I've started writing three different posts to sort of parse out my own thinking on what happened two weeks ago. It was a grotesque, horrific, indefensible, flare that provided a brief glipse of conditions of the battle on the ground.
But those thoughts aren't ready and I've been trying to hold myself to the standard of contributing through addition, so those thoughts are marinating.
In the meantime, Jonah Goldberg has been talking about how important it is for people to debate issues, not with the opposition, but with their allies (here and here). The argument is, when people come to a discussion already agreeing on first principles, you get an actual clash of ideas rather than two competly different worldviews talking past each other.
He first debated Sorab Amari. This was sort of a WWE setup, when Amari took to the pages of First Things and said David French-ism represented everything wrong with modern conservitivism (French did respond)
So they duked it out, moderated by Ross Douthat, and a wireless microphone system powered by a potato:
The second debate was with Eric Metaxas over the question, "Should Christians Vote for Trump?"
Watching these two conservitive, evangelical Christians hammer at each other for an hour and a half puts the current political state of American Evangelicalism in the starkests of reliefs:
The Time For Discussion Is Just Beginning
Our present cultural mood seems to be that the era of discussion is over. "We speak and speak and speak and nobody listens so we will make them listen."
I hate that in my country, but I really hate it at work.
How many times has some action-biased "leader" blocked the discovery of a solution because they didn't want to "get in the weeds"? The whole point of having a "bias for action" is that action gives you more data to help you make better decisions which results in more effective actions. It's an irreducibly complex, cyclical process.
That means long conversations about things that matter. Data-biased people (like me) tend to not have enough courage for action and and action-biased people don't have still-enough legs for that tasks.
I have plenty to say to my data-biased brothers and sisters, but what is on TV and online is what happens when action-biased people are left unchecked by their data-biased counterparts: "Who has time for think tanks and debates? The country is going to hell, damnit! We got to get to the business of burning it down! All abourd the change train! Choo choo!"
As Steve Jobs argued, really smart people have to live in tension with each other to become their best. And when those couragious, action-biased political actors are not paired with equally strong, thought leaders, it will burn down cities.
Sorry, is burning down cities.
To Jonah's point, the crisis of our last 10 years is not that the right and left stopped listening to each other, it's that the right and left stopped listening to themselves. So not only can we not change our percieved opposition, we can't even change ourselves.
Judah can't reform Israel, but what happens when Judah can't reform itself?
When I walk around the beautiful cities that I have loved and see them boarded up, fenced in, spray painted (I feel so sorry for DC residents right now), I can't help but think that this is what happens when we give up on long conversations about things that matter.
The time for discussion is not over, it's just beginning. And it's beginning for serious, thoughtful, empathetic, people who are interested in building cities and governments.
Now, the objection from those afflicted with RLS will be "Talk, talk, talk! All you want to do is talk!" which is a great strawman speciman. My argument is not to sit down and think, but to be ready to stand up and act thoughtfully.
Please Tune In to the Long Conversations
So, this is my plea: turn off snack food politics and replace it with real political conversation.
Turn off shouting boxes of talking heads, because it is an industry joke. (somebody should really put together a super cut of cable news contribuotrs all saying how stupid and frustrating TV appearences are.) and instead turn to long-format, open-ended discussion between people who agree with you but disagree with each other.
One option for evaluating this kind of discussion is a sort of Bechdel Test for political discussion:
- Is there more then one person?
- Do they agree on first principles?
- Do they disagree on particular issue?
- Are they discussing that issue?
If the answer to all four of those qustions yes, then it's going to be a good, thought provoking clash. If not, then it's going to be monologue of some guy (it's almost always a guy) doing his "can you believe this?!" like it's not completly tired. Or it'll be a shouting match. Or, worse, it'll be a group of people who just nod and say, "Yeah, man."–all the cigar smoke in the world can't cover how boring that is.
We're living in an era with the best, easiest access to top policy and political debate. Every major think tank and policy shop is putting their events on their YouTube channels. It's amazing. But only if make time for it by tuning out the loud, boring, repeitious news (appropratly called a "cycle") and tuning in to conversations of substance.
Jonah finishes his pitch to cable news producers by saying,
...don’t worry about confusing the audience, because the audience needs to be confused. When we are confused, we struggle to dispel the fog. We listen to arguments. We weigh facts. We consider the track record of those asking us to trust their judgment. We make decisions based upon persuasion. In other words, we engage in the stuff of this thing called “citizenship."
When we get fed only what we want to hear, it becomes a contest for who can sell the purest junk.
So let's get confused together. Start with the above videos. If you want more recomendations, let me know.