Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the absence of political discourse in modern America

Generally speaking, when I read political blogs--especially the comments--I don't expect to find dialogue between people who disagree with each other.

On liberal blogs, liberals spend a lot of time agreeing with each other and blasting conservatives with different opinions, usually with rhetoric about how they have destroyed America with their ideology.

On conservative blogs, conservatives spend a lot of time agreeing with each other and blasting liberals with different opinions, usually with rhetoric about how they intend to destroy America with their ideology.

On libertarian blogs, libertarians spend a lot of time calling each other names and disagreeing over how many anarcho-capitalists can dance on the head of a pin, usually employing obscure and completely counter-factual understandings about American history and economics. [They generally know that liberals and conservatives will destroy America through Statism, but it's more fun to call each other names than to do anything about it.]

On thoughtful blogs (here I'm visualizing Waldo, or The Mourning Constitution, or The Girl in Short Shorts, or Coyote, or Classically Liberal) you get interesting essays that are not just well-written but also contain original content, but very few comments. Either the bloggers are too intimidating, or....

We've lost the ability for meaningful political discourse.

Political conversation between people with different ideological perspectives has devolved into one of two types of recursive exercises:

1) An old improvisational acting warm-up technique in which two players talk non-stop about the same subject, but not to each other. They are allowed once every two minutes or so to pick out a word or phrase from the other actor to spiral off of, but they may not make any statements directly responsive to each other....

2) Gladiatorial combat in which the object is not to find common ground or even to convince your conversational partner that s/he is wrong, but rather to bloody that person for the entertainment of anybody else watching.

The evolution of the concept of talking points has further eroded any possible advancement of a political conversation.....

There are historians who do not believe that real, constructive political discourse has ever existed in this country--that what we have seen over the past two decades represents the norm rather than the exception. They think that American politics has always been a more-or-less winner-take-all, spoils-and-spoilsmen exercise, that true compromise has been conspicuous by its absence....

I can't think of anything really profound that will suddenly get people of very different ideological views working together constructively, but I do have one modest proposal: occasionally, while differing strongly over policies [with occasionally here meaning at least once or twice a year to start] with other people we could do one of the following just to see how it feels:

1) Acknowledge that we're talking to a person--another American citizen, most likely--who is not the stereotypical representative of a given political position, but a person who has good days and bad days, and who farts and wants their kids to do well in sports, and who is worried about what they're going to do when their parents get old and start to regress....

2) Admit it when somebody makes a good point that we haven't thought about, even if it weakens our argument and forces us to admit that maybe--just f**king maybe--our own ideological perspective doesn't have all the answers. Even maybe compliment somebody when their arguments--at least in a tactical sense--are better than yours.

3) Object to policies and plans rather than personalities. This is a tough one, but it has the sometime effect of restoring rationality to conversations about health care or foreign policy.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Unfettered idealism.

We can't sit down and work out our differences logically. We're Americans.


AnonymousOpinion said...

You know, I don't think that the real intent of either side of the aisle is different in the least.

Both want what's best for people - honestly both believe in trickle down politics (although not that by name) - the left believes that trickle comes from the hand of the government, the right believe it comes from allowing people to keep and spend the fruits of their own labor as they see fit.

What irks me is the left's idea that it is they who know what's best for people. The government can make you better, or make a better society. The logical end of applying either philosophy is comforting to one and horrific to the other.

I'm of the mind that intentions don't count for much. If a doctor intends to cure me of a disease by amputating a leg, and in practice takes the wrong one off, he doesn't get any credit for his best intentions.

Bowly said...

I, personally, have certainly lost the ability for meaningful political discourse, much as I find it difficult to communicate with cannibals who are trying to devour me.