Monday, July 24, 2023

On Civil Discourse

 Annamaria on Monday

You know.  I write my blogs on Sunday for publication on Monday.  Perhaps that is why, every once in while, I am tempted to write a sermon.  This one found its germ of an idea last Tuesday, when I was part of a social media conversation that started with someone condemning book burning, but then the chat went something like this:**

**Except for mine, the names of the people I quote today are changed or hidden for reasons that will become obvious.

Chris: Is there no limit to what can be on the shelves of a public library?

Annamaria: No none whatsoever.  You cannot destroy an idea by burning a book.  The only way to defeat an idea is with a better idea.  And by teaching children critical thinking.

Louis: But Hitler wrote a book.  Shouldn't such a book be censored.

Annamaria: I can't believe that the best way to stop a book burner is by burning his book about book burning

I went away from that exchange thinking a lot about the political polarization in my country and how divisive things have gotten.  Here is what the Pew Research organization says about that schism.

More detail here

That data takes us to 2014.  With the 2016 election, things got even worse.  During the run up, name calling started completely crowding out any political discourse. During that time, for instance, I objected when a fellow writer called the coal miners in Western Pennsylvania "despicable." I had visited Western PA a few years earlier with my father--the son of coal miner-- who had grown up there.  His childhood friends and their children were at the time of our visit unemployed miners, and they were suffering.  They were not despicable.  They had been forgotten.  They were vulnerable to demagoguery.

I am every bit as leftist as my now former writer friend. But he ended our friendship because I would not join him in name calling.  Like many people, I have lost friends who are of the opposite stripe, but I have also now lost three fellow progressive friends because I refuse to hate the people they hate.  We are not talking here about hating the fascist leaders.  The people I disagree with are those who hate and loudly vilify the ordinary everyday people on the other side.  Not only their ideas.  Not only their opinions.  But them.

This past week, I had another disturbing social media exchange. Here it is, with names obscured as gracefully as I could manage:

I came out of all this more convinced than ever that you cannot win by fighting hate with hate.  And you cannot kill an idea with force.  The only thing that can defeat a bad idea is a better idea.

 My father and four of my uncles fought a war against fascism.  One of them died in the process.  Our side, the good guys won.  But now fascism is raising its ugly head again.

My best hope for the world right now, and I believe it with all my heart is this:

 Democracy is the better idea.  


  1. Very well put. And you're right, turning to hate is like inviting the vampire into your house.

    1. From AA: What a great image, Jamie! I wouldn't have thought about it without your comment. But then your vampire turned into a zombie in my picture--because they are the ones who eat people's brains.

  2. "Democracy is the better idea." Sob.

    1. From AA: I share your tears, Wendall. But the fascists are fighting democracy by cheating. They may ascend for a while, but the defenders of democracy will rise up. What the radical right is engaged in in our beautiful country right now are acts of desperation. They know they cannot win by following the rules. It will take too long, I fear, and cause a lot of suffering. But they will lose!

  3. From AA: I have been with my oldest dearest friend who, while we were traveling together, scolded me for engaging in a civil conversation with an anti-immigrant cab driver. According to my friend, the driver was hateful, and I should have ended the conversation. People who think like us are put in such a bind when the people who are supposed to be on our side act in such wrongheaded ways.