THE VULGARITY OF OUR PUBLIC DIALOGUE

A stoic Roman Senator once said, “It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity.”

I don’t know that our national dialogue has “slipped” into vulgarity.  It has felt to me more like a down-hill flat out run into vulgarity.

Let’s consider one example that covers the waterfront.

Back in March 2012, the Georgetown University President, John J. DeGioia, said that the foul language used to characterize student Sandra Fluke’s sincere objections to HHS regulations affecting contraceptives, especially what Rush Limbaugh had to say, was “misogynistic, vitriolic and a misrepresentation of [her] position.”

We teach our children to respect and not to bully others, but then we call a woman names, describe her in a hateful and demeaning manner, and purposefully misrepresent what she said.

If an opponent can characterize an individual as unappealing by how they look, or based on sex, nationality, race, religion, association, and any other personal aspect that is irrelevant to what he or she has said, they do it anyhow because it discredits the person – and they can slip the argument, perhaps never address it.

With networks, print, social media and emails, we have an epidemic of distortion, disinformation and material omission of what was truly said and of the contents of the source material purportedly quoted.

Currently, we have those insisting the second amendment was passed so that the people could overthrow their government with hand guns, rather than so that our fledging government could have a militia to protect it.  The Federalists were concerned about revolting revolutionary troops in Massachusetts when they so constituted this nation.  They were not inviting insurrection by an amendment to the constitution.

We don’t examine carefully the trite doggerel that passes for sense when repeated like a Hare Krishna chant, for instance, the phrase, “guns don’t kill …,” when plainly they do and when we have not heard of many drive-by knifings – nor any mass knifings.

Whatever we think about who bears arms, the lawless wild west where every tobacco-chewing man or woman carries a gun to “settle up” is just not civilization – although some argue this is “civilization.”

Some say this stuff out of ignorance, to con us, or to frighten us.

On this last point, fear, we have heard of this baseless fear that “they’re going to take my guns” – even though we have struggled with this issue as a nation for decades – mourned other dead innocents – and still no one has taken anybody’s guns.  The Mayans shall likely be proven right before anyone’s guns are taken.  Given the invertebrate character of our elected representatives, there probably won’t even be reasonable protections put in place to save Johnny from the next assault rifle ambush in a school.

The best way to protect against the political con and the fear and anger mongers is to study – and not from the re-affirming slanted echo chambers that pass themselves off as news outlets these days.  “Balanced coverage” has come to mean any sensible proposition can be offset by any stupid thing anyone says in opposition.

It is little wonder we are slipping in science world-wide when some can insist without raucous laughter, such superstitious beliefs as the world is thousands of years old, when, spoiler alert, it’s billions of years old.

We have those who say that we need not worry about extinction from “man” like that could never happen when, by man’s reckless clumsiness, greed and malicious intent he has so compromised species all over this planet since the mid-19th century that many are now extinct.

Nor are we doing so well by ourselves.  We put ourselves – humankind – and our progeny at risk of extinction as the planet’s weather slips away from our scientific understanding and control.

As for our planet, we have those who would proliferate like rats and roaches while supporting, ironically enough, any great war that comes down the pike to prove that we are better, I suppose, so we may have territory, fossil fuels, power, influence and imperial bragging rights.

How do we dial back the vulgarity, our inability to communicate in a reasoned and constructive fashion — so that we have a chance to address what really matters instead of, let’s choose another odious example, whether gay marriage is responsible for a 50 % divorce rate among heterosexual couples?

We must as a people resist invitations to demonize a person rather than consider the content of their argument.

We must be aware of those who distort and omit material information.

We must be sensitive to those who would inflame the public when using these techniques of slander, distortion and omission so they may prompt fear and anger in response.

We must read and study more to protect us against a clumsier political class and a less reliable media, so that we know what we’re talking about when they don’t.

We should choose our words more carefully than we’ve been doing.

If we could do these things, that would be a little less vulgar, don’t you think?

 

 

14 thoughts on “THE VULGARITY OF OUR PUBLIC DIALOGUE

  1. David Dickinson

    “We must be aware of those who distort and omit material information.”

    Case in point, the above ranting, meandering diatribe.

    “How do we dial back the vulgarity, our inability to communicate in a reasoned and constructive fashion…We must as a people resist invitations to demonize a person rather than consider the content of their argument.”

    Followed by:

    “Given the invertebrate character of our elected representatives”
    “the trite doggerel that passes for sense when repeated like a Hare Krishna chant”
    “some can insist without raucous laughter, such superstitious beliefs as the world is thousands of years old”

    Your post is laughable. You complain about “vulgarity” and then go on to name-call, in a more educated fashion, and display the point you are arguing against.

    Hypocrite.

  2. John Flannery

    So what fact or characterization prompts you to object? Do you think the earth is only thousands of years old? What is your opinion? Based on what? It’s not name calling to assert a fact or an observable circumstance and characterize it faithfully. Are you “happy” with a political dialogue that allows what’s factually unsupportable to serve as a basis for public policy? Can such public policy be of much value when it has a faulty foundation. If we’re going to talk about guns, then let’s get the law right and evaluate the proposals fairly.

  3. David Dickinson

    I’m not disputing any of your assertions.

    I am pointing out that for an author to state his disdain for “vulgarity” and then, in the same article, partake of the same bald vulgarities that you accuse others of is, on its face, pure hypocrisy.

  4. John Flannery

    Demonstrate how:

    I demonized any individual.

    Show what I distorted or omitted.

    What did I say to prompt fear or anger?

    What statement did I make that reflects a failure in research?

    What words were chose inappropriately?

    I am not against robust discussion but I’m attacking sophist arguments that manipulate instead of illuminate and the too easy passivity we allow folks in discussions to say anything at all for fear we’ll be impolite when, by our silence, we suffer the indignity of allowing the vulgarity I’ve outlined – and, I would argue, avoided myself.

  5. David Dickinson

    Demonstrate how:

    I demonized any individual.

    On the technicality, of a particular individual (i.e. John Smith), you don’t. However, you make sweeping broadsides at a number of groups. You state that you invite discourse but make sweeping broadsides such as:

    “Given the invertebrate character of our elected representatives” (offensive to politicians)
    “trite doggerel that passes for sense when repeated like a Hare Krishna chant” (offensive to 2nd amendment supporters)
    “some can insist without raucous laughter, such superstitious beliefs as the world is thousands of years old” (offensive to religious fundamentalists).

    If you want to argue facts, then stick to them. If you want to poke sticks in the eyes of those who disagree with you, then don’t hop on your horse of righteousness charging into battle as an anti-vulgarity crusader. Your own vulgarity clearly shows in your disdain for those that don’t agree with you and is demonstrated by your words.

    Show what I distorted or omitted.

    You omitted any counterpoint to your litany of liberalism. Your whirlwind tour of liberalism managed to fit gun control, contraception, Creationism, climate change, gay marriage and more into a single post. Condescension is your primary tool for distortion, “As for our planet, we have those who would proliferate like rats and roaches…” No bias or distortion there.

    What did I say to prompt fear or anger?

    Just because I challenge the veracity of your statements doesn’t mean I’m angry with you. Your logic is off. Way, way off.

    What statement did I make that reflects a failure in research?

    You didn’t research anything. If I had to classify your work, I’d call it a trite liberal doggerel that passes for sense when repeated like a Hare Krishna chant. And, given the breadth of topics you hit on, you couldn’t have possibly put adequate research into them and presented them in a single post. Next time, pick one subject and stick to it (unless you are trying to baffle us with BS).

    What words were chose inappropriately?

    The phrases pulled above and more. Your first 5 paragraphs were on topic, and then you went way off course. Almost everything after those initial 5 was inappropriate.

    I am not against robust discussion but I’m attacking sophist arguments that manipulate instead of illuminate and the too easy passivity we allow folks in discussions to say anything at all for fear we’ll be impolite when, by our silence, we suffer the indignity of allowing the vulgarity I’ve outlined – and, I would argue, avoided myself.

    If you actually believe that, your echo chamber is soundproof.

  6. John Flannery

    You agree that I attacked no individual.

    As for my critique of politicians, I ask you again do you believe our representatives have any spine when it comes to difficult issues? What exactly is unfair in that accusation? You may draw a different conclusion but there is no evidence you do. Yet you cite it as an error on my part. No?

    A Hare Krishna chant is a repetition time and again of the words Hare krishan. There are those who repeat over and over again that the world is a thousand years old. As a matter of science, that is simply not true. Do you agree? Someone may believe that. They are misinformed as a matter of science. Because someone believes it as a matter of faith that doesn’t change the criticism that it is a laughable scientific notion.

    Disagreeing with someone is not poking sticks in their eyes. They can refute what I say.

    Nor is a liberal cant – as you would dismiss the content of this disagreement – to say the world is billions of years old. This is a scientific principle and is not a matter of partisan or spectral ideology. This is about facts.

    I don’t insist anyone agree with me. I do invite anyone who does disagree with me to explain why I’m wrong, to persuade me.

    You say I omit any counterpoint. I have invited you to supply any counterpoint. I know of none for the fact that the world is billions of years old

    You fault me for mentioning a “litany” of topics that divide us when the facts are distorted. For instance gun control Dispute what I said. The second amendment says in the words of the amendment, and I quote, “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,” and some still say this amendment was create so the people could revolt against this new government. You parse the amendment and explain how that is possible with those words. You tell me a knife is a treacherous as a gun. Arguments that incorporate fact and opinion don’t have to be boring (or repetitive).

    While I didn’t mention creationism, it is a religious belief system, and those who believe it as a tenet of their religion are welcome to believe it. But it is not fact. It is not science.

    Some believe that contraception is wrong. Fine for them but they should not impose their belief on others.

    Dispute what I said about climate change – in summary.

    As for gay marriage, there are those who say gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, you may not be among those who say that, but do you think that’s true?

    You say my method is condescencion but I’ve invited you to prove me wrong.

    You take issue with my comparison of the rate of births among humans with rats and roaches but the math is right, we are exploding across the planet and those numbers are measurable and testing the capacity of the world to sustain us – until it can’t.
    My logic may be off but you can’t just say it is. You have to demonstrate it’s off. Waiting. Waiting.

    As for research, I have spent my life researching what I talk about and welcome a fellow traveler or disputant who does as well because it’s a corrective for misapprehending what is true and right.

    As for your final “personal” attack, I might have respected your vulgarity more had it been original rather than re-treading what I’d already said.

    But let’s review what you claim. Whatever foul thing I may be, few would find me trite. While I plead guilty to liberal, my views were not “liberal” – they were factual and based on science and original documents. As for it being doggerel, I concede what I wrote was prose not poesy but – if I may say – not said so badly as to be doggerel.

    As for the scope and reliability of my research, it is evident in that you are unable to contradict what I’ve proposed as a matter of fact or policy

  7. Pariahdog

    May I add a bit of context?

    John writes for the Purcellville Gazette, and the response appears to be a response to seven letters to the editor and a special op-ed that all shared the same world view. I don’t know how to say this in a neutral way other than to classify the world view of the authors as either right-wing, or “christian.” I use “christian” in scare quotes because that usage describes an identity politic that is based on a religious belief system.

    For example, Fran Wingardner writes:

    Mr. Flanner refers to the belief of creationism as a “bizarre belief system” and then drones on about all the talking points of the left; global warming, and finite earthly resources. In my opinion, the aforementioned talking points are the so-called “bizarre beliefs”. As a Christian I believe I am to be a good steward of all of God’s creations. But I worship God and not his created things. And people are dearer to God than a forest (or a spider). I love trees but I don’t hug them.
    As great and exciting as science is, it is not as static as a belief system. Scientific facts change continuously with every new discovery…”

    I’d like to address two points. 1. The term “conservative” is derived from “conserve” – the ability to manage finite resources. 2. Scientific facts (laws and theories) do not change. Scientific measurements improve, so much so that the context of the measurements require new theories. Newtownian mechanics doesn’t hold up under huge gravitational fields, at quantum distances nor at relativistic speeds. That doesn’t mean that the facts of Newtownian mechanics have changed.

  8. David Dickinson

    Mr. Flannery, the underlying point of your post seems to be that you want people to engage in serious discourse. Yes?

    But your smarmy post moves you in the opposite direction. Thus, you engage in the behavior you are calling others to eschew.

    Your behavior post “post” is even more bizzare, and you start arguing the facts of individual points. None of those individual points has much to do, if anything, with your post. You are attempting to justify your own bad bahavior by attempting to contrive an argument that, basically, says you are factually correct on these individual points, and therefore can be a jerk to people in the broader text of your post.

    I disagree. Your article does nothing to further your goal of engaging others in meaningful conversation.

  9. John Flannery

    At least not you, certainly. I’ve invited you to refute the examples I chose and you have not. Silence is ordinarily taken as acquiescence – or having nothing to say. The examples i chose are the current talking points that pass for discourse and leaping off points for our public discussion. You don’t see it. I can’t say whether that’s my failure to make my point or your inability or unwillingness to consider it. But there it is.

  10. David Dickinson

    OK, Mr. Flannery. If you want to debate a point, go ahead and pick one and I’ll happily oblige. We can engage in civil discourse and fully embrace the intended (but missed) target of your post.

  11. David Dickinson

    The gauntlet looks very loney and sad laying on the ground like that.

    I guess I’ll just pick it up and try again some other time.

    “Silence is ordinarily taken as acquiescence – or having nothing to say”

  12. John Flannery

    I have stated my propositions. I await your reply on any of my points. Perhaps you’d like me to state the affirmative and draft your best response.

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