Discourse

Discourse.  This is a term I find myself interested in lately.  The word means the communication of thought by talk and words and I think it’s an important definition to showcase.  I don’t want to confuse people with thoughts of academic papers floating across desks and being read at symposiums because it’s not what my point is at all.  My point is that our society seems to lack an affinity for communication of thought through talk and words.  We certainly talk a lot, but do we communicate?  Do we discuss?

In my encounters and travels I find I classify communications into three broad categories (which are by no means exhaustive – these are my own personal definitions and in the interest of discourse, I think it important you realize them as such): discussion, cheerleading, and arguments.  The rarest of these is discussion insofar as any “weight” is given.

When two people share a dialogue my favorite type of dialogue is the discussion.  Discussions can be friendly banter, they can be idle chit chat, or (most rarely) they can be debates.  When two people of differing opinions discuss an issue with open minds and are accepting of real facts, I consider that discussion.  When people are talking in order to better understand a new concept and are accepting of facts, this is discussion.  At the end of a discussion, opinions may remain unchanged, but at the end of a discussion the participants have hopefully learned more about the topic and the other people.

I enjoy discussions.

Cheerleading – which some readers have figured out since most people who read this are people I know and most people I know can figure this out – is better known as “preaching to the choir.”  I have been a member of some incredibly intense cheerleading.  I don’t quite understand how we work ourselves into such a froth when we all agree with each other, but it happens.  It’s enjoyable.  I like to have people who agree with me.  Lots of people I know do.

Oh, but there are those folks who do not like to be agreed with and that is when you have an argument!  Yes, that horrid thing – I hate arguments.  In an argument (and this is my personal view) people have decided before the dialogue on their opinion and they Will Not Change It No Matter What Happens.  And that is too bad, because I think arguments are the perpetrators in the great Discourse Dilemma.

To broaden the Argument umbrella, I put anyone who is unwilling to process facts or challenge beliefs under it.  There is an entire tangent on the weakness of belief if not truly challenged, but I won’t go into it – I am arguing for discourse right now.

How is discourse achieved?  Agreement.  There is a degree of contrariness to be understood in any discussion, but the participants must agree on certain areas.  Definitions and their source is one thing – this is how it is done in much of academia.  Fact are another.  There are certain facts that are true and need to be accepted as true.  It is unfortunate that there is often a smart aleck ready to dispute a given fact – and I admit to having been one myself on occasion.  But it makes discussion a chore.

Let us use a fact to illustrate my point.  It has been generally accepted by the populace as a whole (which is a good working definition of certain facts) that the sky is blue. But – our smart aleck may reply – the sky is not really blue.  That is merely the wavelength that reaches our eyes after sunlight is diffused through our atmosphere.  Also – they will continue – there are times the sky is red, orange, black, and other colors.  I will take my response off the air – they conclude.

Well, to be fair – and I am being smart alecky myself – the sky is not truly a color at all.  The sky is an intangible concept we have defined to better describe our visual field.  However, people know what I mean when I say “sky” and it is plausible to assume they think of the sky as “blue.”  So it benefits discussion to say it is blue.  Otherwise, I would be saying “with the exception of specific weather, position and time-related circumstances, the wavelength that my eyes perceive as ‘blue’ is the wavelength most readily scattered in my direction by the atmospheric particles surrounding the third planet from the star ‘Sol.'”

That’s exhausting!

And so, it is easier in discourse for us all to accept things like that as fact.  Where we run into trouble are facts that stem from things like “science.”  Oh, this is a can of worms I am not quite ready to open, but it seems to me that discourse would be greatly improved if people stopped putting things like “faith” and “belief” into scientific facts.  These are truths that have been exhaustively tested and tested and tested again, and they are the truths that are going to help us in the longest run.

That is how I wish to produce  material, at least non-fiction.  I am not interested in arguing with people, nor am I all too excited by the prospect of cheer leading.  Discussion is my goal, and it is too hard too often to discover this – but I am going to try.

To accept a mode of discussion, there need be rules, and the rules for me rest in the division of facts and opinions.  There is also a need to accept definitions as definitions.  We have agreed as a people to speak our incredibly complex language of English, and I think it only fair to employ it’s rules and definitions.  This is something I surmise many people have a problem with.  One only needs to witness some sort of propaganda machine to learn this.  Labels in politics are affixed to people who do not meet the definitional criteria for that label – and that makes me very upset.  This is due to people wanting to “win,” which means no one “does.”

I am not philosophical, so I am not going to entertain the concept that our reality is pliable and real only due to our brains.  At least, not right now.  For any opinion piece of mine, I think it acceptable that reality be accepted as real, and facts be accepted as fact.  I don’t wish to state something as a fact without backup available, but I don’t think I will readily seek out the proof needed to prove myself.  The burden of proof is on the people trying to prove me wrong.  That’s how it works in court, as far as I understand.

And so, as I head into this world and I write my opinions, I do my best to support them with facts.  My opinion is that we need facts.  We need discourse.  We need to work together because we’re all in it together.  But that’s just this man’s opinion.

Growth

Discourse is dying.  Perhaps that is too dire a summation, but in my travels and encounters I find people to be far less interested in true discourse – defined here as the amicable transactions of information, the information taking the form of opinions based on facts.  This saddens me to no end, because we need discourse.  We need discussion of ideas.

We are choosing paths as humanity, paths along our timeline and each choice we as a whole make brings us closer to our ultimate end.  I can write with confidence that as you read this, we are the strongest humanity has ever been.  Carl Sagan once said that “the sky calls to us.  If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day travel to the stars.”  We are so close.

We.  Are.  So.  Close.

A recent xkcd strip underscores this point entirely.  As we look back across our history as controllers of our planet, there is no other time we stand so truly capable of leaving our home and venturing the furthest any of us ever have.  People have walked on the moon.  We fly.  Right now, millions of people are capable of instantly talking to another person as far away as a person could possibly get.  There has never been a point in history where humanity has had more hope for the future.

But…

At the same time, humanity creeps further to its own extinction.  Taking away the disastrous methods Mother Nature holds for our destruction, we stand most ready to cause our own demise.  With space objects travelling toward us carrying destructive force, the weather constantly destroying our coastal cities, and the earth itself shaking our towers to bits, we have looked at each other and said “it’s not enough.”

We have said “let us find new ways to destroy each other.  Disease, famine, natural disaster is not enough” and so we craft weapons and search out reasons to hate.  And destroy.  And with global warming reaching its tipping point, and our incredible love of weapons, and our factions bickering, mankind stands closer to destruction than ever.

And so I cry foul at our failure of discourse, our failure to look at the facts and true definitions and see what truly threatens our way of life.  We bicker about place settings and health care when at any second we could be obliterated.

That is depressing.

And yet…

We are species so adept with our big brains that we have reached a point I would argue no other species truly has: we control our own extinction.  Yes, this could be considered true.  It is not a fact, no, for there are far too many “what ifs,” but it is something to believe in.  We can observe our planetary threats and think our way out of them and protect ourselves.

The path to protection lay within all of humanity.  Each of us needs to look at our world and our resources and the path we are on and realize something:  It is time to grow up.  This world we live in has given us the tools and gadgetry of countless science fiction novels and films and the medical science for us to live a long life and enjoy it and too many of us treat these things as children would.  We dispose of things, we waste, and that is not okay.  Not anymore.

We need to grow up.  We need to take responsibility for the problems we ourselves have caused.  It isn’t fun – but when you grow up, you realize you have to do a lot of things that aren’t fun.

I speak for myself and I speak mainly to America, my homeland.  Our country sits very close to our precipice, possibly falling into financial ruin.  The plain fact is that we have lived life too long as Americans letting our country run around the world like a teenager with an express card.  We have to do better.  We can, too.

And it starts with discourse, I think.  The resurgence of calm discussion.  People need to be willing to not only accept dissenting opinions, but to change their own.  It’s a flawed premise, to be sure, because people are not always willing to accept facts as facts.  People like to hold onto their beliefs whether in tooth fairies or politicians or automobile makers.  People are flawed and they make mistakes – but it is in our best interest to forgive those mistakes when the people making them accept responsibility and do what needs to be done to make things right again.

It is done through responsibility, open-minds, and so many other things I cannot even begin to describe them all.  But as I go through life, I am certainly willing to try.