Why is Our Public Discourse Lacking in Civility?
Listened to a great discussion about this topic on Albany Public Radio WAMC today, the last in a series focusing this issue. It was terrific and got me thinking. So I just had to leave a comment on their website www.wamc.org. Now I share it with you.
I am so very grateful to all at WAMC for thoughtful presentations concerning current pressing issues in such thorough and thought provoking ways and also for so often providing just plain fun.
Caught snippets of the series on civil discourse and only today was I able to listen to an entire panel discussion. It was a deliciously high level of discourse; an antidote to the prevalence of incivility today. By the time I got my ideas together Joe stopped announcing the telephone number so I lost my chance to add my two cents worth to the Roundtable discussion. So here goes.
As the panelists offered, there is more to this issue than meets the eye. Fear is usually at the root of anger and violence. Insecurity is rampant in the populace. But there are a few other points I would like to raise.
In the introduction to her book “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism” Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, “…the vitality of democracy…depends on popular knowledge of complex questions.” I would argue that there is very little of this type of knowledge present today. Admittedly, things are more complicated than ever and it is easy to remain unaware of unintended consequences of our acts and policies. However, the deterioration of public education, fewer college programs providing a broad liberal arts education and the mediocre quality of public media in general do not enrich our capacity to understand complex matters. This factor also contributes to low turnout at the polls.
Television programming is such a “vast wasteland” that reality TV has become the norm: the more dysfunctional, violent, and inane the better. Could it be that FOX News deliberately recreates the situation and mentality of reality TV just to match numbers on the agitation barometer? Social media, as I have heard Joe’s guests report, allow people of like mind to communicate so exclusively with one another that they do not ever have to engage in any kind of conversation with those who think differently. This contributes to their bunker mentality. The military image becomes apt when violent response erupts in discourse or, even worse, in shoot outs in our schools.
I have often thought that the trend toward fundamentalism of one kind or another which we have seen emerge all over the world, across nations, cultures and religions, is also the root of political polarization in our government. If so, and if I remember what eventually happened to Senator Joseph McCarthy, this too shall pass.
I am a contemplative nun living with 21 other woman in a monastery so I will close with this point. There is a movement out there in business, organizations, schools, etc., to learn and pursue something called contemplative decision-making. The key words are something like stop, look, talk, listen, reflect in silence, reconsider, talk and listen again. It takes a great deal of time but it works.