Monday, September 24, 2007

The Art of Rational Discourse

Name-calling, finger-pointing, and demonizing one's opposition have no place in rational discourse. This was made quite evident to me this evening as I was watching television pundits of both political persuasions resort to pointless bickering and childish insults. Such behavior has become the bread and butter of all sorts of talking heads, arm chair philosophers, newspaper columnists, and celebrities.

I could cite a particular instance, but in this post I'm attempting to bring to light a plethora of offenses. These sort of things happen daily: in the street, at the office, in the media, in homes, and pretty much everywhere people congregate.

I often feel compelled to make strong statements against what I feel to be misguided rhetoric set forth by self-righteous right-wingers. So long as I maintain an air of respectability and use cogent, eloquent, and respectful prose I have succeeded. The instant I resort to juvenile tactics, I have forfeited my right to be taken seriously. Losing one's temper is easy to do, particularly in the polarized, highly charged times in which we live, but if anything, civilized debate is needed now more than ever. It's very tempting to wish to attack our opponents with epithets and expletives, but doing so makes us look foolish in the process. Any victories we might win with such an approach will be, at best, Pyrric in nature. What is more likely is that nothing will be accomplished at all; it will only strengthen and entrench both sides in the certainty of their own viewpoint.

We humans have a tendency to want to romanticize and gloss over the past. It has been recently stated that in once upon a time days political discourse was more polite and less abrasive--respectful and not hurtful. From my study of the subject, I have found it to be little more than an exploded myth. Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives both have launched invective at each other for years. Resorting to these tactics is boorish, uncouth, and utterly counterproductive. It always was and it always will be.

Last I understood it, the point of a persuasive argument was the change minds. It wasn't to coalesce support amongst ourselves, though that is certainly comforting. Many of us crave our own private Amen Corner and though it might be flattering for our egos, I question to what extent is it helpful. The point of rational discourse is to open minds and hopefully change them for the better out of unselfishness. Rational discourse places itself above evangelism. The point is not take score of the number of converts one wins for his or her side. Neither is it to win for the sake of winning. We ought to be better than that.

We ought to wish for people to be open-minded and to be willing to think critically for themselves. This means we should wish for every person to stand firm in his or her own unique point-of-view. Their beliefs may mirror ours or they may not, but if we have forced a bit of sunlight into previously closed minds, then we have done our job admirably.

1 comment:

Fran said...

I could not agree more Comrade Kevin.

The society in which we live is so ultra-polarized and filled with people with almost no ego strength. Why this is I won't even speculate. As the saying goes "there for the grace of God goes I..." Or something like that.

As a result, there is so damned much invested in being right and being really right and being really right all the time.

How tiresome. And boring.

You made an interesting comment on my MSNBC post today and then Jess Wundrun came in and made a really strong comment.

And you know what- I don't regret posting it, but honestly I did not think it all the way through.

The ability to think, reason and come to a conclusion is something important to me. But sometimes I get lazy too.

In the end, I would much rather discuss something with someone who I disagreed with, if I thought they knew their stuff and that they could discuss it. It does happen from time to time and I love it.

While it is great to be around the likeminded, it makes the mind flabby.

Ultimately- question lots of things. Fear of doing so creates the mess we are in and what you have posted so brilliant about.