Monday, December 05, 2016

Sorting-Hat Questions: Fighting against polarized discourse

In our era, civil discourse is rare. And as we have seen, heated rhetoric can spill over into widespread violence. Over the last few years, riots have become more common than I have ever known them in my lifetime. Some of them are sponsored, and they have become increasingly coordinated, which is troubling. Once the infrastructure has been established for nationwide demonstrations-on-demand, will it ever be deactivated? Will its exercise make a fragile situation even more unstable? (How many would welcome that goal?)
Against this background, in a seemingly-civil conversation, a greeting is often followed by a question: What do you think of such-and-such?

In my experience, there is typically no interest in learning what the other person thinks on the topic: the reasons why, the personal perspective, the pros and cons, the deciding factors. The question is not asked in order to gain understanding of the topic or of the other person. It is asked in order to sort the person into Gryffindor or Slytherin according to the views of the person asking. Possibly the questioner has already decided that people failing to give the "right" answer are defective and dangerous -- deserving of hatred, according to leading voices. There are some in Texas who have considered secession as a way to preserve the right of self-determination; there are some in California considering the same. In our so-called culture war, the two sides may not be compatible. What is considered progress by one side is seen as a shocking devaluation of life by the other, and that cuts both ways. In our nation, if we can be said to have peace right now, it is a fragile peace.

Against this background, while there is hope for peace, I think I should work for peace. While there is hope for understanding, I think I should work for understanding. Which means that, when someone asks me: "Halt! Gryffindor or Slytherin?" I would like to find out, "Do you want to understand my reasons?" And if not, I think that the time is more suited to pushing back against the practice of judging people without hearing them, rather than the long list of things over which people judge each other.

I hope to write posts that honestly reflect the things that are overlooked in a "Friend or foe!" challenge: the reasons why, the personal perspective, the pros and cons, the deciding factors. I hope to be fair and honest even about views that I firmly believe are wrong (not supportive, mind you, simply fair and honest; that shouldn't need justifying). I have no wish to relativize the truth on divisive topics; I do wish to place the humanity of both sides at the forefront of the conversation. Right now there's not quite enough goodwill or trust to move the conversation forward, and so my focus is on those. I hope we can de-legitimize the "Friend or foe!" challenge; it assumes we're already at war.