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Look. Listen. Learn.

Like many, I've been thinking (and talking) a lot lately about the current state of American social dialogue, and bemoaning that the art seems to have been lost, if indeed we ever had it and it's not just another rose-colored nostalgic fallacy. (If you wonder why I say that, look no further than political cartoons from, say, a hundred years ago.)

Inspired by this post in bentleywg's journal, I've figured out what I want to do about it.

At least once a day, I'm going to post a link to a site explicating an issue, belief, moral stance or organization that is controversial and/or appears to be misunderstood by at least some significant proportion of the American public. The purpose of this will be neither to endorse nor to ridicule the views expressed on the linked page. The purpose will be to challenge myself, and any who choose to participate with me, to read, absorb and digest what the person has to say.

Many, if not most, of you have strong feelings, values, beliefs, opinions. So do I. My challenge, then, is to educate ourselves and one another so that we understand all those positions.

We all know how to speak our minds. Our challenge is to listen.

I'm still thinking about how best to keep that focus. I don't want to disable comments -- although I do want people to think twice about whether a comment is necessary -- and I also don't want to make a bunch of complicated rules about what kind of comment is or is not appropriate. I do think I'm going to come up with suggestions for how to approach it to best achieve the goal in mind. So far I have two:
  • Don't post your immediate gut-level response. Read, think about it, and if there is something you really want to say or ask, come back. The post will still be here.
  • If a thought process in the linked page doesn't make sense to you, phrase it as a question. Maybe someone here has an answer that will help.

Any other suggestions?

I thought about creating a community, but I think I want to keep the experiment small at first. The posts will be public, and will remain so as long as it doesn't attract flamewars. If it grows on its own, that's great. Then I might think about moving it off my LJ, and getting into all that pesky rules and mod nonsense. (Conversely, if things get nasty, I can create a filter, but I'm betting against that one.)


( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 16th, 2004 09:18 am (UTC)
I think it's a great idea :-)
Nov. 16th, 2004 10:17 am (UTC)
Thanks. Here's hoping it works...
Nov. 16th, 2004 09:31 am (UTC)
I'm going to start off with the thought that struck me when I read that post:

They’d be incredulous, no doubt, to know that the hair salon owner in Springfield, OH or the construction firm owner in Ely, NV who’s read everything LaHaye’s written have more of a finger on the pulse of the nation right now than those grad students do in their solipsistic, moldy academic strongholds with their well-worn copies of Derrida and Foucault.

The ugliest part of this whole split is the belief that one side or the other Just Doesn't Get what the "real citizens" of this nation are thinking.

It is a truth that I wish was universally acknowledged, that this nation is split right down the middle. Nobody has their finger "more on the pulse." There are plenty of Republicans who voted for Bush this last election who have equal contempt for LaHeye's philosophy - these people were voting their conscience on national security, not premillenial dispensation. There are also plenty of evangelistic people who voted for Kerry because of their religious convictions, feeling that Kerry would do more to uphold Biblical beliefs about the poor than Bush has.

The author of the piece was as snottily dismissive of the students as they were of LaHeye, and two wrongs do not make a right. We cannot open a dialog from either side with the attitude of "I'm the real citizen, you're nuts." And with the last two elections so very close, nobody has the high moral ground of "my way is the future" either.
Nov. 16th, 2004 10:12 am (UTC)
The author of the piece was as snottily dismissive of the students as they were of LaHeye, and two wrongs do not make a right.

Nope. But they do point out that everyone would be better served to be sure they know what they're talking about.
Nov. 16th, 2004 02:05 pm (UTC)
I'm looking forward to reading, absorbing, trying to be good. What I took from that article is that academics and administrations generally are out of touch. College students, whether at havens of conservatism such as BJU or at any Ivy League university, are bound to have a false sense of the world due to their youth. (Says me, the young one.)
Nov. 16th, 2004 02:15 pm (UTC)
I'm looking forward to reading, absorbing, trying to be good.

Nov. 16th, 2004 03:24 pm (UTC)
I'm a college student, but I don't have a false sense of the world. I know for a fact that everything revolves around me, that everyone who disagrees with me is there to be the villain of the week and that in the end, I'll rule the world and get a nifty castle for my troubles ;D
Nov. 17th, 2004 04:08 am (UTC)
Sometimes I really miss being a college student ;)
Nov. 16th, 2004 09:37 am (UTC)
I think it's an interesting idea, but you'd need to make sure that people do as indicated - read, and more importantly, think, before posting. You're right that you don't want to make rules everywhere, but you want to make sure that this doesn't become simply a place for spouting off at other people's opinions.
Nov. 16th, 2004 10:16 am (UTC)
Exactly. I just want to develop the rules as we go along, to be sure that we're operating with the minimum of rules necessary.

I'm thinking one thing I'm going to do is to ask people who absolutely MUST vent about something to take it to their own LJ. As long as that can be respected, I won't have to resort to deleting comments or anything.
Nov. 16th, 2004 11:47 am (UTC)
Sounds like a good plan. There may need to be some policing at first, but I'm sure everyone will get the hint soon enough.
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:47 pm (UTC)
Everybody needs a little time to get used to it. We're all out of practice. :-)
Nov. 16th, 2004 10:34 am (UTC)
That sounds like a fascinating way to expand one's mind. I certainly would be interested in reading and taking the time to learn more.
Nov. 16th, 2004 11:11 am (UTC)
Yay! I'm getting rather excited about this...
Nov. 16th, 2004 10:46 am (UTC)
Are non-Americans welcome to join in the fun? :-)
Nov. 16th, 2004 10:50 am (UTC)
*rolls eyes* Of course not, silly. We only want to learn about people here.

And yeah, I probably shouldn't have even bothered mentioning "American dialogue," 'cause it's not like we're the only ones doing it...
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 16th, 2004 11:42 am (UTC)
Nobody's being asked to overcome or change any beliefs. Only to learn what else is out there.

The challenge is to ignorance, period.

As such, some things will rely on truths we may not be willing to agree with or accept.

But we should know what they are. And sometimes we think we do when we don't at all.
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:08 pm (UTC)
But we should know what they are.

Exactly. I've found the biggest disconnect in this kind of dialog comes in when Person A assumes, without even realizing it, that Belief B is a Universal Truth On Which Everyone Agrees, and therefore doesn't bother to even mention it as part of their underlying position, never mind explain or defend it.

Which can make it nearly impossible for Person C, who was not raised with that pseudo-Universal Truth, to to grasp how Person A reached the conclusion they did.
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:45 pm (UTC)
*nods vigorously*

It's also a problem when Person A looks at Person B and says "they're basing their beliefs on pseudo-Universal Truth X," and think they know what pseudo-Universal Truth X is, but are actually missing the mark.

Learned that one the hard way. Multiple times. :-)
Nov. 16th, 2004 12:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. The "things we know that ain't so" problem.

That's a very common fallacy, on both sides of the debate.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 16th, 2004 01:37 pm (UTC)
I think a simple "I don't agree with you" is the best answer you could come up with.

Although I personally have never met anyone who assigned capital-E Evil to a specific human being, so I consider the question entirely theoretical.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 16th, 2004 03:58 pm (UTC)
Those are not "a specific human being". Those are labels. Or, at most generous, groups of people.

You framed your question as being about "person B", an individual. I answered accordingly.

As for the rest-- see wiliqueen's reply below. She said it better than I did.
Nov. 16th, 2004 01:40 pm (UTC)
Depends. I'm having trouble picturing that being the actual starting premise. :-)

I can picture a situation where Person B is Evil, because they belong to a group that is Evil, because of Z, which is because of Y, which is because of X.

The point of the exercise is not to agree or disagree with X, or to convince you to change your mind about it. The point is to make sure you know where and what X is.

If you're that sure you already know, don't read the links when they're posted. No harm, no foul.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 16th, 2004 07:07 pm (UTC)
I don't think I understand what you mean by this. What philosophy are we talking about?

Because if you mean this "read it and think about it" thing, I'm not conceited enough to call it a philosophy. It's just an exercise. I am NOT trying to tell people how to think. I am NOT telling anyone they should change what they think. I am challenging MYSELF and anyone else who cares to join to set aside small portions of time to take a break from talking and listen. How we use the information thus gained, or indeed whether to do so at all, is entrely up to us.

If you mean something else, then I'm lost. Help?
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 17th, 2004 07:11 am (UTC)
Re: ????
Ah! This processed. Thanks.

I can see where you're coming from on it, but I don't know that it's that difficult to navigate.

The primary pitfall I see is people presuming to speak for their group more than they should, and I'm adding that to the list of things to keep in mind when we read.

Aside from that, I'm not sure where accuracy comes into it. I'm looking for people explaining themselves. We may or may not accept the assumptions on which their beliefs are based, but for the most part I figure they're the ones who know what those assumptions are. Which is, within the scope of the exercise, all we're trying to find out.

I think part of the problem you and I are having here is that I don't know if the goal is anything as lofty as "broadening the mind." I'm sticking to "figuring out where people are coming from" for now.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 17th, 2004 11:00 am (UTC)
Re: ????
Thanks. For that, and for helping me figure out how to go about it. :-)
Nov. 16th, 2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
Sorry to geek out on you, but this sounds like a fascinating social experiment. If you get it started, please count me in! I'm really interested in how Westerners react to someone challenging their "common sense" belief system and the social repurcussions of people opening their mind to the possibility that there is more than one way of seeing the world.

Like I said, geek. Anthro geek. I see it all the time with anthropologists examining non-Western belief systems and pointing out how many people think that their way is "common sense" and have no second thoughts about it. There's some material on that approach for Western society, but nowhere near enough. And I'd love to see it up close and personal, especially with such a variety of people as you find on LJ :)

*geek moment over*
Nov. 16th, 2004 07:12 pm (UTC)
I don't know that this is as ambitious as that -- mostly I'm kinda shying away from the concept of "challenging" at this point -- but you're still certainly welcome. It's going to be open, and hopefully will be able to stay that way.
Nov. 16th, 2004 07:28 pm (UTC)
I didn't mean an aggressive type of challenge! Eep. That'd be too scary for me. But by presenting someone with something that doesn't coincide with their own beliefs is a challenge of sorts. The passive kind. The kind of light challenge to think outside the box that you can watch without full body armor ;)
Nov. 17th, 2004 07:17 am (UTC)
Ah! And yeah, actually, one of the first tricks in our culture is to figure out the difference. We're all so used to the idea that the only reason for someone to express their belief is to try to get you to change yours....
Nov. 17th, 2004 03:19 am (UTC)
And, you know, a lot of what you've just said there is why I want to take some time to do a second degree.

I have a BSc in Chemistry. I work in IT. I want to do a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

It's not just about the East/West divide, though I find that one fascinating. Even within Western belief structures, there's a science/arts'n'humanities divide that can lead to very different views of the world.
Nov. 17th, 2004 03:07 pm (UTC)
Yay! Someone who read my geek spiel and didn't look at me weird ;)
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )


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