Thursday, March 10, 2011

Civil Discourse

Fists thrust in the air in angry defiance.  Faces contorted with enraged shouting.  Noise so deafening that law enforcement is reduced to wearing earplugs.  A Lybian protest against Muammar al-Gaddafi?  Not quite.  Think Madison instead.  Regardless of the issues in debate at the moment, it is the behavior of those involved in the debate that has revealed a very ugly underside of our society.  Overall it seems that our culture is being reduced to its lowest common denominator when it comes to how we communicate.  Social network mediums such as Facebook  bring out the most surprising narcissistic tendencies in people who seem completely uninhibited about sharing every thought, even those that are vindictive, mean-spirited, and vulgar.  Of course, such behavior is hardly new.  Still, it feels as if technology has given it a boost.  Once content to vent their rage from the seeming anonymity of a car rushing through traffic, the new antagonist need only log on and spew through a keyboard in the comfort of their home. 

The debate in my state, though, has also revealed something about our devolving society that should raise more than a passing concern.  Increasingly polarized and rigidly entrenched, we fight more and more not for the basic rights of life and safety, but for our self-perceived entitlements.  Sacrifice is a word best left to the Great Depression generation and those who weathered the struggle of World War II, abroad and stateside.  We simply do not know what it means to do without and be content.  The world owes us a standard of living to which we would like to become accustomed.  Once condemned by more than one commandment, coveting has become a new virtue.  Those who disagree with us are caricatured as heartless and oblivious to basic human need.  It all appears to be the natural development, surprising at it may sound, of a society committed to the seeming ideal of relativism.  To challenge something is to challenge everyone's right to be right, which is unacceptable and unfair.  Truth is always the greatest casualty in such times, and all the more so now as the goal is to capture the sentiments of the common voter and thus tip the balance of yet another poll.

Our rhetoric betrays an embarrassing unwillingness to take responsibility.  If all politics are local, then our current debate is reduced to a smaller circle yet: the fulfillment of personal perceived need and desire.  All this, of course, does not avoid the world of the church.  We are citizens of both kingdoms and influenced by each. To insist on standards and absolutes and boundaries seems so outdated to the person of the new era.  Everyone has a right, and every right, however defined and developed, is absolute.  The world revolves around me, but I want you to think it revolves around you.  It's all in the way we spin the story and craft the image.  Still, in the end the serpent can be found there just as he was at the beginning, sewing seeds of doubt, questioning the clear Word, leading us all too willingly to rebel for our own interests.  And where does it end?  Disarray, dissension, division, and disunity.  Chaos.  And we all know where this will eventually go if left unchecked and uncontrolled. 

After a while the issues simply do not matter.  The cloud of vile anger and selfish preoccupation has obscured the original point.  If we care not for how we treat one another and how we communicate with one another, all else seems pointless.  Can we find a way to talk again without yelling?  Can we rediscover the means of disagreeing without assassinating character?  Can we debate while still holding on to respect?  We need to look long and hard at our communications and ask if we really are communicating, or merely pontificating to hear the echo of our own voice and view.  This is the greater issue.  But is anyone listening?


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