Whatever Happened to Polite Discourse about Ideas?

Regardless of where you stand on recent political events, I think you would be hard-pressed to argue today that tolerance for conflicting ideas and freedom of speech is being observed. The news of late has been a carnival of misinformation, name-calling, slander and hatred, the likes of which I have seldom seen, with warring sides laying claim to the “real” truth and leveling horrific accusations at one another. Reading and listening to the news has become akin to voluntarily drinking poison – the venom and vitriol are acidic; and bitterness and rage are contagious. I do not choose to surround myself with corrosive influences in my personal life, but they are finding their way in through my desire to follow current events. I am in a toxic relationship with the news.

The climate is not improving in the wake of the recent presidential election. It is getting worse. We are a nation at war with itself, and a house divided cannot stand. This concerns me deeply. Rather than polite discourse about ideas, we have a kind of raving domestic violence case. We are shrieking incoherent condemnations in a pitched battle for total control, aiming for complete annihilation of our opponents. When emotions run this high, we lose sight of real issues. At the end of the day, we are all in this American thing together, and we have more in common than we are letting on. We are focused on our differences, and inventing boogeymen. Who exactly is attacking race, religion, and gender? Who is promoting the exclusion of anyone from constitutional protection, or proposing that anyone cannot be part of this nation based on the above, should they pursue it legally? I could argue convincingly that men, and especially fathers, have been stripped of their reproductive rights and the right to pursue happiness by corrupt government bodies and family court systems – who out there cares about that, when we can decry male privilege? Maybe putting an end to toxic masculinity is the higher priority. When did feminists decide to take up defense of Islam and Sharia Law, systems that actually do oppress women and deny their fundamental rights?

Dogma. It is in part why I abandoned my religious upbringing. When your arguments don’t make sense anymore, and are not grounded in reason, but are driven by a desire to advance your worldview and see your ideas implemented at any cost, then truth becomes subjective. I have seen journalists and talking heads using the term “post-truth” to describe the condition of our present discourse, implying that we’re not working with facts anymore; we’re just saying whatever we want and calling it truth. They are right, to a degree. Where they err is in the assertion that the political right is the faction creating this post-truth culture. It is everyone. Liberals are outraged when they claim that conservatives don’t pay any attention to data, and then they present disingenuous interpretation of data to serve their cause. Take the gender wage gap myth. The only way to argue that there is a gender wage gap is by taking the mean salary of all employed American males, and comparing it to the mean salary of all employed American females, regardless of title and position. The mean female salary comes out lower.  But when one accounts for all relevant variables, by taking a look at mean salaries between males and females working the exact same jobs, the gap is reduced nearly to the vanishing point. A reporter for the Huffington Post, a left-leaning news outlet, revealed this in an article entitled “Wage Gap Myth Exposed – by Feminists” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-hoff-sommers/wage-gap_b_2073804.html). And yet, we still hear the wage gap myth coming out of government talking heads and feminists everywhere. If you point out the facts, and you happen to be male, you are labeled a misogynist, a woman-hater. God help you if you are also white.

We are witnessing a war on truth, a siege on ideas. Somehow we have lost our ability to discuss our differences politely – that, or wherever it happens, it’s not getting attention. Free speech is under attack. Race and gender baiting are shamelessly leveraged to arrest the discussion of actual issues. I’m not saying our country doesn’t have any issues to deal with in these areas, but for everyone’s sake, we must stop generating hysterical national crises that do not exist.  I would like to turn on the television one day and hear a real debate, where meaningful data is evaluated rationally, and minds change in the undeniable light of the facts. Where hatred and incoherent rhetoric are no longer mainstream. But I do not believe that goal can be achieved by the silencing of dissenting voices in order to create a safe-space utopia where nobody is ever offended. We will always be passionate, emotional, conflicted human beings. We will always think and say dumb and hurtful things. That is our right, and that right is protected by the first amendment.

America, please… can we just talk?