I’ve been thinking about my last post in terms of how our political discourse – or any discourse for that matter – has devolved. If you want a lesson in how far we have fallen, take a look at the discussion sessions at the end of any of the Milton Friedman Free To Choose videos that I have posted up in the masthead menus. There are some diametrically opposed passionate disagreements that are debated (not angrily or dishonestly argued) in those and it is done so with civility and respect. Friedman and his opposition clearly disagreed with each other but they presented their positions supported by facts and let the positions stand on their own merits.
Most of the chattering classes have lost that capability. It’s not an art to understand how to debate; it is a learned skill that takes time, research and the accumulation of true knowledge, not just a mental catalog of factoids.
Black3Actual has put a lot of effort into rolling out posts on logic and effective argument tactics and strategies, all are well worth a read to understand how better to recognize weaknesses in our opponents position as well as finding ways to shore up your own.
I know that many people of greatly varied political and social ideologies are supremely frustrated (as am I) that we continue to argue in circles without ever achieving an endpoint. It is as if we are in a perpetual boxing match with Muhammad Ali and he is rocking the rope-a-dope. There is a reason for this. If we were all to become better at true argumentation, we would come to recognize one of the issues with contemporary debate is the hyperbolic rhetoric and the abuse of definition that completely negates the ability to get to a reasoned result.
As frustrating as it is, there are people, whose primary objective it is to prevent a reasoned resolution because it would yield an outcome contrary to their desires, so they lean toward obfuscation and hyperbole to prevent the application of logic, thereby continuing the pointless and meaningless arguments.
A perfect example of that in practice is the overuse of the terms “racism” and “hate groups”. As Professor William Jacobson points at Legal Insurrection, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has done just that:
As long-time readers surely know, I have examined the pernicious methodology of the Southern Poverty Law Center in moving from fighting Klan and neo-Nazi groups to fighting for the Democratic Party agenda against conservatives and the Tea Party.
In seeking to justify its hefty salaries, budget and fundraising, SPLC made a very dangerous leap to treating political opponents as “hate groups” and speech it didn’t like as “hate speech.”
So where is the danger in naming and shaming?
It is when it is done so much solely in order to shut down debate that the words become meaningless…but people that are so charged must fight this charges to preserve their reputations and to do so they must destroy the positions of the accuser. If these allegations of racism and being a hate group become so ubiquitous that they are essentially without meaning and can be proven false, they give true racists and hatemongers a sanctuary for which to operate – it is a “little boy who cried wolf” scenario.
Jacobson notes that the SPLC has done just that:
And so it came to pass, support for retaining the centuries old definition of marriage as one man, one woman, routinely now is labeled as “hate speech” on campuses and increasingly in the liberal-dominated media. Groups which support retaining the definition now are hate groups — with SPLC cited as the authority.
Chick-fil-A brought to the surface the hysteria. A company whose executives supported retaining the traditional definition of marriage was threatened by politicians with denial of business licenses, its products were called “hate chicken,” its employees were rudely confronted, and protesters outside its stores harassed and belittled those who disagreed. Now Chick-fil-A is being banned from campuses.
And in almost every instance, the justification is that support for retaining the traditional definition of marriage is hate speech, and often the SPLC is cited as the authority because it has designated groups like the Family Research Council as a hate group.
SPLC gave cover to those who use the “hate speech’ and “hate group” labels to shut down political and religious speech, and now it has spiraled out of control.
We scurry about like we are playing the child’s game of “hot potato” hoping that we can keep tossing it long enough for someone else to get burned. The fact is that it is simply a waste of time to debate an opponent whose only interest is in prolonging the argument, not resolving it – and that is unfortunately what most of our political discourse has become about – keeping the potato in the air just long enough to avoid the consequences.
We owe it to our society, to our attempts at governance and primarily to ourselves to stop the hyperbolic rhetoric and obfuscation and initiate true debate, call a spade a spade so to speak (not a racist term), and in the process, to ostracize those who are not willing to do the same.
To do less is to accept that the continuation of the perpetual rope-a-dope is inevitable.