Robert Reich has a public post on Facebook that says essentially the same thing as the joint statement that Richard Dawkins and I signed. It says we are going to disagree, that’s inevitable, so we have to do it in a reasonable way.
This is the summer of our discontent. Almost everyone I know is angry — with politics, with government, with the media, with their work, with their employer, with people who hold different views. Why? Not since the 1930s have so many Americans been on a downward escalator economically and faced so much financial insecurity. That we’re supposed to be in an economic recovery makes it all the worse. I think this the root of our anger, and it has a lot to do with fear. I sense it in the way the anger is expressed — with bitterness and resentment, cynicism, often in ad hominem attacks and personal insults. Yet if we’re to improve the situation we’ve got to turn the anger in a constructive direction, work hard to change things, disagree respectfully, and use argument instead of invective. Is the widespread discontent causing us to forget how much we depend on common sense and decency?
It’s hard to do. I’m no genius at it, that’s for damn sure. But, precisely because we’re not robots or totally rational entities or able to decouple ourselves from our emotions, we have to make the effort not to pour gasoline on every fire we see.
Katherine Woo says
We have what 10% or more real unemployment, which is a national emergency in my opinion. We needed a jobs bill in the 2008 stimulus to provide tax and trade incentives to encourage maximum employment. We also need to discourage outsourcing, chronic overtime, and other labor practices that reduce the number of jobs with exist. I know it will be unpopular here given the sentimentality surrounding the issue, but discouraging immigration in times of high unemployment is a fundamental part of sound labor policy as well. No matter how you spin it, citizens have a moral right to have first access to the pool of jobs at any given point. The entire foundation of popular governments is to preferentially benefit their citizens. Of course a lot of leftwing politics is seeped in internationalist worldviews that are frankly just utopian indulgences at this point in human history, so that fact sort of gets glossed over.
Lets unpack this.
Reasonable. I get that we want to be willing to engage one another on our respective reasons, be heard and understood independent of any disagreement. But we will be using emotion to be effective when disagreement remains despite understanding which is functional use of the logic of emotions in communication and rhetoric. Not all of that is what would normally be called “reasonable”, even if there is reason for doing so.
The things that are being referred to as “robotic” are not the whole people themselves, but how we individually create system one responses to what we encounter when engaging in sociopolitical conflict in terms of both assessment of what we see and how we react to it. While logical fallacies are robotic responses, so too are totally correct snappy quotable responses to fallacies. What matters is being able to take an inventory of your ability to assess what you see and respond to it in order to make sure that you are not only effective but consistent with reality as much as possible. Think of it as logical and empathetic preening.
A necessary filter to add to this is “awareness of effectiveness independent of reality”. This is where Dawkins comes into play where he might be right about a pathetic logical point, but because of conflicts in emotional logic his effectiveness is limited with respect to his choice of means of getting attention (Full disclosure: I’m engaged in a discussion about this issue with respect to PZs recent post. It’s no Dear Muslima but the angle having to do with depression and suicide is worth reconsidering with others). Changing society in any way will always bump up against someone’s sensitivities and a discussion of relevant, reasonable, and effective sensitivities to tweak is worth having. The best choices will for example only tweak the sensitivities of people bothered by seeing more news coverage that makes whites feel uncomfortable for how we are treating minorities as a group (and the way the specific manifestations of that treatment creates de facto racist institutions).
Is it reasonable to engage in use of anger and other intense emotion (positive and negative emotion) for rhetorical purposes? If not how do we effectively get attention where it is needed? We need real-world functional examples, not things that take the same categories as the excuses that just keep the problems hidden. Sometimes an F-bomb ridden rant is appropriate, especially if you have specific circumstances in which one is willing to do such and you do make active efforts to ensure that the rhetoric does reflect reality. Judging people on their ability to do this well is a totally valid thing and we need to discuss how we do this.
One person’s insult is another persons accurate descriptor. When I follow characterizations of persons and situations I hear about to sources I have to say that the two sides of the rift are not equal in accuracy at all and that is part of how I have chosen the side of the rift that I have. Mythologizing is a religious characteristic that I’m somewhat surprised to see take the form that it has in this schism.
At some point lack of empathy, reason, and other should cause a loss of respect. Discussions of what those times look like should occur.
And last but not least “common sense” and “decency” are extremely subjective. If there is a disagreement that is causing conflict clearly common sense does not exist because we are trying to agree on what that is. In this case ironically because we are also disagreeing on what is decent.
Ophelia – good post. And yes, to paraphrase Bowie, it’s best not to try to put out a fire with gasoline.