Swayze: Four Steps to Creating Abysmal Political Discourse

I began this post in my desire  to vent my frustration over the state of logical discourse among my peers, although I think in the end it is a good understanding of my thoughts about growing the party.

The state of political discourse is pretty abysmal right now. People can’t seem to see eye to eye, folks are unfriending each other on Facebook, and social media icons stand in for an entire worldview. (I am not immune, I swear.) While there will always be those in the public eye – journalists, political scientists, and the like- who value and engage in rational debate and respectful dialogue, the average population seems a bit rusty in the department of logical discourse. The problem is, in my opinion, due to several things that come together to form a political mess.

The first is that Americans seem very unwilling to separate their person from their beliefs. That is, we internalize every belief and opinion as if they are part of our genetic makeup, and then act mortally wounded should someone dare pose an affront. It’s silly. I think it has to do with the individualized nature of our culture. We speak in terms of me, my, mine. The American worldview is, compared to other cultures, a selfish one. And we tend to take our opinions much too seriously.

The second is that many individuals legitimately do not know how to discuss anything. The more I attempt to debate with others the more I am convinced that the art of civil discourse is lost on my generation. (I was born in the mid 1980s if that helps.) I find that many, many people I attempt to engage do not understand the very basic idea of defining their premises and then building on the argument. They do not understand the idea of rationally debating a premise. Or exploring one further. But then again, I sometimes think that’s the point; people don’t want to debate because debate may lead to a change in mindset. And change is bad…or something. I wish I could slap people with a logic baton. I mean really, just learn the basics of constructing a logical argument. It’s okay to discuss ideas, people.

The third problem is, I think, one of willful ignorance. Most people do not know who their representatives are. Do not know the latest vote on anything – at any governmental level – and do not care to know. I’ll cite an example of willful ignorance that I saw today on Facebook:

I had a friend of a friend who stated that he did not understand why LGBT folks were dissatisfied with domestic partnerships in California. He said, “but it says that ‘Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights’. ” I perused the link he posted. The full sentence, which was in the link, actually said, “Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights regarding nondiscrimination as those provided to spouses.” I pointed this out, and got no response. I sent another link that clearly outlined the tax rights that were not given to domestic partners in California. (If we’re going to debate, then debate!) Again, no response. It’s easier to remain willfully ignorant than to become informed. I know I don’t know enough, but the things that I have seen people outright shut their eyes at is sometimes appalling to me. That, or they may weigh one factor more heavily than the other for apparently subjective reasons.

The fourth problem with political discourse in America is that politicians are rewarded when they say speak controversially. And people follow suit. I understand that emotional arguments are easier to make and easier to convince people with. So are arguments akin to, “Oh my gosh we’re all going to die!” I just don’t think they are particularly helpful when someone is trying to appear like a sane and rational person.  We all fall prey to turning to emotional arguments and logical fallacies, and sometimes emotional appeals are necessary in political discourse. Although I tend to think that Libertarians fall on the opposite end, and sometimes overlook the emotional reasons behind why people vote the way they do. Gay marriage is a great example of this. Yes, it would be great to have the government out of marriage and divorce. I hate my divorce and the government’s involvement in it. But is telling an LGBT person that government should leave marriage, and so the fight for marriage equality is unimportant, and then walking away from the discussion going to do anything at all? No. No, no, no, no, no. Understand people where they are and engage them on their level. Understand the emotional appeal of their political argument. And learn from it. Then we can grow as a party.

I would love to see the ideals of liberty adopted by everyone. But how do we do that in a black and white (or Republican and Democrat) world? As stated above, I think some of it can come through discussion and debate with others, especially in areas that Libertarians are uncomfortable. So you really aren’t a statist and really don’t want to talk about statism on any level. Okay. But how do you reach someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum when all you can muster is an argument close to “The government must go” ? We need to find ways to connect with people and help them explore the reasons why they believe what they do politically, and then rationally challenge the views.  I do not think that people will come to libertarianism on their own because society does not support it.

As well, we would reach more people if we had a better appearance of NOT being anything “crazy” like the Tea Party. Fervor is nice, but fervor for its own sake isn’t going to do anything productive. I think that avoiding the appearance of being on the crazy train is the ability to logically and calmly explain and discuss our views with others.  Of course, this means that we actually need to engage people in the first place.

IF we truly believe that libertarianism is  a way to solve the societal problems that we see, then we need to engage others in logical debate about issues even if we do not agree that it should be debated at all (such as gay marriage). We can do this by being more of a partner with those interested in politics. We can help them dissect their own reasons for thinking the way they do, and what biases they may hold that keeps them locked in that point of view. We can also advance our own cause by understanding what keeps others from libertarianism or the Libertarian Party, and learning from it.

Contributor Lynn Swayze is a left-leaning libertarian and feminist. When she's not engaging in political discussion, she works as a freelance direct response copywriter, project manager, and marketing strategist for information marketers. Follow her on Twitter @LynnSwayze.