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(This is an exchange from a right-wing Facebook thread dedicated to praise of right-wing maniac Michelle Malkin)

Marc: malkin! i feel lucky shes an american cuz she kicks some serious commie ass!!! dont mess with the malk!

Steve: Good God, where do you people come from…?

Sarah: At Steve, what are you talking about?

Steve: I’m talking about the utter destructive insanity that is your ideology. I’m talking about what is obvously a new outbreak of a perennial cultural and political disease. While we should be, and can be, rational people of goodwill working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world, instead we are burdened with a fanatical right-wing ideological cult that is destructive to our nation and to humanity.

I certainly don’t know everything, or perhaps even much. It’s a complex and subtle world we live in. I’m a lawyer, social scientist and de facto economist, professional researcher, policy consultant, social analyst, former teacher of U.S. and World History, U.S. Government, World Geography, Criminology, Complex Organizations, Social Change, Social Problems, Dynamics of Prejudiece, so I’ve made an above average effort to understand and know about the nature of the world I live in, but none of us really knows much in comparison to what there is to be known and understood. That’s why we need humility more than ideology, and a willingness to work with and try to understand and try to accommodate competing views.

What we DON’T need is people whose form of political participation is either “kicking commie ass,” or cheering others who they think do, because those labels are not informative or productive no matter how used, and, in modern American political discourse, are generally used for no purpose other than to vilify and dismiss ideas that are well within the range of modern capitalism, that characterize every single modern prosperous nation on Earth and did so prior to any participating in the enormous post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity, that are more moderate than the economic ideas advocated by Ben Franklin, and that should be part of a broad, civil, informed, and analytical national dialogue about how best to govern ourselves, both in general, and considering policies and issues one at a time.

You are either a part of that healthy, productive, wise process, that serves both our welfare and our humanity, or you are an obstacle to it, undermining it, and thus reducing our wisdom, welfare, and humanity as a nation and a people.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Bob: Steve, it’s the InterNet. Don’t get so worked-up about it.

Steve: Bob, it’s not just the internet. This is just where it’s most visible, and most amplified. The internet is our new public forum, where we, as a polity, get together and discuss the issues that we have to decide upon. Public forums are very important, because they are the true and ultimate halls of government. This is really where the most important part of politics and self-governance happens, the formal places and processes simply being the consolidation of what happens here (and throughout our cultural discourse). So it matters.

There are lots of different ways of engaging in this process. The best, from my point of view, would be for there to be a general commitment to doing the best we can to emulate the academy and the courts, where reason is applied to evidence, arguments are made in disciplined ways according to guiding rules, and we arrive at conclusions that use these techniques to minimize bias and maximize accuracy and utility.

But, at heart, we’re in a competition of narratives. We each frame our own guiding narrative in what we think is the most compelling way and the competing narratives in ways least flattering to them. I frame mine as advocacy of a shared commitment to disciplined reason and imagination in service to humanity, and yours (speaking of the prevailing ideology here) as blind ideological irrationality in service to (usually passive though sometimes active) inhumanity. That’s not a ploy on my part, but rather my honest and considered perception of reality.

Obviously, most participants here, most friends of Robin, aren’t going to appreciate that characterization. They would frame our competing narratives differently, perhaps as a moral and righteous commitment to Christianity and our Constitution against liberal, elitist, godless, socialist whatever. I could choose to argue within your framing (and could do a pretty good job, I think, of demonstrating that you are faithfully advancing the ideals and letter neither of Christianity nor of our Constitution). You are “carrying a cross and wrapped in the flag,” as Sinclair Lewis presciently put it nearly a century ago, and I am committed to procedures which maximize the influence of reason, imagination, compassion, and human consciousness in human affairs.

I very strongly believe that my narrative is far more compelling than yours, period. I think that it is destined to prevail in the long-run, but constantly embattled in the short-run. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it (paraphrasing an earlier religious scholar), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And as John Maynard Keynes put it, “People will do the rational thing, but only after exploring all other alternatives.” This inconsistency between our long-term trajectory (toward ever increasing reason and justice) and our constant short-term detours (into ever-erupting irrationality and belligerence toward out-groups) is really what defines the broad sweep of human history.

Since I am thoroughly convinced that my narrative (which, of course, isn’t mine alone) is more compelling, my preference is to argue it in long, well-informed and well-reasoned discourses, painstakingly demonstrating why it is more compelling. And since it is more compelling, the main task left to those who are entrenched in the opposition to it is to find ways of undermining or dismissing it. One such way is to critique the length of the discourses and ignore the substance. Another is to insist that our public discussion in our public forums are too trivial to be taken so seriously, so, thank you very much, but you can’t challenge our ideology because we’re just chatting here.

But in reality these are all discursive strategies, ways of promoting one narrative and, particularly when that is a weak narrative that cannot survive careful scrutiny, insulating it from such scrutiny and from the challenges that accompany such scrutiny.

So, which form of dismissal shall it be? An irrelevant comment about the length of my comment, thus redirecting all attention away from the content? A trivialization of the content, in order to neutralize it before it has an opportunity to be contemplated, contemplation being anathema to blind ideological fanaticism?

Or, can a miracle occur, and one or two people gain one small grain of wisdom, and start to question themselves, their own false certainties, their own habits of thought and belief, and thus, by doing so, engage in an act of courage which serves humanity in the most subtle and extraordinary ways?

Bob: Steve, it’s still just the InterNet. Sheesh!

Your penultimate paragraph is sad to read. You attempt to preempt any exchange by positioning yourself as “victim” before anyone replies??? C’mon! Man-up, Steve.

You are entitled to view your defensive circumlocution as “well-informed and well-reasoned….”

Good luck, changing the nature of discourse on the web, Steve.

Steve: Bob, I never claimed to be a victim of any kind; I have a great life, full of privilege and good fortune and all of the wonders that life has to offer. I am a student of society, and was commenting on the nature of discourse in the competition of narratives, and on the inevitability of irrelevant thrusts and parries to discredit opposed beliefs and perspectives (used most by those who depend most on insulating their ideology from any intrusion of reason and evidence, and least by those who rely most on the implementation of reason and evidence). Your response was an example of exactly that, rather than a refutation of its pervasiveness (with almost poetic irony using my pre-emptive identification of it as the pretext for doing it!). Far from it being “any exchange” that I was attempting to pre-empt, it was the obstruction of any productive and meaningful exchange that I was attempting to pre-empt, truly a daunting task with people so well-fortified against any consideration of contradictory information and argumentation! (Or is it your conviction that the tactics I named are the essence of substantive discourse?) And, since politics is a competition of narratives, of ideas and beliefs and values, and since those do change, dramatically, over time, no luck is required: We all make our marginal contributions to that process, in proportion to our ability and determination and the inherent appeal of the narrative we are advocating.

(Afternote: What I like about the exchange I reproduced here is that it perfectly illustrates the difference between engaging in discourse, and avoiding engaging in discourse, the former being the vehicle for the growth in human consciosuness and its application, and the latter being the vehicle of bigotry and ignorance.)

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

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