Monday, August 1, 2011

Civil discourse

Rational debate is a dying art. It occurs only rarely in Washington, where the primary goal is to score points for a political party with an eye toward re-election. Concerns about America and Americans are secondary to the political elite. Party politics trumps all.
The debt ceiling dueling press conferences have been illustrative of this. We can’t know what goes on behind closed doors — whether the sides actually negotiate in good faith. But we do know what they say in public. It’s all blame passing, name-calling, explosive rhetoric and scaremongering.
Rational debate is found even less often in social communities like the one that exists on Personal Liberty Digest™. Hiding behind anonymity, commenters can say anything they like without concern for repercussion. Absent the fear of a punch in the nose, they often say vile and offensive things about others who have a dissenting view or opinion.
It’s childish and disappointing and doesn’t even belong in the schoolyard, much less as something that passes for debate in a civilized society. Yet it’s the reality in which we find ourselves.
All the contributing writers at Personal Liberty take great pride in their work. They research, they study, they think, they reach a conclusion and they write. They combine fact with opinion to state their conclusion. Then, they put that conclusion out for all to see.
I can speak for each of them when I say we await with great anticipation seeing our work published and then reading the comments that follow. It is very gratifying to know that tens of thousands of people are reading the words you created and that hundreds more care enough to comment on them. Getting an attaboy from readers who agree or like what we’ve written is a wonderful ego stroke.
But even better are reasoned rebuttals to our columns. Cogent disputations cause us to think. Often, they open us up to facts we had not considered before. They require us to be able to defend our position against challenge, which reinforces our convictions or causes us to reconsider.
Ad hominems, expletives, name-calling and non sequiturs do not make for cogent disputations. In fact, using them demonstrates a shallow mind attempting to swim in a deep pool. It is a sign of juvenile ignorance, or of something more nefarious — trolls paid to disrupt and derail debate.
For instance, in last Monday’s column, The Imperial President, I argued that Abraham Lincoln set us on the path to the imperial Presidency we now suffer under.
This was only a portion of the foundation upon which I built my premise. But this challenge to traditional orthodoxy was apparently too much for some of our readers. One longtime commenter, who used the handle “Vigilant,” said he was unsubscribing. That’s a pity. Everyone should be willing (and able) to read opinion and fact that takes them out of their comfort zone. But rather than form a rebuttal, he chose to run away.
And then there are the responses like this one from “George”:
Bob, I realize that at heart you’re a Johnny Reb, but I cannot tolerate your attempt to rewrite history. Had it not been for firing on Ft. Sumpter, I’m fairly certain the Civil War would not have occurred. Once they fired on what was clearly Federal property (it’s removal could very possibly have been negotiated), there was no longer any possibility of a peaceful solution. BTW: I had relatives from near where I grew up in Indiana who fought in the Civil War — care to guess which side (not a trick question, the answer is obvious).
He calls me a “Johnny Reb.” What does this mean? Is he suggesting that, because the offices of Personal Liberty are located in Alabama, the facts presented aren’t valid? Would the facts change if our offices were in New York… or Canada? Is he suggesting that if I were from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois or Washington, I wouldn’t recognize tyranny when I saw it?
His “argument” is in no way a rebuttal to the points I made, nor is it historically accurate. In fact, it avoided my points altogether and seemed to be an attempt to justify Lincoln’s illegal acts.
I responded to this and suggested some books he could read to expand his knowledge. His reply was again non-responsive, and he finished by praising Lincoln. I attempted one more time to reason with him, and his was response was even more nonsensical. He said:
In your dreams, my friend. Did you ever hear of Jack Benny? Then there was the little matter of Shay’s Rebellion. That was resolved without much difficulty, but it did require the use of force.
Meaningless drivel. Jack Benny and Shay’s Rebellion? Irrelevant. But that is what passes as discussion today.
By the way, George also referred to Geopolitical Editor Chip Wood as a “Johnny Reb,” so he apparently doesn’t have much of a vocabulary to work with.
And then there are comments like this, from someone calling himself “woodpecker”:
Your GOP policies mainly got us right here and now … are you happy with that? Progressive policies created the largest middle class in world until you clown right-wingers brought them down and thus the country down. You dupes destroyed your own interests and still don’t know it.
Again, non-responsive. Poor woodpecker has fallen victim to the false left-right paradigm the elites use to keep Americans divided and at each other’s throats. Such beliefs do nothing to advance the cause of liberty, and responses such as this — which come all too often — do nothing to stimulate debate.
Anyone who has spent much time reading the columns here must understand we do not subscribe to conventional wisdom. We are not a part of the left-right paradigm which, along with class warfare, is a ploy of the elites to keep Americans focused on tangential issues rather than their loss of liberty.
And then there are responses like this one from a person who calls himself “SMSgt Z retired Nam 68” to Chip in his column The Left Baits A Trap For Us:
Chip you forgot to take your med’s again or your not getting enough oxygen because your head is so far up your _____ I’ll let you mouth breathers fill-in blank But here is a clue the word rimes with bass.
What kind of response is that? I’d be willing to bet SMSgt Z doesn’t make remarks of this nature to people standing next to him. If he does, then he surely has few friends but many enemies.
But insults are apparently all SMSgt Z has. Here is another of his comments, this one directed at fellow commenter on Robert Ringer’s most recent column:
To find a mindless idiot all you have to do is look in the mirror. Mouth breather You need to get your med’s adjusted.
Replies like this are no better intellectually than, “It’s Bush’s fault,” “you’re a Reich-winger” and “moron,” which appear every day on almost every subject, and they’re offensive, to boot.
A better rebuttal would be one like this, posted to Chip’s column by someone calling himself “Ernest Long”:
I strongly disagree. Enacting a Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment with the requirement that any new taxes, unfunded mandates or tax code changes that effectively increase taxes would require a super majority in both houses to pass. Any act, etc. to decrease taxes would still only require a simple majority. Also, a Balanced Budget Amendment would put all Congressmen and women on record supporting or opposing the amendment. Tea Party supporters like me want them on record!!
Or this one by “Hiram”:
Without being forced to balance the budget, deficit spending will continue, ultimately ending in the demise of the dollar and the USA. All local governments and families are forced to balance their budgets or go bankrupt. They can only live on credit for so long, then they are done. There needs to be a mechanism to force the feds to live within our means. The founding fathers did not include this amendment because they were all reasonable men then. Todays liberals are not reasonable by any means. Sure it takes time, but we have to start somewhere to show that we are committed to cleaning up this mess.
Ernest Long and Hiram demonstrate they have taken a few moments to consider the evidence presented to them, organized their thoughts and prepared a rational response. Whether you agree or disagree with what they say, you have to admit they are engaged and considerate.
The use of vile and offensive language or twisting the meaning of words to inflame others is unacceptable in polite society and should be considered unacceptable in online social communities as well. An example of this comes from a poster calling himself “i41.” His posts were mostly insulting on the best days, but were downright offensive on the worst.
Thinking he was clever, i41 began using the word niggardly to describe President Barack Obama. It was an obvious attempt to inflame racial prejudices. I say it was obvious because when I corrected him and pointed out the definition of niggardly and how that could not possible refer to the Spender-in-Chief, he began using the word even more often.
I41’s efforts resulted in him receiving a permanent ban from commenting.
Unlike many sites, we don’t delete comments that rebut an author’s premise. We encourage disagreement. We enjoy the debate. We want an educated populace, and education comes only through the free expression of ideas.
An American public that understands the (true) history of our Nation and the ideas of the Founding Fathers is our only defense against the ever-increasing tyranny we face. People must understand the liberties our Founders gained and where those come from before they can recognize what liberties we have already lost.

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