I posted this on all of the Facebook threads in which I found myself embroiled in a debate over the relationship between our public discourse and the tragedy in Arizona this weekend. It is an invitation to those on opposing sides to mutually and without acrimony strive to improve our public discourse. If you want to respond to me, please email me at I think we all should try to make a social movement out of establishing this process. Thanks.

Rather than continuing to run in circles with the substantive arguments, why don’t we first agree on an attitude and a process? Let’s agree to try to be reasonable people of goodwill working together to govern ourselves as wisely as possible. Then let’s agree that none of us is infallible, that any or all of us may be right or wrong on any given points, and that understanding the world, our role in it, and how to do the best we can to govern ourselves is an on-going challenge. Then let’s agree to try to listen to one another as well as score points off of one another, making honest attempts to understand and acknowledge opposing points of view. Let’s agree that the purpose of public discourse isn’t to defend our own precipitious certainties against the perceived errors of others, but to work together to improve all of our understandings, and our ability as a polity to work together to govern ourselves well and justly. After we have succeeded in laying that foundation, then we can discuss and debate the substantive issues fruitfully.

To those who are going to respond, “good one, Steve, as if you do any of those things,” fine, I’ll concede my own defects and errors, and agree along with all others to just keep trying to do better. To all who are sincere in their desire to be reasonable people of goodwill, this agreement should be completely natural and, indeed, indispensible, for it defines what it means to be a reasonable person of goodwill. To those who want to view the world as those who are right and good (themselves) and those who are wrong and evil (all who disagree with them), then they need make no effort to be reasonable people of goodwill. It is up to each of us to decide who and what we want to be, and what our effect on the world is going to be.

It’s a sincere offer made in good faith. Some may want to accept it in their own time and their own way. That’s fine; it’s something we each can choose to do in whatever way, with whatever people, we are able to. But the more we can include, and the harder and more in earnest we try, the better. It’s worth the effort.

  • I wrote this at the end of a comment on one of those FB threads:

    Everybody believes that they are on the side of what is true and good. History is full of people who were mistaken in that belief, frequently with horrifically tragic consequences for multitudes of others. The best we can do is to commit ourselves to processes that favor the dominance of reason and goodwill in our thoughts and our actions, and disfavor the bigotries that eagerly fill all gaps where reason and goodwill have failed to take hold.

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