Thursday, March 11, 2010

A call for civility in debate?

Every once in a while I will read a blogger or writer calling for "civility in public debate." The hatred is too intense. The language is too coarse. We aren't communicating with each other. Etc. All of the above in a certain sense is true (though I truly wonder if it was really different in any other age or time).

What I have found interesting is a curious phenomenon where the person calling for civility is often commits the very crimes he decries. In one post the writer will lament the lick of civility and then in the next declare how his opponents are the very incarnation of evil, because he wants to lower/raise taxes or some other trivial nonsense(depends on what you read).

I read such articles and posts and while in general I agree that we could all do well with a dose of civility, I often feel that those who make the call often enough are in need of their own advice. It's almost a dye marker of sorts. If you find yourself thinking there is too much heat in the kitchen, maybe you were the one who turned up the oven.

I was thinking these thoughts as I realized that I myself was thinking that there is too little charity in the public square. But as I meditated more I realized I was just as much as a problem as anyone else. The Internet, for the good it does in terms of making information readily available, makes it difficult to connect on a human level. A person I tear apart in a combobox I might be best friends with despite our disagreements if sat down and had a beer.

I think anyone who wants more civility in discussion should take a good look in the mirror. Too often we fail to see, in specific terms, how we contribute to the problem. Whenever we accuse someone of ulterior motives, we should be the first to point out our own faults in this matter. To truly see if we are acting in charity rather than simply trying to "win" or "be right."

In this vein I would like to make an apology. There is one person named Henry Karlson, a regular contributor at a site called Vox Nova. Their politics are about as far from mine as they can get. Yet in arguing with him I have said things that were unfair. In particular, I have accused him of supporting the pro-abortion movement despite his protests to the contrary.

For clarification, I think Mr. Karlson argues too much against the pro-life movement. At best, I think his views do little to advance the rights of the unborn, and at worst undermine them. I stand by my view of this and will defend such. Indeed it was because of my view on this that I initially thought he was actually arguing for a pro-abortion position.

But my evaluation of his arguments and what he actually says and believes are different things. Everyone deserves to have his opinion represented accurately. What I think his opinion leads to is not the same as his opinion. Karlson, despite my disagreements with him, says he is pro-life, and without evidence to the contrary he deserves to be taken at his word.

And so with that I offer a heartfelt apology. I hope to rectify this mistake however I can. And will attempt in the future to discuss, debate, and argue in the spirit of charity. If we truly seek to live as Christ's disciples, then we should at least be able to discuss our political differences in the Truth of the Faith.

1 comment:

Henry Karlson said...


I just saw your comment. First, I would say, if we kept it into a discussion of prudence, as to where we believe the best possible way to deal with life issues lay, instead of trying to point to each other as not pro life, I think that would help everyone and so -- for that, I would say well done to recognizing that point and seeing that is something I think many of us try to do. Are we perfect? No, I know I am not, and I know I am human.

Second, my views of politics are complex and deal with both what I wish things were like and how I see things working in actuality. Whether or not I believe the way things are should be as they are (I do not), I try to often argue on that level, and not in my ideal political level. That often confuses people as to assume my view is of acceptance of how things are -- it is not. But it makes it difficult for people to understand where I am coming from in politics. The best presentation I did was my work against Utopias early on in Vox Nova history and even then, it doesn't reach much of my view.

Nonetheless, finally: I accept your apology in earnest. I do believe it is good when we can see each other as working for the same end even if we strongly disagree in how we get there. If we can see the first, it will change how we deal with the second. And that is I think something we all need to remember.