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The Demise of civil discourse

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In 2012, Michael Shammas wrote for the Huffington Post regarding why it is a good idea to teach philosophy to High School kids. As he stated, “Anger is everywhere; understanding is nowhere.”

Here we are in 2017 and those words still ring true. You can log onto pretty much any social media platform and you’re inundated with vitriol. What’s more disturbing, is that you rarely see any effort from either party involved to understand the position of the other side. What you tend to see is a back-and-forth filled with generalizations, mischaracterizations, strawmen and outright insults.

What happened to us? What happened to civil discourse?

Shammas in his 2012 article suggests that we have lost the ability to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it. I would agree that is true for some of us. However, I’m going to suggest that for others, it’s simply hubris. Feeling “right” outweighs being “right” and sometimes, it outweighs truth itself.

Some of us feel that we are so “right” that we cannot be wrong. It’s an impossibility. In fact, if anyone suggests otherwise, that’s a slap to our pride. Certainly, we can’t be wrong! That’s blasphemy! Truly, if someone had the temerity to think differently or have a different perspective, they’re not only wrong, but they’re immoral. There’s something wrong with them. They’re evil. They’re the enemy.

If people who disagree with us are wrong, immoral, and the enemy, why would we actually take the time to get to know them? Why would we try to understand why they think they way they do? So, let’s just retreat to our respective echo chambers where we can pat each other on the back for being superior to those people. Let’s laugh and sneer at the knuckle-dragging rubes who think differently than we do. After all, we’re the enlightened ones, right?

So, if we can’t get to know someone who thinks differently than us, or worse yet, we don’t believe they are worth the time to get to know, what happens? There’s no way we can truly understand what they believe or why they believe it, in fact, most of the time, we don’t want to know. It’s stupid and wrong anyway so why waste our precious time? So we mischaracterize and generalize. Heck, even laugh at their apparent stupidity all the while being oblivious to the fact that mischaracterization often leads to demonization, which leads to passive and then active oppression.

It has been amazing to see how quickly so many who claimed to revile tribalism devolve into tribalism off of nothing more than their own arrogance.

There is a way out of his mess. It’s tough. It takes time and it requires becoming invested in people we may disagree with passionately. If we wish to wade into the battle of ideas, it is vitally important that we take the time to understand what the competing ideas are and accurately represent them. If we do not, we will quickly lose all credibility and we will lose traction in promoting our own ideas or philosophy because we’ve lost that credibility. We’ll only be adding to the background noise while other ideas and philosophies move forward with their agendas.

For example: if I started to criticize Islam, but it became apparent rather quickly that I have never studied the Quran, nor have I ever picked up the Hadith or talked to a Muslim, why should anyone take me seriously? If it’s made clear, once I exit my echo chamber, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, how can I expect to maintain any credibility whatsoever? I may be able to acquire some popularity with those who know less than I do, but it’s a transient popularity at best. My ill-gained popularity, as well as whatever philosophy or idea I was trying to promote, will simply be destined for the trash heap of history. Forgotten and impotent.

Plus, it’s important to learn about other perspectives because it’s just part of being a good neighbor. If I expect someone to treat my ideas fairly, and when criticizing them, accurately represent my position, I must do that for others. Well, I guess I don’t have to, but there’s a word for that kind of attitude and it starts with “hypo” and ends with “crite”.

So what do we do? I suggest there are two ways we can accomplish this: the first, we start to create and maintain relationships with those who disagree with us. Break bread with them. Pick their brains. Ask them about their beliefs and why they believe what they do. Take time to listen to them and really understand them so you can accurately represent their position. Again, you don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. But don’t rob them of their humanity by turning them and what they believe into a caricature. Second, study first; talk later. That’s right. Read books. Lots of them. YouTube and Google may be a good place to start, but it’s no substitute for actual research and study. Go to the sources. Read the documents that are central to a philosophy, political movement or a religion. Whatever you’re trying to criticize, you need to know it at least as well as anyone who adheres to what you’re attempting to criticize.

Also, we should read books that are critical of what we believe. To quote Christian apologist Andy Bannister, “…being willing to put what you currently believe to the test. For instance, what books have you read by those who disagree with you? If you’re an atheist and the very most you’ve ever read from a Christian is The Pop-up Book of Creationism, all the while lining your bookshelves with well-referenced works of atheism, I suggest you’re not really thinking, but living in an echo chamber.”

Let me ask you a question, dear reader; how do you expect your ideas or philosophy to win the “battle of ideas” if you don’t understand or care what the competing ideas or philosophies are to being with?

If we’re not prepared to take seriously the kinds of things that people believe in, then perhaps with all humility, we should simply stick to talking about TV shows, dating apps and celebrities. Because anything beyond that is just noise.

 

 

 

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Foreign Affairs

Maduro faces off with US over Venezuela rival’s power claim

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Maduro faces off with US over Venezuela rivals power claim

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans headed into uncharted political waters Thursday, with the young leader of a newly united and combative opposition claiming to hold the presidency and socialist President Nicolas Maduro digging in for a fight with the Trump administration.

Violence flared again Wednesday during big anti-government demonstrations across Venezuela, and at least seven protesters were reported killed in the escalating confrontation with Maduro, who has been increasingly accused of undemocratic behavior by the United States and many other nations in the region.

Juan Guaido, the new leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, turned up the heat by declaring himself interim president before a mass of demonstrators in Caracas. He said it is the only way to end the Maduro “dictatorship” in Venezuela, which has seen millions flee in recent years to escape sky-high inflation and food shortages.

“We know that this will have consequences,” Guaido shouted to the cheering crowd, then slipped away to an unknown location amid speculation that he would soon be arrested.

In a united and seemingly coordinated front, the U.S., Canada and some Latin American and European countries announced that they supported Guaido’s claim to the presidency.

But Russia, China, Iran, Syria and Turkey have voiced their backing for Maduro’s government.

President Donald Trump promised to use the “full weight” of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy. “The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he said in a statement.

Maduro fired back by breaking diplomatic relations with the U.S., the biggest trading partner for the oil-exporting country, and ordering American diplomats to get out of the country within 72 hours. Washington said it would ignore the order.

The socialist leader, who so far has been backed by the military, as well as the government-packed courts and a constituent assembly, recalled the long history of heavy-handed U.S. interventions in Latin America during the Cold War as he asked his allies for support.

“Don’t trust the gringos,” he thundered to a crowd of red-shirted supporters gathered at the presidential palace. “They don’t have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts and the ambition to take Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold.”

China’s Foreign Ministry called on the United States to stay out of the crisis, while Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned the U.S. against any military intervention in Venezuela.

Some Russian officials reacted with anger to the opposition protests. Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at the Russian Federation Council, called Guaido’s declaration “an attempted coup” backed by the U.S.

Russia has been propping up Maduro with arms deliveries and loans. Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia’s political and financial support. Over the last decade, China has given Venezuela $65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes more than $20 billion.

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

On Thursday, attention will shift to Washington, where diplomats at the Organization of American States will hold an emergency meeting on the Venezuelan situation. The debate promises to be charged, and the National Assembly’s newly picked diplomatic envoy will be lobbying to take Venezuela’s seat from Maduro’s ambassador.

Meanwhile, many Venezuelans will be looking for Guaido to re-emerge and provide guidance on the opposition’s next steps. The armed forces’ top command, which has so far remained silent, is also expected to issue a statement, although nobody expects the general’s loyalties to Maduro to have shifted.

The price of oil slipped for the third time in four days Wednesday, an indication that international energy markets are not overly concerned yet that the situation in Venezuela — America’s third top oil supplier and owner of Houston-based Citgo — will disrupt global crude supplies.

Tensions began ramping up earlier this month as Maduro took the oath of office for a second six-year term won in an election last May that many in the region contend was not free or fair because his strongest opponents were barred from running.

The 35-year-old Guaido, a virtually unknown lawmaker at the start of the year, has reignited the hopes of Venezuela’s often beleaguered opposition by taking a rebellious tack amid Venezuela’s crushing economic crisis.

He escalated his campaign Wednesday by declaring that the constitution gives him, as president of the congress, the authority to take over as interim president and form a transitional government until he calls new elections.

Raising his right hand in unison with tens of thousands of supporters, he took a symbolic oath to assume executive powers: “Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela.”

The assault on Maduro’s rule came after large crowds gathered in Caracas waving flags and chanting “Get out, Maduro!” in what was the biggest demonstration since a wave of unrest that left more than 120 dead in 2017.

There were no signs that security forces heeded Guaido’s call to join the anti-Maduro movement and go easy on demonstrators. Hours after most demonstrators went home, violence broke out in Altamira, an upscale zone of Caracas and an opposition stronghold, when National Guardsmen descended on hundreds of youths, some of them with their faces covered, lingering around a plaza. Popping tear gas canisters sent hundreds running and hordes of protesters riding two and three on motorcycles fleeing in panic.

Anti-government protesters hold their hands up during the symbolic swearing-in of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Anti-government protesters hold their hands up during the symbolic swearing-in of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Blocks away, a small group knocked a pair of guardsmen riding tandem off their motorcycle, pelting them with coconuts as they sped down a wide avenue. Some in the group struck the two guardsmen with their hands while others ran off with their gear and set their motorcycle on fire.

Meanwhile, four demonstrators were killed by gunfire in the western city of Barinas as security forces were dispersing a crowd. Three others were killed amid unrest in the border city of San Cristobal.

Amid the showdown, all eyes are on the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela — and to which Guaido has been targeting his message.

On Monday, a few dozen national guardsmen seized a stockpile of assault rifles in a pre-dawn uprising that was quickly quelled, although residents in a nearby slum showed support for the mutineers by burning cars and stoning security forces. Disturbances flared up that night in other working-class neighborhoods where the government has traditionally enjoyed strong support, and more violence was reported Tuesday night.

___

Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

___

Joshua Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman

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News

Newt Gingrich on funding compromise: “If they keep the bill the way it is now, I don’t see any way they can pass it,”

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Newt Gingrich on funding compromise If they keep the bill the way it is now I dont see any way they

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was very pleased when he heard about the compromise the President was offering Democrats. Upon reading the details, he believes there’s no way enough Democrats in the Senate will vote for it to avoid a filibuster.

“They will get many more votes if they clean the bill up. If they keep the bill the way it is now, I don’t see any way they can pass it,” said Gingrich.

A Trump ally, Gingrich has supported the President’s efforts to fund part of a wall on our southern border but feels there are too many small points in the proposal that strike at Democrats’ nerves to get them to vote for it, such as making it harder for minors from Central America to seek asylum.

My Take

There is no path to passing a bill that includes border wall funding unless the President gives up too much. It’s time for him to have his Secretary of Defense use 10 U.S.C. 284 to begin construction of the border wall now.


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Democrats

This is what the President should do to end the shutdown and build the wall

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This is what the President should do to end the shutdown and build the wall

A good journalist would take the details of the plan I’m about to lay out and expand on every excruciating detail in order to give it some meat. I’m going to keep this really, really straight forward. In fact, I’m going to do it in Twitter format – 280-characters or less per paragraph.

Dear Mr. President: There is a path you can take to improve border security, end the shutdown, deliver the State of the Union, build the wall, and make Democrats look like intellectual lightweights…

1. Accept the deal the Democrats are offering to fund $5.7 billion towards improved border security. Make a plan for improved technology, more border patrol agents, and more immigration judges. Let’s catch them more easily and either let them in or send them home faster.

2. Open up the government. Get these people their paychecks, get tax returns and food stamps out on time, and get the TSA and other government agencies working properly again. Hold a big press conference with Nancy Pelosi inviting you to the State of the Union.

3. Keep quiet until the State of the Union. Tweet about this man’s book or that woman’s awesome award. Tweet about the State of the Union, Venezuela, term limits (conservatives would LOVE that!). Tweet about ANYTHING other than the wall.

4. At the #SOTU, lead with jobs/economy, but quickly shift to the border crisis. Reveal that with some of the money allocated for border security, you’re assigning a task force of law enforcement’s drug smuggling and transnational organized crime experts to find border issues.

5. Announce you are having them request support from the Secretary of Defense, at which point he can invoke 10 U.S.C. 284 to begin immediate construction of a steel slat border fence in the areas deemed vulnerable by your task force.

6. Thank the Democrats for funding the necessary components of border security that will work in conjunction with the new border wall. Smile big. Point at Nancy Pelosi. Give her a hearty clap and ask the crowd to join you.

7. Once all this is done, work with your advisers to come up with a fair but clear cut way to make Mexico pay for it. They may not write a check, but we still have plenty of leverage to extract the funds through other means.

Some of you will note that I’m not a fan of the President’s, so why would I offer a solution. I’m a fan of America. I want the border secured. I want Americans to get paid instead of being political pawns. I may not agree with everything the President does or how he goes about doing it, but we need to set aside our complaints for now to get the wall built and the government shutdown ended.

This series of actions would let the President and America have our cake and eat it, too. More funds for border security. Government shutdown ended. Border wall getting built. This is exactly what the President needs to do to win big for all of us.


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