Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Decline of Civil Discourse

I enjoy a good spirited debate as much as the next person, but I fear the age of social media and 24-hour news cycles had driven them into extinction. We all have these people on our Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter pages who derive thinly-veiled glee from unleashing a “thread bomb” and watching their acquaintances tear each other to shreds (and if they do not immediately come to mind, you are that person and you make us sad). Broad opinions lead to generalized insults which invariably give way to personal attacks. I cannot remember a single instance of this where these culminated in a “While I can now understand your interpretation of the empirical data, I must respectfully disagree with your conclusions.” And they weren’t meant to.

Some of these individuals simply see a status update as a starter pistol for online polarization. Their goal is to toss a metaphorical turd into everyone’s day and see who just can’t stop themselves from taking the bait. I am guilty of it. There have been times where, against my better judgement, I read one too many “I heard that the Muslim Brotherhood passed a law in Mississippi that made it illegal to purchase a gun if you own a King James Bible” and I lose it. I start linking articles and citing legal precedent making such a statute impossible. I highlight the implausibility of the Muslim Brotherhood wielding any legislative power in rural Mississippi and then question the logistics of enforcing such a ridiculous law all before realizing I have been sucked into the ravenous vortex of online imbecility.  

It takes time and concerted effort to understand someone else’s point of view, neither of which are catalyzed by memes or status updates. Complex political and legal issues are reduced to derogatory labels like “godless liberal” or “inbred redneck.” We post these things not to explore the subtle nuances of our human condition, but because we wish to entertain ourselves by provoking the passions of others.

Think of what could be accomplished if we took time to seek the root of someone’s passion for Civil War reenactments and antique firearms instead of dismissing them as ignorant racists? How would it change our discourse if we looked into the eyes of someone who repeatedly sacrifices their dignity on the altar of public assistance to feed their children instead of mentally categorizing them as entitlement leeches?

Of course, they have the freedom to post what they want just as you and I have the freedom to ignore or engage them. So, in the spirit of reconciliation and understanding, I offer the following “conversation starters” for my online friends who wish to see a comment thread end with someone conjugating the F-word:

  • Who thinks we should divert money from the Marines to fund late term abortions for illegal immigrants?

  • Do any of you find yourselves outraged when I post this video of graphic police violence under a misleading context?

  • Does this photo of a lesbian couple’s assisted suicide business ruffle anyone’s feathers?

  • Where was Al Sharpton when five black teenagers assaulted a disabled albino in the Chick-Fil-A parking lot?

  • Who agrees that the government should fine Korean War Veterans for flying American flags at a prayer breakfast?

  • Does anyone have a problem with mandatory tracking implants for the children of NRA members?

  • Which ethnic group produces the most effective criminals?

  • Pros & Cons of a pre-school sexual education class taught by Russell Brand. And go!

  • Would anyone like to comment on this photo montage of animal cruelty set to Ted Nugent singles?
  • Click like if you support political indoctrination through children’s television programming

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