John Daniel Davidson has a very sharp piece on “The Decline and Fall Of American Political Debate“. It hits epistemic closure, Ahmed Mohamed, social media, Camille Paglia, William F. Buckley, Jr. and more. What’s not to like about that? I may read and re-read this article for the sheer joy of it in days ahead.
Yes, I’m that much of a dork.
To be sure, American political debate is pretty awful these days, but I’m not so sure it was ever all that pristine–argument over independence from Britain, argument over the establishment of a new nation, and argument over slavery could quickly get heated and personal. That being said, there does seem to be a relatively new toxicity in our public square these days.
Davidson hints at this when he writes that many people will not engage an essay simply because of the publication whence the essay comes. We’ve come to believe, either consciously or no, that our political opponents have nothing to offer by way of ideas or praxis. Facebook memes, the one hundred forty characters of Twitter, the pics on Instagram, all allow us to demonize folk we don’t agree with in a manner that debases our conversations–and often our relationships.
I think this is true for largely three reasons. There may be others, but I think these are the biggies:
First, as a culture, I think we have lost a sense of humility. In order to actually have a dialogue, each person has to think that the other individual can plausibly bring something to the conservation. Each person has to accept the possibility that she is errant in her view and the other individual possesses something closer to the truth. This is not to be confused, mind you, with a lack of confidence in one’s ideas. Indeed, in the Christian Reformed tradition to which I belong, it is possible–in fact, preferable–to be stridently confident in what believes, while also admitting that we are all broken and have “fallen short of the glory of God”. Consequently, I, just to use myself as a perhaps poor example, am pretty convinced that what I believe is the truth. (Otherwise, why would I believe it?) But I’m also aware that I’m a woefully imperfect human being whose imperfections affect thought and behavior. So it makes perfect sense that I need others to help me identify and correct those blind spots. Others likewise need me to help identify and correct theirs. But that takes humility. And I’m not sure it’s in ample supply these days.