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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is Civil Discourse Possible?

During this political season, with one week until the election of the next president of the United States, I've had several friends drop off of Facebook altogether. Their stated reason is that the political rancor disgusts them and they don't want to be a part of it.

I've taken the opposite tack. My goal has been to increase my posts about political topics leading up to the election. But, I hope, I'm not adding to the rancor that is so distasteful. I hope I'm providing a place where people can discuss these important topics without having to resort to name-calling, fighting and belittling.

Some people don't think it's possible to have civil conversations anymore. I disagree (respectfully) and I hope to provide a way for people to interact meaningfully.

In my mind, the root cause of uncivil discourse is the assumption that those who disagree are somehow less-than. Ann Coulter (in)famously tweeted about the president during the final debate. She made the assumption that Mr. Obama is mentally disabled (and she's been publicly reprimanded for it). The difference between Ann Coulter and every other pundit that speaks for either the Left or Right is that Coulter stated bluntly what they all assume: those with opposing viewpoints must be mentally disabled.

The majority of political and religious discourse in the United States has been reduced to that base assumption, and the result is a lack of any civility. Why should you be civil to a mental deficient? Why should you tolerate the views of someone who's stupid? Why should you waste your time listening to someone who's a "retard" (to use Coulter's word)?

The obvious logic is that you shouldn't.

So, we end up labeling people with terms intended to rob them of a voice. They are wackos, nutjobs, Republitards, Demoquacks, the 47%, Romnesiacs, and retards. We label and dismiss.

By labeling people as deficient we dehumanize them. When they are less than human, we no longer have to respect them. If we no longer have to respect them, then we don't have to listen to what they say, we don't have to consider their thoughts, and we don't need to respect their rights.

You know we've done this before. We did it to women. We did it to minorities. We did it to non-land-owners. But we learned to listen to those groups, we gave them a voice in our government and we're better for it. We put into practice the ideals of democracy which assumes that every voice is valuable, even when they disagree.

The difference now is that we're not subjugating a minority with our dehumanizing labels. We're dismissing half of our country. The assumption that half of the people in the country are mentally deficient carries with it the assumption that those people are not worthy of the right to vote.

If you assume that civil discourse is impossible, you also assume that democracy is not possible. For it's in democracy that we celebrate different voices, we value them and benefit from them. In a democracy we assume that we're better for disagreeing. We assume that we are surrounded by mentally capable people with valuable opinions. We assume that working through the issues with debate, dialog and respect will make us all better.

Civil discourse is possible between capable, respectful, thoughtful people. I think that's you, even if you disagree with me.

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