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Old April 9, 2009, 03:25 PM   #16
Evan Thomas
Join Date: July 7, 2008
Location: Upper midwest
Posts: 5,141
And it's not just politicians, either. Reverting to the thread title for a minute: a fundamental problem is that there's very little actual "discourse" taking place.

The media report these events because they're interested in boosting ratings, and sensational, "extreme" events such as the recent rampage shootings grab people's attention.

Then various groups with axes to grind jump on the bandwagon, because they see an opportunity to get some free publicity for whatever cause they espouse, whether it's more gun control, or extending the right to carry concealed weapons, or promoting stereotypes about ethnic groups (it's been suggested that it's somehow significant that Mr. Cho, at VT, and Mr. Voong, in Binghamton, were both Asian). And, of course, politicians have to get into the act...

As we've seen in the various (mostly closed) threads on these events in this forum, it's difficult to keep a conversation about the causes of violence, or solutions to the problem, on track: people tend to push one viewpoint, and to take offense when others disagree -- or at least to get sidetracked into endless, bandwidth-devouring, attempts to prove that their position is better than the other guy's....

In all these cases, one-dimensional arguments rule; partly because it's more comforting to believe that there's a one-size-fits-all explanation or solution for a problem than it is to deal with the fact that there are any number of possible causal factors. Another reason is that the news cycle moves on... And most people's attention spans are way too short to follow a complex chain of reasoning, much less to produce one.

So how do we encourage something more discourse-like? Argue from facts rather than emotion. Ask for clarification of an argument we don't quite get, rather than being so quick to say that someone is wrong. Refuse to listen to sensationalistic media accounts, and learn to recognize when we're being manipulated rather than informed. (It's the arguments we find most appealing that we ought to watch out for... those are the ones that're pushing our emotional buttons.)
Never let anything mechanical know you're in a hurry.
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