If there’s a trend in the larger culture that dismays me it’s the dicing of discourse into niches of head-nodding agreement — “where never is heard a discouraging word.”
Or screaming, red-faced, poster-waving, tear-gassed rage from the OWS crowd or online insanity where anonymity, as The Guardian recently put it, has released the handbrake of civility.
This is nuts.
The whole point of living in a larger society is interacting with others, even (especially!) people whose economic and political values horrify us — whether that means we support a woman’s right to abortion, to name only one example, or remain fiercely opposed to it. Without the back-and-forth, give-and-take of argumentation and debate, what can we possibly learn about how others think?
Or alter their beliefs? Or they ours?
I don’t mean childish and self-indulgent name-calling, insults or ad hominem attacks, which, here in Washington has so eroded our respect for elected officials that Congress’ approval rating is now at an impossible low — of 9 percent.
I grew up in a family of table-thumpers. Raised voices were the norm. We live for a ferocious intellectual argument, and take this style so for granted that it takes fresh eyes and ears to point out how frightening and odd it can appear to others; at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding in September we were talking about…who knows what?
It sure wasn’t what some might have expected, an evening of romantic and loving memories, just the usual blablabla of firmly-held opinions being lobbed across the tablecloth like conversational grenades. It takes a tough hide and strong ego to withstand most of what passes for dinner-table conversation in my family of origin.
Which also leaves me really impatient with people who utterly refuse to hear — even acknowledge — the ideas of those they disagree with. I still subscribe to the New York Post, (right-wing) because even when I don’t like what they’re saying, they’re also speaking for many others who feel the same way.
The whole point of my work, this blog, my articles and my books, is to stimulate discussion.
Not just polite agreement.
The floor’s open!