Every time I bother to catch the news, my soul is disturbed. People just don’t discuss anymore. They scream and shout and protest. Talking heads talk over each other. No one, it seems, is interested in a true debate, an exchange of varied ideas. ‘Debate’ now means verbal boxing, scoring points with ones own audience in hopes of energizing them, rather than any attempt at winning over the other side through a rational presentation of the facts.
We are in a sad state of affairs. Among the many reasons, let me just present three as I see them: Polarization, Emotion Over Reason, and an Elevation of ‘Me’ Over ‘Us’
I suppose that this is a by-product of our unique system of government, a two party system. It has its pluses as well as its minuses. Where other systems find a center through the formation of coalitions gathered from a variety of minority parties, we seem to struggle to find a center. We seem to constantly swing between the Scylla of conservatism and the Charybdis of progressivism – Republicans versus Democrats. Just a quick glance over our recent history is enough to tell the tale: 1977-Carter; 1981-Reagan/Bush, Sr.; 1993-Clinton; 2001-Bush, Jr.; 2009-Obama; 2017-Trump. And so the pendulum swings. All of this seems to pit ‘us’ against ‘them’ every election cycle. Combined with point number two, it is nothing less than toxic.
Emotion Over Reason
This point was expertly discussed by Mike Rowe in a recent Facebook post . His primary point being:
“Our country is filled with people who believe their feelings are more persuasive than their arguments. I don’t know if this is a symptom of arrogance, impatience, laziness, cowardice, or all of the above, but there’s no denying it – millions of Americans are no longer interested in persuasion – they are interested only in telling the world how they feel, and then using those feelings to justify their actions.”
Simply put, we are valuing our emotions over our reason. How I feel is far more important than the facts. When something doesn’t go my way, I’m offended, hurt, angry. And, through the expediency of social media, I can tell the world about my righteous indignation. And I expect you to listen to me and sympathize. If you don’t, you become the problem. I totally disregard any reasonable argument. It’s all about how I feel. As long as my emotions lead over my reason, there will never be a true debate. We see this all the time: health care, police violence, climate change.
‘Me’ Over ‘Us’
Along with the above, we seem to have forgotten the ‘united’ in the United States. The aptly named Greatest Generation understood the term ‘united’. They knew that, like Benjamin Franklin said over two centuries before, we all hang together or we will all hang separately. Let us pray that we never find ourselves in a situation like 1941.
This tendency spills into all areas of our lives. The millennial generation is delaying marriage longer than the generations before it. One reason is surely the idea of ‘me’ over ‘us’. Churches are dieing at an alarming number. One reason must be that, at the very minimum, church must make me ‘feel good’. If it doesn’t, I don’t have the time. A reasonable faith no longer has a place in the public mind.
I wish I had a solution. There is work that needs to be done in all areas – education, politics, religion. When we begin to address the methods of our debate, maybe we can begin to really debate the issues and make significant progress. Thoughts?