A Problem with a Possible Fix

Quarter of Arizona

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I remember something from my studies that has lately come into sharp relief with current political events and especially with the recent and terrible tragedy in Arizona this last weekend.

BTW, my deepest sympathies go out to the friends and families of the deceased…

I refer of course to the failure of public communication that has happened in this country, the very same that Professor Dave Zarefsky of Northwestern University pointed out in the first lecture of a course he teaches on argumentation.

Within the last few years, and I’ve noticed this going on myself in personal dealings, there has been an increasing trend toward associating and interacting mostly if not only with the like-minded, an unwillingness to engage in reasoned debate in and of considering differences of opinion to be insurmountable — effectively just giving up without even trying — and in thinking them to be weaknesses, a disintegration in the processes of compromise, constructive discussion of the issues, and any attempt at a healthy mutual understanding.

These last are things any well-functioning democracy surely needs to exist, a very different situation from our increasingly moribund political climate.

Lately, the situation has turned toward the radicalization, the polarization of, partisanship on both sides of the social continuum, with a general tendency to engage in toxic rhetoric, often with violent or military motifs, as though those speaking are literally going to war with a hated enemy in an apocalyptic final battle rather than having a disagreement.

That, and demonization, childish name-calling and finger-pointing, like among little kids at a playground during recess, only more potentially dangerous…

I notice this just as much among some liberal progressives as among the more outspoken Tea Party extremists.

And shame on both…

It seems as though people have forgotten how to talk to each other, preferring to shake their fists in anger and shout at each other as if that were somehow reasonable, justified, even acceptable, in a civilized society.

It is none of those things…

Like Zarefsky, I propose that there is at least a partial fix for this, a solution that has a fair chance at doing some good: wide dissemination of the techniques, assumptions, mindset and philosophical underpinnings of proper argumentation to as large an audience as can be managed with the medium employed.

Maybe this blog could achieve that to some degree…

I’m going to be implementing the things I’ve learned in my studies of argumentation, in the hopes that it will do some real good, that the information will be seen by and be of use to those who may have a need for it.

I’m not interested, for those who may ask, in indoctrinating anyone. But like with many of my logical fallacy and other skeptically-themed posts, I am concerned with assisting any who wish to find out rather than just opine with certitude.

…Something about leading a horse to water, but not…

Oh, you get the idea. Incisions, incisions, said the surgeon. I’m going to enjoy this.

2 thoughts on “A Problem with a Possible Fix

  1. I agree with everything you said here — except for this one point.

    > I notice this just as much among some liberal progressives as among the more outspoken Tea Party extremists.

    I think you’re being too evenhanded. There is a big difference between 1) liberals calling for war crime trials for Bush and Cheney for horrendous acts they actually committed and 2) conservatives calling for the impeachment of Obama because they hallucinate he is a programmed Soviet agent setting up death panels, a foreign-born usurper determined to destroy America through economic means, a power-mad Chicago gangster ordering murders of opponents, or an Illuminati pawn about to declare martial law and order mass killings at any moment.

    There are many convergant factors that have made extreme partisanship more prominent and acceptable — and profitable — but I think the primary cause is that Fox News has taken the fact-free methods and stream-of-consciousness reasoning style of conspiracy theory and put them squarely in the mainstream. But it wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a vast market for this regressive know-nothingness. And it wouldn’t have happened if the spineless mainstream media had consistently fact-checked Fox News.

    That said, I don’t think the Arizona shooter was a product of this poisoned environment. He seems to be a very disturbed person with no consistent ideology. But the current discussion is need. After three years of vile rhetoric, can you image what will be said during the 2012 presidential campaign? And if Obama is somehow ahead in the polls, does anyone really think he will be safe from the lock-and-load extremists?

    The public debate was to grow up. Words have consequences.


    • The point I mentioned about liberal progressives has to do with some of the commentary I’ve seen on Twitter, when some would accuse Obama of ‘caving in’ to republicans by being willing to compromise on certain issues, this not coming from the more restrained progressives (those that you mentioned calling for war crime trials, whom I agree with…), but those who seem to demand perfection from Obama as some sort of ‘messiah’ and spout invective when they don’t get it. They are the ones I view as extremist, or at least, excessively demanding.


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