Matt Yglesias just posted an email from a Liberal reader who urges Yglesias to be more civil. The reader doesn’t like the “base riling” and thinks that a more civil and engaging dialogue might change some Conservative minds.
Yglesias reserves the right to scorn and mock stupidity. More on that in a few paragraphs.
I’ve also encountered (many times) a similar attitude and I think this is actually a problem for the Left.
There’s a bunch of new research into how differently Liberals and Conservatives process political issues. And Liberals need to understand that although they value polite rational discourse not everybody else on the planet experiences the public sphere the same way. Lakoff and Haidt and others have written about this. We’re talking about concrete differences in brain response to public policy issues and very different value systems. Think Women are From Venus Men are From Mars type difference. Some folks just don’t agree that the way you arrive at truth is through some sort of interpersonal dialectic, let alone “building consensus.”
That’s part of it. The other part is that history isn’t kind to the notion of dialogue as a social change mechanism. Politicians need to engage others who disagree in order to gain working majorities, but successful grassroots movement have gained ground when they built power and used it to push representatives.
As far as I can tell, the history of successful grassroots social movements is about tactical flexibility, strategic savvy in building and leveraging power and lot’s of luck. If we are serious about making a more just and equitable world that will sustain human life on this planet for at least a few more generations, then we should be serious about tactical flexibility.
But not everybody has that temperament. Some folks just don’t like polarization. I’ve been an activist for 25 years and it’s been alarming to meet people who are rigidly wedded to certain tactics. For some people, this idea about dialogue seems less like a strategy to make a better world than about adhering to some idea about how to get past St. Peter at the pearly gates – I mean that’s fine to work for your own personal salvation, but let’s not confuse that with social change.
And a successful grassroots movement runs on righteous indignation and inspiration. We are fueled by our core values and those values come to life when juxtaposed to the values of those who disagree. If you oppose theocracy/kleptocracy and want to live in a world that values the worth and dignity of all members of society you need to understand that some folks disagree with you and that there is nothing you can do to change their minds. I guess, in order to avoid becoming the evil that we deplore, we should not scapegoat or dehumanize those who oppose us – but hey, mocking the hypocrisy and lies coming from Fox News doesn’t cross that line in my humble opinion.
Is dialogue useless? There’s a bunch of fence sitters and you can talk to them, but you need to keep in mind that many people form their opinions based on what others (leaders, peers) think and some just don’t like to step to far in either direction on any continuum (“can’t we just put a few Jews in the ovens?”) But it wouldn’t hurt to ask these people where they are at and what they are thinking and feeling and see if there are any openings to fan their flames.
Public debates can serve to rally your side and introduce your views to those who haven’t made up their minds, but let’s be honest- some folks will be basing their judgment on how wrinkled your shirt is.
Dialogue is pretty damn limited.No tag for this post.