Death Of Discussion

Yesterday, I stumbled across this flowchart designed to help someone determine if he or she is having a rational discussion or not, and more importantly when to cut one’s losses and walk away.  It made me wonder how many political and personal debates would be stopped immediately if this model was utilized.  I know that debate and discussion are not necessarily synonyms, but I don’t see how you can have a civil debate without a foundation of respectful and fact-based discussion.

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Last year 12 representatives from both the house and senate (six from each party) were mislabeled as a ”Super Committee” and tasked with finding ways to reduce the nation’s budget deficit.  Democrats had previously agreed to spending cuts in some of the programs that the party traditionally supported, but it was not enough to satisfy the deficit reduction requirements.  All six republican representatives had previously signed Grover Norquist’s ATR pledge never to raise taxes in any way for any reason, so the possibility for revenue increases was impossible (unless they put the good of the country over their pledge to a lobbyist, but c’mon).  That committee was doomed from the start. And because it was a stupid idea to begin with, maybe it should’ve been.  But if they had referenced the very first box in the above flowchart, they could’ve stopped pretending and gone home to their families for all of those weeks.  Failure was inevitable. 

What is the goal of these people that run for public office on the promise that they will never compromise on anything?  What is the goal of the voters that support that attitude?  Does any one party honesty think that they are eventually going to convince everyone in the country to agree with them?  Or do they think that people with opposing viewpoints are going to miraculously disappear?  To answer “Yes” to either of the last two questions is to admit delusion.  And admitting to simply not care at all about people of differing opinions is perhaps too honest.  Everybody knows that honesty will get you nowhere in politics.

We can’t split the country in half again.  Sorry, but we can’t and we’re not going to.  Besides all of the political reasons why we can’t, the current cultural differences are not conveniently separated along geographical lines.  And we’re not going to do it. We are going to have to get along.  We have to share this country, this world, and this planet.  How are we ever going to do that if we can’t even share a simple conversation?  What are we supposed to expect from representatives that can’t even share the same reality, much less a rational discussion?  The public gets different politicians spouting off contradictory facts on issues ranging from economic policy to scientific study.  I don’t understand.  Does “fact” even mean the same thing anymore? 

Hell, there hasn’t been a Planned Parenthood discussion in years that accurately portrays just how little of what they actually do is related to abortions.  A year ago, during a budget debate that could’ve potentially shut down the federal government, Jon Kyl of Arizona lied on the Senate floor that abortions were “well over 90%” of what Planned Parenthood does.  And when corrected that it was actually about 3%, do you think he consulted the second box of the flowchart, stopped and corrected himself?  Nope.  He just admitted that he wasn’t trying to make a factual statement in the first place. 

Is that better?  He lied.  He was corrected.  And he basically just said, “Yeah. I know, but it served my purposes.”  And this dedication to dishonest discourse in politics was rewarded with an appointment to the doomed Super Committee later that same year.  A fine American indeed.

On Sunday, some dipshit preacher in North Carolina suggested interning homosexuals in electrified fences until they eventually go extinct, as a solution to “the problem” of homosexuality.  You know, because “they kaint reep’rdoose.”  He suggested internment camps!  Are you serious?  What country is this?  What decade is it?  What century are we in?  Why not just burn the witches?  

I guess that medical-genius forgot that all of those “lesbians and queers,” he thinks Jesus wants him to hate so much, were actually born to the heterosexual parents that would still be free to birth more of the devil’s work.  I’d explain it to him, but I’m guessing that science isn’t his strong suit.

You can’t fix stupid. But I still have hope that we can outnumber it if we try.

His argument fails almost every part of the flow chart.  He’s just clueless and clearly anything but civil.  But my question is the same.  What is the motivation?  Does he really want to do that?  Does anyone really want to sequester every person that doesn’t share their views?  Where would that policy end?  What would society’s reaction be if someone said that they wanted to round up all Christians and put them into an electrically charged fenced-in concentration camp?  Just trying to keep unfounded religious beliefs out of school science classes is being called a “war on religion” by some.  This guy wants internment camps.  What should we call that?  

And before someone tries to say he was joking, remember that jokes are supposed to be funny, and that congregation wasn’t laughing.  They were agreeing.  It’s disgusting. 

After my previous blog spilled out as much more of an angry rant than I really intended any of these posts to become, I’m glad that this flowchart found its way to me as a reminder to try and stay civil. I would be lying if I claimed to have never violated these simple rules myself.  Anyone who has been kind enough to read some of my earlier blogs knows that I have strong opinions about certain issues and in different moments of weakness I have involved myself in conversations that could never possibly benefit me or anyone else.  For instance, I see absolutely no reason to limit the civil rights of homosexuals and I don’t know what could possibly change my mind about that.  So by the rules of this flowchart I really should never discuss it and maybe shouldn’t have written my previous blog (are blogs technically discussions?).  What can I say?  I’m flawed. 

But what I don’t do is lie to make a point.  Have I been wrong?  Oh yeah.  And I was quick to go to the second block and stop using that argument.  I don’t like being wrong.  But I hate liars, especially when they’re being paid to affect national politics.  And unless the people of Arizona are collectively a bunch of liars, they should’ve been outraged with their supposed representative Mr. Kyl.  I wish congresspersons and senators were sworn under oath to tell the truth before speaking on the floor.  Maybe they’d at least attempt to research their point and stick to actual facts. 

I’m also so assured of the possibility that I could be wrong, that I’m generally reluctant to speak in absolutions or to rule out another’s argument before allowing myself to fully understand it.  I appreciate civil conversation.  I wish I saw more of them.  I wish I was better at it sometimes.  But a quick glance into the comment section of any online news article is enough to make you want to store some canned goods and ammunition and just wait for the revolution.  The anonymity of online communication may be part of what is murdering civility of conversation in the real world, and it gets more unsettling every day. 

And finally, I can assure you that I do not want to intern, sequester, or incarcerate any non-violent law abiding person(s) simply because we don’t agree.  I just don’t.  Truth be told, I want many of the people already in jail to be freed.  I worry about how comfortable people are becoming with simply locking away or hiding people that they are not comfortable with. For example, there are way too many non-violent drug offenders being very expensively housed in jails and prisons right now and you never hear any of the budget hawks trying to reduce those numbers. 

But that’s a blog for another day. 

If you have to lie to make your point, you don’t have one.  If facts don’t support your argument, you’re probably on the wrong side of it.  And if making invisible those people you disapprove of is the only thing that can stop your hatred, then close your eyes.  It will be easier on everybody.  And it’s free.