Greetings SUFA. I have a theory that I would like to present regarding political discourse in America and the bitter divide that exists between so many Americans and further between Americans and the politicians that are supposed to represent them. I made the following claim some time back to Charlie Stella: “I believe the primary reason that people seeking some sort of social justice like you have thus far failed in your quest, is that you continue to use irrational logic and emotional appeal in your claims, while calling us names and treating us like we are stupid for having a different belief.” I am going to attempt to expand on that statement and make my case regarding this theory. I look forward to the thoughts any of you may add.
One of the great things about small children is that they lack filters. They will say exactly what they think and act exactly how they feel. As such they are a great window into the human patterns. If a young person wants something they scream to get it. If you make them mad, they will stubbornly oppose you on everything regardless of facts or reason. We have all witnessed this in children, and we tend to chalk it up to immaturity. But I think this is incorrect. I believe that the stubbornness of children is human nature, not immaturity. And while many believe that we grow out of this phase eventually, I believe that it is still there, buried inside us as adults.
As a result of this, we react in much the same way as children when discussing issues that are important to us. The only difference is that as adults, we are more educated and better at rationalizing our reactions. We don’t clap our hands over our ears and refuse to listen (well most of us don’t anyway), but we are every bit as stubborn and every bit as unreasonable under the right circumstances. Further we hold that grudge over the offending issue for much longer. Go back and watch small children. They don’t resolve their issues at all, because rational discussion is impossible for them. The only difference is the grudge doesn’t last as long. They will move on to building a new fort and forget the argument. We adults won’t take that step.
Now apply this to today’s political discourse. In doing so you will see what I believe is the great downfall of American politics. Those presenting the arguments have resorted to doing so in the most baseless way possible. Gross exaggerations, spastic generalizations, mean spirited accusations, and pure emotional appeal have become the tactic of the day. One need look no further than the very men and women chosen to represent us and the very medium meant to inform us to see the glaring proof of these tactics:
- GOP claims that what Democrats want is a Soviet style of communism
- Democrat claims that Republicans don’t care about anyone but the elite rich, coupled with their narrative painting all upper class members as immoral monopoly men intent on stealing from the poor.
- The portrayal of laws requiring proper ID to vote as intentional attempts to disenfranchise poor voters
- The portrayal of laws requiring proof of citizenship as equal to the Nazi’s asking for your papers
- The overwhelming (and this one is so big it almost deserves its own article for inclusion) GOP tactic of fostering fear of terrorism to justify gross injustices such as the Patriot Act
- The entire global warming debate and the claims of doomsday approaching despite history showing otherwise
- GOP claims of “defending marriage” that include the idea that allowing to same sex people who are in love to marry will lead to bestiality or that it somehow lowers the status of traditional marriages (a bar which has already been set pretty damn low in my opinion)
- Any political topic regarding children from either side
These are just a few of the wide range of examples. We all know that I could offer a list that went on for days and that the list would have tons of examples from both political parties and the media.
And what makes matters worse is that neither side bothers to hide the fact that they are well aware that while emotional appeal is a dirty tactic in regular debate, it is a winning strategy to win the debate in political discourse. Take for example this opening to an article on one the left’s largest sites:
When it comes to the structure of arguments, getting someone to accept your claims simply because they trigger emotions such as anger and outrage is a fallacious approach to debate. In politics though, appealing to emotion is a very critical component of a successful campaign. And it’s something that, after all of these years, still hasn’t sunk in with the Democratic Party as a consistently winning strategy.
Let us look past the ridiculous idea that Democrats haven’t embraced emotional appeal as a winning strategy while the GOP has (when in reality both have in different ways). It seems, the majority of the time, it is the ONLY strategy employed by either party in any large debate topic.
The point is this: For most people (and by most people I do not mean politicians and MSM folks), when they enter a true discussion on an issue, they do so with the intent of discussing it rationally and relying on the facts and talking about the true potential consequences of the actions in question. But this quickly devolves into a hate filled diatribe that alienates the two sides from one another.
This is because none of us like to be thought of as stupid. Allow me to offer an example or two of this happening to me.
The 1% debate: I get it, there are some bad rich people out there. I also get that the bad rich people have far too much influence in Washington DC. But the second that you ignore that the “evil rich” pay the lion’s share of taxes or that you insinuate to me that we should pass laws to punish all wealthy people, with zero regard to how hard many of them worked to get there and how many of them did so without some mythical advantage or immoral actions, you have stated to me that you think that I am so dumb that I cannot see the flaws in your argument. I now become less inclined to even discuss the topic with you. Further, since I can see that you are irrational and unable to see these other things that I see, I will generally oppose all your solutions immediately, because I deem you unable to do so without emotion.
The Gay Marriage debate: I get it, you don’t think its natural for same sex couples to marry. You think that the only reason for marriage is to propagate the species, therefore a union that cannot result in birth is obviously against the laws of nature and forbidden. But when you make this argument, you falsely claim that this is the purpose of marriage. We don’t need marriage to have kids, that much is certainly clear. Marriage is a statement of dedication and love to another person that matters to us. Sex with the potential for children has nothing to do with it, unless of course you believe that people who are sterile also should not be allowed to enter into the “sacred union.” Perhaps the church should outlaw hysterectomies and vasectomies, the way they have contraception, as well? After all, they don’t occur in nature. Further, the government is firmly entrenched in the “sanctity of marriage,” through special recognition and benefits. For those screaming about the separation of church and state being so important, outlawing gay marriage because it violates the christian faith is the most ridiculous removal of a barrier between church and state I have seen. Ignoring all this when it is so clear means that you either think that I am stupid or that you refuse rational discourse. Either one makes me not want to further discuss it with you.
Illegal Immigration Debate: I get it, you think that it is wrong to deny those who are here any of the government goodies that the rest of us get. But the second that you ignore that you scream for removal of his rights because George Zimmerman broke the law (or didn’t, I don’t want to start that up again) while ignoring that they broke the law entering our country without the proper procedure, you kind of bury yourself. Further, if you disagree with the immigration policy, muster up the support to change the law, but don’t simply decide that this law should be ignored while so many others should be followed to the letter. You either believe that the rule of law is the proper way to keep a civil society or you don’t. You can’t pick and choose. That you ignore these things makes me believe that you think I am stupid, despite all that you are ignoring. I will tend to hold onto that grudge, cause we don’t have the ability to find some sheets and start a new fort.
Climate Change: Perhaps the biggest one of all for me. It certainly makes me think that you assume I am really, really stupid when you state that a two degree rise will destroy us all when history shows that it has been much warner than that in the past. It certainly makes me feel that way again when you ignore the fact that the “science” we are supposed to believe is found to be fraudulent in some cases and mistaken in others. When you propose trillions of dollars in spending to combat something that we don’t have any evidence what-so-ever that we can affect, while simultaneously screaming that we need to spend trillions taking care of the “99%” and fighting so many attempts to spend on things that we obviously CAN impact, It appears irrational to me. In fact, that you believe I will change my mind in spite of the sheer multitude of flaws in nearly every aspect of man made climate change “proof” is certainly a statement of what you think of my critical thinking ability.
Health Care: Another of the big ones for me. I get it, you believe every person should have the ability to receive health care no matter their economic status. You will find that a great many people who oppose the recent health care legislation attempts agree that it is a good goal to have. However, when you blatantly ignore all the aspects of the situation that are found that are negative, and when you further ridicule me as though I am stupid for thinking that a panel that determines what care will or won’t be made available to me is an awful lot like a “death panel,” it gets me angry. If there is any topic over the last two years that has brought out our inner child on both sides, it is this one. Those on the left need to stop acting as though government is a benevolent group of people who would never put a law in place that do bad things in the name of the greater good. Those on the right need to stop acting as though there aren’t rational ways for us to implement something that ensures everyone can receive basic care. There will be more on this topic coming as Buck has provided to me his thoughts on a single payer system and I will be answering his thoughts and we will together be publishing an article discussing the issue…
But I think you get the point. I think that we are all flawed in certain parts of our beliefs. But I will address this from my personal experiences here at SUFA. I have tried really hard over the last three years to present my beliefs, for public consumption no less, so that they can be debated and argued, and I can make changes to what I believe when a logical point is made. Despite the fact that I have altered my stance on some important topics over that time, there are still several here that believe I am nothing but an ideologue who toes either the GOP line or the Black Flag line, depending on the day and topic. In my opinion, that means that you think that I am stupid, because to be an ideologue and ignore the arguments on either side out of hand is just that…. stupid.
It is frustrating to be thought stupid when I know, even if no one on SUFA agrees, that I am a pretty smart guy who tries to look at all sides of every issue. I have said this before, and it bears repeating: I don’t write my thoughts on SUFA to change everyone who reads them to believing what I believe. On the contrary, I have done so for the past three years to challenge what I believe, have it attacked and debated, so that I am able to increase the knowledge I have and make better decisions about what I believe. To that end, I have encountered two distinctly different reactions:
There are those who generally agree with a lot of my thoughts. Those folks, JAC is a good example, treat me with respect despite often disagreeing with me. As a result they present me with rational argument, devoid of name calling or emotional attacks. And because of that reaction, I have learned a lot and they have managed to change my opinion on some subjects and I have been able to do the same with some of their opinions.
There are those who generally don’t agree with a lot of my thoughts. Those folks, and I won’t provide an example 🙂 , tell me I am stupid, or worse accuse me of being intentionally dishonest. They work to destroy my credibility by claiming I am an ideologue, a shill for the GOP, or whatever works. And because of that reaction, they and I find it relatively difficult to accomplish anything in debate. I often feel I am too busy writing ten paragraphs to re-affirm what I actually believe before I can even get to the point of debating the topic on merits. As a result, we learn nothing from each other and never learn to see each other’s positions.
There are times, when those in category two end up in category one on an issue. Charlie is a great example of this. Once Charlie and I find a way to be civil, stop accusing each other of believing something that we don’t, and debating the merits, we actually start to understand where the other one is coming from, even if that doesn’t result in either of us changing positions. The debate still ends up being productive. If nothing else we improve on our ability to defend our positions.
Now, I am going to be the first to admit here, that when things have not gone that way with Charlie, I am exactly 50% of the reason. While I am generally not quite as “caustic” as Chaz, I certainly have the ability to be as rude to him as he is to me. I much more enjoy when we get past that point (I will take credit for usually being the one to extend a truce and reset the anger with an apology when warranted 🙂 ) and begin to discuss things rationally. Charlie is a smart guy after all, and provides me with a far different perspective that what I have on my own.
And I hope that by reading those few times when Chaz and I have found common ground by respecting each other and having a debate focused on the issues instead of each other each of you has caught a glimpse of what I imagined SUFA to be when I started this website over three years ago. Those who have been around for many years can remember how much time I spent batting down hostility and demanding respectful conversation. You can remember how often I muttered the mantra that without civil discourse the gap would widen and we would never come together to combat the real enemies of freedom, big government fueled by corporate cronyism.
So I ask each of you to consider what I have put down on paper here (or on a keyboard in reality). SUFA was meant to be the one place on the web where people could come together and discuss topics with respect and using the facts rather than emotional pleas. People on both sides of the topics have gotten away from that. There are times when I have gotten away from that. I don’t want that to continue to be the case. Despite claims that SUFA has lost readership because of the opinions of certain people here, the reality is that SUFA has lost readership because we failed to live up to the standards of civil discourse this site was started with. In short, because we have failed to keep what made SUFA different in the beginning.
So buck up kids. Imagine that every person you talk to at SUFA is big enough or bad enough to punch you in the mouth and you couldn’t do a thing about it (because some at SUFA actually are…). And then imagine you are speaking to their face rather than across hundreds of miles. You would be surprised at how much more civil you will be if you do so and subsequently how much more you can get out of the conversation. If we can accomplish this I believe that SUFA will again grow in readership and we will again get something positive out of it. If not, I can promise that SUFA will end up going away no matter how much I try. After all, if there isn’t anything different and better about discussing things here, I don’t have the time to compete with all the other sites where civility isn’t present.
We aren’t children. We won’t bitterly disagree and start building a fort together five minutes later. The bitter divide in America exists because each side assumes the other side is simultaneously stupid and then fails to treat others with any respect as a result. That isn’t to say that we should lose all the passion we have for our subjects. But we can be passionate about what we believe without disrespecting one another. Further, we all lose our tempers once in a while and say something that is disrespectful. Take my cue and apologize when you calm down and realize that you have done so. Because even a child won’t learn anything from someone who continues to tell them nothing more than how stupid they are. Don’t fall into the trap that politicians and their pundits have set for us. Appealing to emotion is only a strong political tactic if we allow our emotions to be tweaked.
All of us here at SUFA have been coming here for years. And I have learned enough about each of you to know that you are better than this. None of you are stupid. LISTEN to the other side and debate them on the merits. You won’t learn anything from them if you don’t. And more important, you certainly won’t change their position unless you stop riling up that hidden trait we all have to tune out to the opinions of those who insult us.
Sorry for such a long article. Obviously this is a topic I am passionate about…