Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My (Diminished) Hopes For Civilization

By Dave Dargo

I was in the IT (Information Technology) business for a very long time starting back in 1978. I saw a lot of neat, new things created and was part of some teams that created some really cool technology. It was a time filled with a lot of fun holding a lot of promise for the future.

I remember when I first started using email and I actually told someone, "email is great, I think it will bring back the lost art of writing."

I remember when hyperlinked text came into being on the internet and I actually said, "This is fantastic. Now we will have the opportunity to solve bigger problems through the collaboration of people who've never met."

While some have used these tools to help restore the language arts and others have collaborated to solve big problems, the reality is that blatherskites are daily inundating us with an increasing mound of evidence that thoughtful debate as a concept is dangerously close to meeting its demise.

I became rather dejected today as I looked for ideas on a gun story. I read a lot of articles and can often end up spending an inordinate amount of time looking at what passes for debate in the comment sections of those articles.

An article today in The Guardian describes a woman's angst as she hears about the active shooter drills her children practiced in school and the common-sense gun laws passed by Colorado being challenged by the NRA. The general gist of the article is that she believes that the gun-industry empowers the NRA to run roughshod upon the good, commonsense laws desired by the people of Colorado.

As one can imagine, such an article generates a lot of comments pretending to be debate. Some comments that caught my attention:
"Maybe you don't live in this ugly country, where domestic terrorism is the scourge of our society, where criminal organizations like the NRA dominate our completely corrupt political system. Where an outdated, increasingly irrelevant document, the constitution, dominates our lives. Where freedom of the individual to do anything is more important that the interests of society as a whole."
"All the white people are "terrified" brown skinned "illegals" will come and rape their woman and butcher their children. ( no, I am not a person of color). In other words, they are batshit crazy, and often dangerous."
I believe that people have a right to free speech and that anonymity is an important factor in protecting people who espouse unpopular ideas. However, I also believe the anonymity afforded to those providing comments on most news sites emboldens those commenters to say things they would never say in public.

Worse than what people are willing to say on these message boards is what people are willing to absorb into their own dialogue as valid debate techniques, techniques that spill into public "discourse". We see pro-rights people portrayed as racist, paranoid knuckle heads incapable of thinking for themselves. We see a poisonous narrative adopted by politicians who are masquerading as leaders. The debate points are barely a step removed from rhetoric designed to rally an illiterate and uneducated electorate into continuing to support the incumbent's desire for increased political power.

The only reasonable thing we can do is elevate the debate and try to maintain a civil, articulate position that is easily understood. We can't allow ourselves to be dragged down to a level that has to debate the relevance of the U.S. Constitution.

Maintain civility, logic, passion and compassion. Stay true to your beliefs and raise the level of debate to one you would proudly claim as your own.

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