Vail Daily column: Unseemly discourse with political agendas
June 18, 2017
Political and social discourse at its best involves an exchange of ideas and an honest attempt to understand differing points of view. But for this to occur, people must be able to articulate their ideas without fear of personal attack. At the same time, they must also be open to the ideas of others. It should go without saying that such discourse requires a good measure of mutual respect.
Unfortunately, that's not always or even usually the case. Jon Stewart, former host of "The Daily Show," said it best a number of years ago when he commented, "What has become rewarded in political discourse is the extremity of viewpoint. People like the conflict. Conflict, baby! It sells. Crossfire! Hardball! Shut up! You shut up!"
Turn on MSNBC or read The New York Times and the vitriol spewing from the talking heads and beat writers respectively regarding the Trump administration goes far beyond "being over the top." It's mean-spirited, at times vicious and always uncalled for. Closer to home, even the Vail Daily occasionally contains unnecessarily acerbic and sarcastic rebuttals to letters to the editor.
On the occasions I've been the object of indecorous or derisive remarks, I let it roll off my back because I figure it comes with the territory. But too often the vitriol seen on TV or read in the newspapers doesn't stop at simple disagreement; some obviously feel it's necessary to attack an individual personally for having the audacity to think differently.
Don't people realize that when they vilify others it does little more than reveal their own biases? Rational disagreement requires mutual respect, but mockery, rancor and personal attacks have no place when trying to express a counterpoint. As the saying goes, "One can disagree without being disagreeable."
It's gotten worse
In more extreme cases, we see and read about the protests erupting into violence because the demonstrators take issue with a particular political orthodoxy. We see signs and placards that are downright malicious in tone and tenor. Of course, it's a First Amendment right to protest, but violence and the destruction of private property are unnecessary and set a dangerous precedent.
So the question becomes one of, why has this phenomena become acceptable? Research indicates that academia itself, which should be in the vanguard of promoting free speech and reasoned debate, has stopped short in both the understanding and practice of true diversity — the diversity of ideas. And that could well be at the root of the matter.
Research has also shown that for every politically conservative social psychologist in academia there are about 14 liberal social psychologists. Additionally, researchers have found evidence of discrimination and hostility within academia toward conservative researchers and their viewpoints — surprise, surprise.
In one survey cited by The New York Times, 79 percent of social psychologists admitted they would be less likely to support hiring a conservative colleague than a liberal scholar with equivalent qualifications.
To paraphrase New York Times writer Arthur Brooks, improving ideological diversity is not a fundamentally political undertaking. Rather, it is a question of humility. Proper scholarship is based on the virtues of tolerance, openness and modesty. Embracing people with differing ideological perspectives improves all aspects of our lives. If only we could get that message across to everyone.
Quote of the day: "Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." — Mark Twain
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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