SATURDAY, May 21, 2011 7:00 to 7:30 PM Arrival Time

Book “Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics”

by Susan Herbst

Jackie Hazelton

Discussion will focus on the lead article in The Phi Beta Kappa Society, The Key Reporter magazine Spring 2011, “Rude Democracy in America-Can We Overcome It”.

You can read the article at http://www.pbk.org/home/FocusNews.aspx?id=685
eading the book is the best preparation.

In particular, we will discuss Susan Herbst’s observations and routes to solutions, included below, from an Objectivist perspective.

1. Create a Culture of Listening.  We have all focused, rightly, on “sins of commission”:  what is said by pundits and leaders that seems entirely out of line. But we typically fail to note “sins of omission”:  what we fail to do, and what we forget to do, as leaders and citizens. One of the things we seem unable to do is to listen, and truly open ourselves up, with the patience it takes to process information.  Everyone wants to talk at once and be heard! Their blog, their post, their soundbite. In this cacophony there is no reward for silence, and seemingly no benefit. We have some ground-breaking projects to be sure — StoryCorps on NPR being the premier example — focused on getting Americans to slow down and listen. But beyond these few brave contributions, listening seems to be a lost art, and one that needs immediate resurrection.

2. Advocate for Rules of Evidence.  The single most problematic aspect of the internet, and our ability to be heard without gatekeepers, is the lack of argumentation rules. It seems that anyone can say anything, and have that picked up and repeated over and over, without critical oversight. I suppose our founders would lean on the populace: Educated people can separate the wheat from the chaff. That is easier said than done, however, because it has become very difficult to separate the two in a flood of information, or have the time to try. I keep hoping that one of our leading news organizations or pundits will call for a summit: How can broadcast professionals come together and agree on standards, to define what constitutes evidence? So many professional organizations do this, daily. Why can’t our media, who should be public servants while making their profits, locate their professional standard and moral center?

3. The Answer is in P-16 Education.  In many ways, the generations of citizens older than 25 have lost their way, with regard to political talk. Perhaps we can change, but it is far more likely that the high school and college students of today will navigate the new waters and develop the sort of discourse that might make America seem the humane, lively democracy envisioned so long ago. We cannot rely on standard, even if excellent, civics courses or Introduction to Political Science. We need to teach young people how to argue with vigor, intelligence and panache. We must train an educated populace, as always, but just as important, we need to create a culture of argument. And we need to do this on a mass scale thorough our public and private schools. If we cannot teach our children how to reason and articulate their ideas, they will find themselves in the same dysfunctional bind their parents live in.

4. We Need Courage.  It feels old-fashioned to write, and you likely find it ridiculously 19th century to read, but being a citizen in a democracy has always demanded a sort of courage that few of us ever come to know.  Soldiers know it, and they prove it daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the rest of us don’t call on any sort of internal cognitive or emotional strength when it comes to politics. We want it to be easy, which is why social scientists find that most people hang out with those who share their beliefs. Few people argue or seek others who might disagree.  Somehow, we think that democracy itself — rule by the people — would just involve occasional voting, when it always called for much more. Democratic theorists have written about this in so many ways, over hundreds of years now: Self-rule is impossible without the bravery it takes to express opinions and do so civilly. The abilities to argue, to listen and create the nation together, are both foundational and non-negotiable.

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Jackie Hazelton
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