For a long time now, rational dialog has been a basic coping skill of “civilized” people, organizations, and societies trying to get along. You know, two heads of state or two ambassadors or just two average folks having one of those famous “wide-ranging and productive” conversations.
It should be enough to present ideas clearly and neutrally, without reference to personal feelings, beliefs, or cultural biases.
Also, education and exposure to different ideas should be enough to neutralize existing threats to civilized life, whatever that may mean.
Where is that basic coping skill now? A lot of people I know who live in the United States appear to be in panic mode all the time about everything, especially things political.
I recently read that events in Charlottesville, Virginia should “scare the piss” out of everyone. I also read a comment that “it’s time for everyone to unite,” (meaning people of a particular political view, not people of differing views; it appeared that people of differing views were not welcome to unite).
And these were comments from extremely educated, extremely intelligent human beings.
Why are people, left, right, and central, abandoning a core belief of modern civilization, that being rational and neutral in public discourse is the way to avoid conflict?
What happened to the cool superiority of trusting in the intellect, avoiding sensitive issues, and respecting (but not mentioning) differences of belief and practice in various areas?
They have apparently been abandoned. Why? For one of two reasons:
1. People have been discovering (and been shocked by the discovery) that merely being rational and merely being inoffensive doesn’t work.
That’s because some threatening people are not rational, and enlightened self-interest is not part of their game plan.
Take the leader of North Korea as an example. He is doing whatever he wants, no matter what happens to the people he supposedly leads, and no matter what happens to the people he is threatening. He doesn’t give a barbecued rat’s butt about any of that. Smiling and having lunch and having a photo op with Kim Jong Un . . . not going to make a difference.
2. People have been lying about their belief in and reliance on rational dialog. They are spouting it because they are cynical and manipulative and selfish and frightened, and “rational dialog” is their way of hiding their sense of weakness behind a mask of intellectual superiority.
Their belief in rational dialog is situational. If it gives them an advantage to be publicly thoughtful and wise, they will be. If it doesn’t work, they have no problem being threatening, bullying, and nasty. They may be gun-toters; they may be tree-huggers; they may be aliens from Mars; if pasting a smile on their face and being polite doesn’t get them what they want, they are more than willing to shout, panic, point fingers, and demonize.
It’s not the behavior of mature human beings; it’s the behavior of children on a playground who are still, deep inside, toddlers clinging to all the toys, screaming if anyone says, “Share,” or “That’s not yours.”
Years ago, I read that it’s good that children are born small and helpless. If they were born, somehow, fully adult-sized, with adult mental and physical co-ordination, they would be monsters. A small child thwarted is inevitably a ball of frustration and anger and lashing out that could kill if it had adult thought and strength behind it.
From my perspective, the biggest problem is that the world today seems to be full of people of all sorts, from all sorts of places, with all sorts of beliefs (atheist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Bahai, Buddhist, whatever), who have on masks of maturity, but inside they are still powerless, frightened infants.
They don’t really care about anything outside themselves; they can’t even conceive of what it means to truly love and care for another human being. Self-sacrifice is a horrible punishment. Self-restraint is a doctrine from Hell.
So when something occurs, as it often does in life, that is outside their control, many people abandon their supposed commitment to civilized, peaceful, rational dialog and start smashing, verbally and physically, and other people smash back.
My inner toddler is certainly screaming right now. She has a deep desire to lash out and shout, “No, no, no!”
They say that we should always be the change we want to see in the world. I am more than a little horrified to discover that the change my inner toddler wants is to bite, throw things, and flail my arms and legs.
I am sometimes afraid to go out in my own neighborhood these days. I realized this morning that it is not because anyone else is the problem; often it is because, in responding to unsettling life events, I discover that I am still largely a toddler in many ways, thus a potential problem and threat to other human beings.