Saturday, April 6, 2013

Breakfast With Joe

I have a friend who is immensely interested in politics. He's on news haitus as a matter of mental hygiene. I've complained of the class of induhvidual who think that "shut up" is viable political rhetoric. And of the deliberately obtuse activist who misconstrues to misinform 3rd parties watching the exchange. But today my friend, Joe, reminded me of a more toxic pattern of contemporary rhetoric.

Joe has a friend who is a parasite whose politics are a reflection of his parasitism. (You can decide for yourself whether s/he's a corporate welfare beneficiary or not.) At breakfast this morning Joe disclosed that his friend told him s/he likes engaging in political rhetoric with the sole purpose of creating red-faced spitting rage. I suggested Joe upgrade his friends.

With this in mind I had this twitter exchange wherein my interlocutor said, "the art of argument seems to be lost these days, usually ends in insults flying, does web make it too impersonal?". This question reminded me of my breakfast conversation, because I believe there are powerful economic forces mitigating against rational argument and for insults & ad hominem attacks.

To see what I mean, fix in your mind a clear mental picture of your typical cable news show discussing the issues of the day. All I notice are paid consultants shouting "bumper sticker  slogans" at other paid consultants and trying to grab the microphone from the others. The most recent innovation in cable news has been for the moderators to abandon any pretense of fairness and get in on the shouting themselves.

It would be a lot smarter of you to turn off your television and pick up one of Plato's Dialogs. They are just collections of guys talking to each other. So, you can read these guy's bull-session transcripts without minoring in Philosophy. In fact, it's better if you aren't into philosophy, because the point I'm making is their cordiality. In the Dialogs, each of the guys talking to Socrates is a representative of a distinct partisan camp.Yet nobody resorts to name-calling, personal insults, or any of the other ugly behaviors that characterize contemporary political discourse such as I've described elsewhere.

You might think that I'm about to advocate Poling's Theory of Devolution here to explain what happened between Plato's day and today, but instead I have a simple Marxist observation, "Conflict sells newspapers."

Sure, the guys on the cable news shows might attract intelligent and articulate members of the distinct partisan camps in contemporary society. But they'll just talk using big words in long sentences that induhviduals will have to think about to understand. Cable news shows are not in the business of informing or educating the public about issues, they are in the business of selling advertising. They can charge more for Poly-Grip if they can attract the middle and bottom of the bell curve who just care to see the fight. And the true believers who can't imagine the truth is more nuanced than a bumper sticker slogan.

Unless you don't know which brand of denture adhesives to buy, I suggest you shy clear of cable news shows. If you live in the shallow end of the gene pool, then find some blogs that pander to your current political polarity and you can cocoon without being challenged to think.

Instead you might pick up a copy of Plato's Dialogs and read it through enough times to learn how to discuss issues in a reasoned and civil fashion. And when you finish, let's chat like humans about what you know and what you're interested in learning about.

1 comment:

  1. Rational argument requires thought. Thought requires thinking. Thinking necessitates time and mental work. These are two disciplines that most modern folk disdain. Therefore, shouting and insults save valuable time and effort. It is the refuge of the abbreviated Twitter generation.


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