Let's face it, so far this is just so much academic posturing. Prof. Watts's email is posturing. My reply is posturing. None of it gets us anywhere.
No: it's not enough to lob grenades or chide people for lobbing them. The chide itself can be seen as little more than a grenade wrapped in nicer packaging. We've got to figure out a way to have a more constructive kind of political exchange. We've got to model it, and keep modeling it, and hone the model, and provide a sustained, principled alternative to the--I dunno, what to call it?--horseshit of present political "debate."
This means an attention to process. It means figuring out the obstacles to civil discourse and evolving tactics by which to overcome the obstacles.
Luckily this is not a job that has to be done from scratch. There is a pretty well-evolved literature out there on negotiation, characterized by such books as Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, and Difficult Conversations (all products of the Harvard Negotiation Project). There is also what I judge to be a kernel of impatience with the current horseshit. You could see it in the applause and appreciation that Jon Stewart received in his Crossfire appearance. You can see it in the recent emergence of MyPartyToo, a PAC headed by former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman. You can see it in the columns of the evangelical Christian columnist Charles Colson.
I am sure that there are those on the Left and Right who will find a movement toward greater civility to be in some way threatening.
I'm tired of them.
I want something better.
Anyone feel like I do?
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