Debate, Not Hate… Except…

As a result of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last week, there has been an outpouring of rhetoric and petitions along the lines that Americans need to turn away from appeals to hatred and violence.  I certainly agree with the sentiment, but this movement in a large degree begs the question.  The first question is why in recent years Americans have turned to more and more violent rhetoric and why the political climate has turned uglier and uglier.  The second question is whether “debate” is the answer.

I don’t think so, at least not given the way debate is being approached today.  It all reminds me of a woman I know, who divorced her husband when no one could understand why, since he was such a rational and logical fellow. Her answer, which almost no one accepted or understood, was that his logical and rational approach was the problem.  Whenever she disagreed with him and tried to explain her views, he was so busy thinking up arguments to undermine her position that he never listened to what she was saying or what lay behind what she was saying.  And that is the problem with political and social debate and problems today – on all sides of the political spectrum.

Everyone’s talking, and no one is listening.  The Republicans are determined to repeal the health bill.  Is anyone there listening to the more than forty million who don’t have and can’t get health care in a time when healthcare costs are spiraling out of control.  The Democrats refuse to consider limitations on legal claims and windfalls for attorneys proposed by the Republicans, which certainly add to health care costs.  The Democrats demand tax increases on the “wealthy,” but insist the wealthy include the upper middle class and small businesses that have always generated the majority of “new” jobs in the economy, while the Republicans want the uber-rich, those who make millions, to get the same tax cuts as everyone else, when the corporate fat cats are the ones who are making millions by cutting jobs. Citizens in border states face huge problems with illegal immigrants, and Congress has done nothing.  On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of young people brought to this country illegally as children who know no other homeland, and Congress isn’t listening to them, either, and yet deporting or allowing them no legal status punishes them not for what they did, but for the sins of their parents.  The Democratic Party ignores the problems illegal immigration has created, and the Republican rhetoric ignores the suffering of too many innocents.  The Republican rhetoric, if followed literally, would create an American version of the Berlin Wall, but not doing anything isn’t working, either, and not allowing a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who’ve lived here for years and who had no choice in the matter, isn’t exactly in keeping with the American tradition.  The list of polarized issues goes on and on… and everyone’s talking, and no one is listening… and the anger continues to build.

What we need is more listening… and some compromise… so that Americans can get a sense that something is being done.  Try splitting the difference.  Let each side get something, and I don’t mean the past political compromise of spending more money and splitting the spoils. And it might not hurt to ask another question when facing yet another “simple” solution: How will this benefit or affect everyone? 

Debate isn’t an answer.  We’ve had years of it. Without more listening, more debate will only create more hate.

3 Responses to “Debate, Not Hate… Except…”

  1. Richard Hamilton says:

    That would work if all sides were reasonable.

    As it stands, it may well be that none are; but I’m
    inclined to think that those that wish to spend _my_
    money for _their_ idea of compassion (not to mention
    their idea of buying votes, that is, getting their opponents
    to pay for increasing their power) are essentially incapable of reason, or at any rate, quite uninterested in any notion of reciprocity.

    I give away even more than the government confiscates, er,
    taxes, and I’m no more than middle middle class. Government
    “compassion” is no such thing, since it does little or nothing
    to hold the recipient accountable. Rather, it creates dependency,
    and encourages illegal immigration and also having more kids
    at government expense. In other words, as contrasted with
    private charity which has the giver thinking in some way of
    results, government subsidies for the poor simply do what
    government subsidies always do: create more of that which
    they subsidize: more people receiving benefits rather than
    paying taxes. That is clearly unsustainable. Were it not for
    the misguided notion that denying home loans for being a
    poor risk was inherently racist, we wouldn’t be in the mess
    of bad debt that we’re in now. Some loans were certainly
    denied due to racism alone, but the mere fact that
    outcomes aren’t identical (and thus risks aren’t identical)
    isn’t racist of itself. Subsidizing anything except maybe
    (quality) education (and only for those willing to apply themselves to making the best of it) won’t help those that are behind to catch up and pull their own weight.

    Children are not _responsible_ for the sins of their parents, but nevertheless always suffer the consequences, with little society can or even should do about that except when it is very obvious that the children are being abused. Worse, they often pass on the behavior to further generations, whether abuse or contempt for the laws and norms of society that stand in the way of their own wishes. This is not a problem unique to illegal immigration. There may be ways to eliminate the “anchor baby” provision without a constitutional amendment. Perhaps some of those here under existing practice would need to be grandfathered, but the problem is that if we provide incentives for people to behave as we would not wish them to, we shouldn’t be surprised at the results. We need to change the incentives so that it’s more likely that we’re favoring those coming here whose arrival would clearly be in our interests. That has nothing to do with ethnicity or origin, but everything to do with willingness to participate in a common culture, to improve oneself, to bring skills beyond just manual labor, etc. Again, we provide all the wrong incentives when we have ethnic studies programs that teach each group to regard itself as victims. Without overdoing even a positive stereotype, some groups do seem to have a higher appreciation for education than others, and a positive sense of community where those already established help newcomers to become established and productive. Whatever they’re doing right should be understood so it can be encouraged among those failing to do it.

    Minority students should not be bullied (or sometimes even killed) by those of the same minority, as if they were some sort of race traitors by having the sheer effrontery to work _within_ the system to succeed!

    Regardless of those issues, no side in nominally peaceful
    differences needs to be engaging in inflammatory rhetoric.
    But the present largely one-sided barrage of recrimination on that
    score is both un-historical and hypocritical: un-historical
    because just about _all_ competition let alone political
    competition, has always been personal, seldom sportsman-like,
    and routinely laced with violent imagery of conflict – that dates
    to the early days of independence even (although there also have been and continue to be occasional examples of reasoned and eloquent discussions leading to if not agreement, at least greater understanding and workable solutions). And hypocritical, because
    the left engages in at least as much violent political imagery
    as the right, complete with reference to strangling opponents,
    targeting opponents to include bulls-eyes or cross-hairs and
    other terminology more apt to mayhem or warfare than politics.

    Nevertheless, reasonably sane people don’t get provoked by
    such terminology. Even athletics which purport to be about
    balancing competition and sportsmanship often engage in
    militaristic language, yet, give or take European soccer fans,
    serious violence isn’t common in sports.

    Debate without listening may well create a climate that
    fails to oppose hate. But hate, let alone violence, only comes
    from those willing to go there in the first place. Whether or
    not they’re sane, it’s always individuals that are responsible
    for specific acts, and _not_ society as a whole.

    Incitement to riot is no excuse for rioting.

    Millennia of history of tribal and national conflict leave deep marks on language and culture. But only individuals murder.

  2. Joe says:

    Isn’t a polarized debate an inevitable result of a fragmenting society in which everyone has a voice? Increasing inequality will only increase this fragmentation as those who lose in this society turn against its values and become zealots. For instance, see this interview with Chris Hedges:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYCvSntOI5s

  3. Mark says:

    I’m personally not convinced that things are really that acrimonious today. While topics like illegal immigration need to be addressed, many things could simply be ignored by the federal government to our betterment.

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