they conduct themselves without injury to self and others. I think it is fair that you have stated your opinion here. After all, that is what the author of this article has done.
ridgeroadmike August 16, 2012 at 09:53 PM
So then the answer is that you did completely miss the point? Or are you just deliberately trying to hijack the thread of the article. The point to the article was about the STYLE of public discourse. The examples given were merely that, examples. That you felt the need to argue the examples while ignoring the main point, speaks volumes. And it's precisely why I think politics, especially these days, is so disgusting.

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