Jack Scalia, Denison University
Two centuries ago, in the merciless heat of summer, our founding fathers wrote the Constitution. One can only begin to imagine the fiery debates between the great intellectuals of the day, working tirelessly to fulfill a promise which had been made just over a decade before –the promise of a land ruled by the people, for the people. A promise predicated upon the belief of individual sovereignty derived from the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Centuries later, we are faced with some drastically different problems than those of our forefathers. And despite the many advancements in our time, we are at a great disadvantage, for we have lost the ability to engage with one another civilly. Without reasonable discourse our Democracy would never have come to fruition, and without a resurgence of it now, the very Democracy which our founders fought so hard to create will crumble before our eyes.
In recent years, the climate of our politics has gone from bad, to worse, to unbearable. The decline of reasonable discourse has followed suit. We have lost the ability to intelligently challenge others’ beliefs and the humility to let others challenge our own. Especially on college campuses, the center of higher learning, reason has been drowned out by the nonsensical wailing of two sides which constantly drive themselves further apart. Our words have become too sharp and our intellects too dull. Neither side can hear the other, nor do they want to. We flock towards media outlets which tell only the comforting narrative we have grown accustomed to: Narratives which quell our self-doubt and reassure us it is the other side of the aisle that need be educated. The age of clickbait, Twitter and Facebook has promoted convenience over deliberation and emotion over fact.
The decline of discourse and the increasingly narrow scope of our own narratives have left us unwilling and, perhaps more dangerously, unable to engage with one another. A political “discussion” nowadays is eerily similar to a stubborn 3rd grader on the playground who has emphatically shoved his fingers in his ears and assaults those around him with the incoherent babble of “lalalas” and “nananas”. College campuses seem to have closely followed the blue print of the 3rd grader, instead bellowing “racist, homophobe, Nazi, communist” and the less imaginative epithets of “idiot” and “retard”. These individuals muffle their hearing with their ill formed views and a toxic unwillingness to questions not only others, but themselves.
Our political views have become so tangled with our emotions that the challenge of an idea one supports has become indistinguishable from an assault on one’s individual sovereignty. As political views continue to be conflated with emotions, discourse will continue to suffer. Argumentation is a great tool—it helps us better understand other positions and better fortify our own. A good argument is something which should be celebrated, something, in fact, which is essential to living civilly amongst others.
This coming year, let us argue. Let us set aside the brief phrases and sharp words we have used to kill conversation and suppress the views of those with whom we disagree. In order to argue with one another well, I believe, there are three things we must do. First, and most importantly, we must acknowledge the other’s worth. Only with a healthy respect for the other individual can we truly engage in a meaningful and productive way. Secondly, let us be patient. In order to unpack the issues of the day, time is required. Let us not try to shut each other down, but rather push others to defend their stance and in turn, trust they will challenge our own. Finally, let us keep open minds. We find ourselves unwilling to challenge our own views because of the stubborn, often ignorant, assumptions we have made in the past and desperately cling to in the present. In the words of philosopher Bertrand Russell, “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” This year, may certainty give way to the more challenging, yet more rewarding, modes of doubt and indecision.