21 May 2005

Can we talk?

I recently ran across DebateSpace, which consists of a conversation between a liberal pacifist atheist (The Liberal Avenger) and a conservative born-again soldier (dadmanly). What struck me was the civil tone the two of them have adopted, even when discussing the issues on which they are most divided.

What struck me then was how terrible it was that this surprised me. Public discourse has become so debased that rhetorical opponents are routinely demonized. For example, some of my more liberal friends have condemned my regular reading of The Economist, dismissing it as "conservative", and therefore beneath contempt.

I prefer not to make enemies of those who merely disagree with me. With The Economist, for example, I view it as the honorable opposition. In general, they work from accurate information, their reasoning is coherent, and their conclusions well-supported. Sometimes they say what I already agree with; sometimes they change my mind. And even when I still disagree with what they say, figuring out why I disagree with them helps me sharpen my own arguments.

Discussions like the one those fine gentlemen are having at their blog are the modern versions of debates in the agora, or the talking society on the front porch of the general store in a small town. Why aren't The Liberal Avenger and dadmanly, rather than Ann Coulter, being celebrated on the cover of Time?