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Talking Past Each Other

When you speak as plainly as you know how and yet have your words totally misconstrued and your arguments irrationally rebutted stands as one of the greatest sources of frustration known to exist.  It is even more astonishing when your opponent has an identical take on the conversation.  What is going on?  Is the mother tongue no longer adequate to communicate with each other?  A simple disagreement is understandable, but when two people, or two parties, or two groups scream at each other without out any attempt at processing their adversary’s position, then the polemic veers dangerously close to violence.  The nicest way I can describe this phenomena is to say that we’re talking past each other.  The reality is much worse. 

My three year stint in high school debate taught me that I could and should concede some arguments on my way to establishing a greater argument, and thus win the debate.  Today, almost nothing is conceded.  To concede even the minutest point is perceived as weakness.  One blogger puts it this way: “I concede nothing.  Now we just get louder.”  When we do not understand each other—or at least pretend that we do not understand—then there is no path to reconciliation or peace.  When you cannot say, “This we agree on…” then there are no pilasters or piers across the divide on which a bridge may be built.  

Shouting matches have replaced talk shows in the media.  Advocates of one side are not permitted to advance one salient point without the other side interrupting and drowning out the words with an incessant barrage of objections and counter-arguments.  It is a verbal version of the stronger arm or bigger hammer.  Editorialists choose the most incendiary terms and ignore the most patently obvious rationales to state their case.  Suddenly, a college level discussion degenerates into a third-grade fight or a barroom brawl.  It is a maddening descent into abject stupidity and Neanderthalian ignorance.  

Take the abortion issue for example.  The pro-life movement says abortion equals killing babies.  The pro-choice side (that term in itself is subject to debate) says that abortion is the woman’s right to determine what happens in her own body.  For each side, the focus is different, the terminology is different and the convictions are different.  For the pro-choice side to retain the force of its argument, the concept of killing a baby must never be embraced in any way, shape or form.  For the pro-life side, no other position must take priority over the fact that the life of a human being is destroyed.  The impasse is almost surreal.  

Taxation is another hot-button issue.  Tax proponents focus on the ability of the wealthy to pay higher taxes.  Besides, if the country needs money, the people who have the money should be the ones to pay.  After all, they took advantage of the laws and circumstances of the country to make the money in the first place.  It’s only right for them to pony up.  Opponents say that to single out the wealthy is class warfare.  No one person or group should be targeted for more taxes because that is unfair.  Besides, to take money from the wealthy for taxation purposes only restricts the wealthy from buying goods and services that, in turn, provides jobs for the citizenry.  Moreover, the government that confiscates the money to spend on programs of its own choosing is notorious for fraud and lavish and wasteful overspending.  Large chunks of the money winds up in the pockets of the bureaucrats.  Agreements on taxing and spending are usually exercises in rhetoric and head faking. 

Illustrative issues go on forever.  The point is that many people talk, but not to each other.  We talk past each other.  Resolution is not the goal of discussion.  Our words serve only to reinforce our intractable arguments and galvanize our grassroots supporters.  Too many are totally invested in maintaining their status quo, and are willing to go to any length, become as stupid as necessary, ignore as much reality as they can, be as patronizing as possible and outlast the other side for any length of time in order to cling to their position.  It is a recipe for ultimate disaster with the only consolation being the opportunity to blame the ensuing catastrophe on the other side.  But, if you blow up the end of the boat that belongs to the other side, both of you are going down.  “Both of us may die, but it will be your fault!”  

Meanwhile, everyone ignores the big picture.

Ever heard of the fiscal cliff?

Does anyone know what the loss of superpower status looks like?

Who wins if social security goes bankrupt?

What good is there in a nuclear Iran?

What if China calls in our debt?

If America fails, will anyone care how it happened?

If we don’t start talking to each other instead of past each other, we may not be talking at all. 

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