Thursday, October 14, 2004

Political Civility

Go check out this post by Lara, a quick rant about the lack of civility in political conversation recently.

For me, it's not so much the yelling, the anger, the passion. If you can get passionate about this country's electoral process, that's a lot better than being apathetic about it :). What does bother me a lot -- and I come across it both online and in person, although luckily most of my friends are good about it -- is when someone can't understand the brute fact that the person on the other side of the political spectrum may be as intelligent and well-informed as you are. The next time I hear "They're too stupid to be allowed the right to vote", "You simply haven't looked into all the facts", "He just isn't old enough yet to have the right perspective on things", "Bush is a moron", "Kerry is an empty suit", the conversation is over. Done. And you've lost, no matter whether you're agreeing or disagreeing with me.

Political discourse needs to have as its goal two things. The first is a revelation of the facts of the matter. Perhaps the person with which you're talking/discussing/disagreeing/arguing/fighting is in reality not informed. Then don't fall back on "You don't have all the facts." Instead, present the facts, and say, "Have you considered X?" or "How does your position take into account Y?" And be prepared to show proof of X or Y, or for the purposes of the discussion you're as uninformed as your partner/opponent.

The second goal of political discourse should be an examination of assumptions. Once all the facts are out on the table, and there's still a difference of opinions, the discussion should find its way to a point where it's assumption versus assumption. For example, in discussion of abortion, my basic assumptions that inform my position include the assumptions that a human life is valuable, that viability is meaningless, that extra-marital sex is immoral, that personhood is inherent at conception, and I'm sure there are others. And eventually, if the discussion with a proponent of the pro-choice/pro-abortion position is going well, we'll be able to pinpoint the difference in assumptions -- either my opponent will admit the assumption that human life is not valuable (and yes, I've had people admit this before!), or the assumption that viability somehow makes a moral difference, or the opposite of one my other assumptions. At this point, I and my opponent must step back, take a look at our respective assumptions, and each ask ourselves, "Am I comfortable with my assumption?"

That's why I talk politics with people. It's definitely not to score points. It's not to change anybody's mind -- only two people can change your mind, and I'm not one of them. My first goal is to spread and receive information. My second goal, and the more important one in my opinion, is to get both you and me to examine our assumptions ourselves. And if I think your assumptions are wrong -- as I often will -- there's nothing more I can do to change them, after the facts are known and the assumptions are uncovered. I won't throw out some relativistic nonsense that we're both right for ourselves. One of us is right and one is wrong, but further discussion is fruitless, so let's talk about baseball.

I know I'll be comfortable with my assumptions, as long as their foundation is what it should be. And what about you? What's yours?

UPDATE: Crossposted at RedState

UPDATE 2: Crossposted at You've Lost


Anonymous said...

Well said...

Night Watchman said...

First, we need to talk more.

About your well thought out definition of good discourse, I agree on most points. Unfortunately, unless I’m confining my discussion to narrow areas of expertise, I generally don’t have enough knowledge to prove a case. And spouting off sound-bite statistics without context should be saved for presidential debates. What we really need to do is examine our intentions and then see if we act in a manner such that a rational observer would expect our intended outcome. Easier said than done, but the goal nonetheless.

But this is what stuck out to me:

“One of us is right and one is wrong, but further discussion is fruitless, so let's talk about baseball.”

This is what usually drives me to talking baseball sooner rather than later with people of great faith. You need to consider the third, and often most likely, scenario. Both of us could be wrong. My favorite discussions are when I argue my side, he argues his, and we both come to learn something that bring us to new positions that, while still wrong, are both slightly closer to the truth.

I know it sounds ridiculous to say, but I think I’m better able to evaluate a modern moral dilemma than the bible. But only slightly, and chances are I’m wrong too. I’m only sometimes stupid and have the advantage of 18 years (I was taking my time) of our modern, hugely flawed educational system. Say 50% of what we learn from parents, culture, and school is correct, up from about 20% 2004 years ago. My hope is that by the time my kids grow up, 51% of what they learn will be right, and they can argue semi-intelligently about all those problems I never dreamed existed. This, my friend, is progress.