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Monday, July 25, 2005

Civil Discourse

Our polarized society seems to be inclined to shout at each other, not listen to the arguments at all (why should we let little things like facts get in the way of propaganda and talking points anyway?), and engage in vicious ad hominem attacks. I think a lot of this has to do with the Limbaughs and Honsbergers out there, taking away the civil discourse and serious policy discussions. But even among some people I talk with among DFAers and Young Dems can't get past dogmatic positions, to reason.

10 years ago I used to listen to G. Gordon Liddy. My job involved a lot of driving during the day, and he was on the radio. I maybe agreed with 25% of what he had to say, but I always respected him as a radio host, for he would have guests on his show that he disagreed with (sometimes even friends -- He and Timothy Leary used to debate on the college talk circuit, and they grew to have a friendship), and callers that disagreed with him, he would not be abusive to, or belittle them, but try to argue (not in the angry sense of the word) with them, and eventually, it would come to him saying "you and I will have to agree to disagree."

One of the reasons to read a good cross section of ideas out there is to see different levels of discourse. I like to go into comments sections especially and see what's going on. On some sites, there are plenty of trolls out there, on others it's almost all "you're right on," but occasionally you can find sites that actually have good discussions and debates in their comments. Some of the best of these are The Knappster, The Political Forecast, Freedom Democrats, and 2 Political Junkies.

Our challenge -- ignore the trolls and the baiting, the ad hominem attacks and the reductio ad absurdum arguments, try to avoid the "right on" comments, and raise the level of discourse.

It's very easy in cyberspace, due to its relative anonymous nature, to engage in flame wars. Having got my own start with LISTSERV and usenet groups around 1990, I've seen it for along time. But it can be done, one person at a time.