The Problem With Political Discourse

The more I watch debates unfold, listen to various pundits, and try to understand as many viewpoints as I can about the myriad of significant issues in politics these days, the more I’ve come to realize that regardless of the issues being discussed there is a real lack of debate of any value.

It doesn’t matter really what the issue is. All it takes is the cheerleaders at every pole of the issue to start pumping out rhetoric and all they have to do is find a catch that gets people to listen. Facts are completely optional.

I don’t know how many times, for example, I’ve heard the right wing in the US talk about healthcare reform being “rammed down people’s throats”. A bill being passed by the elected legislatures isn’t being “rammed”. It’s how a republic works. The US is not a direct democracy. The only country in the world remotely like one is Switzerland, and it’s somewhere that Tenthers/states’ rights advocates might find interesting to look at. I’m not going to write a dissertation on the Swiss confederal system of government but it is fascinating – virtually everything is done at cantonal level and referenda are used heavily.

I’d like to say there is a comparable example on the left side of the spectrum but there doesn’t seem to be. They have a different tactic it seems like – calling out individuals with claims (often non sequitur) that at least draw the reader/listener into the story. They tend not to trade in the fear or moral panic angles as much as they prefer to appeal to a sense of moral outrage or shared values. It works pretty well for them.

The sad reality of the modern world is that we are frequently reduced to getting our news in soundbites often easily manipulated to suit the message desired by the sender of the message. We don’t spend the time to look into veracity or depth of issues. Look at Twitter. Throw 140 characters up and unless it’s patently clear bullshit it may well be retweeted as fact. Once it’s in first-degree retweeting and gets momentum the false information gets around rapidly. With few questioning what they read it’s obvious the ramifications.

Consider, for example, that a few weeks ago a rumour started about the death of Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot. No one really questioned the source and it went out through at least one major Canadian media outlet in no time. There was no truth to it, but plenty of people got snared by the story.

There are people who make claims relying on this unwillingness to dig deeper and it verges on the ridiculous. I actually had a guy from somewhere in the US I was discussing healthcare reform with keep claiming things were in the bill and telling me to read it. When I doubted that he himself had read it he went curiously quiet. The same applies to many issues.

I have to say that while I don’t often agree with the left they seem to come to the table armed with facts, data, references. And if they get called out they will go and get the proof. The right tend to run when outed.

I find it disappointing that this is what discourse has degenerated into – because we should be able to do better. The vast amount of information at our fingertips – such as on the iPhone on which I am composing this – should enrich discussion and debate not erode it, but it has.

What seems worse is that there are people who actually seem to revel in their ignorance. Someone actually told me something to the effect of “only lefties read newspapers”. This was a person who learned her history from the Bible and gets her news from FauxNoise and WingNutDaily. That’s pathetic. Now, this case may be an outlier. This is the same person who says she thinks I’m a victim of demonic possession, after all.

Where I’m going with this is simply to state that I miss when I was in university and surrounded constantly by people with varied political ideologies but united by a passion for discussing and debating them at length with respect. I don’t think any one ideology has all the answers and therefore we all have something to gain from trying to see all side.

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