Courteous, vigorous debate

Note: this was posted in 1997 to an early internet
experiment. For more of my posts, please see
The Hyperforum on Sustainability.

a sustainable, global world -- the Earth

This post was a reply I made to a post by another member, David, but I think it stands alone.

I’m tempted not to post this particular response — because it may sound to some people superficially like the message now popularized by Senator Barack Obama — and people might thereby think I’m a partisan of his against Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary. I wouldn’t like to sound that way, precisely because I’m dismayed at how fiercely partisan the election has become and I don’t want to add to intolerance on either side. The only two things I will say, in the interest of fairness, are (1) that I didn’t vote for Senator Obama in the primary, and (2) I will support the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she may be, in the general election against any conceivable Republican.

If you read more carefully, you’ll realize that I wrote the following in 1997, before Senator Obama was much heard of, and that my message isn’t the actually same as his. If you’re interested in history, you may recognize that I learned these ideas by reading The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides — a book about Ancient Greece that I think is very relevant to our times.

When you speak of “courteous, vigorous debate,” you make me think we may be saying much the same thing with differing emphasis.

I was trying to say that citizens need have to have enough sophistication to work for two contradictory-seeming things at the same time.

  • As individuals coming from a particular vantage point on each of the facets of large issues, we need to be vigorous in upholding the needs of the requirements of our vantage points, so that the corresponding part of the solution can be built. These issues have many facets, and we each belong to a different coalition on each of the facets, and have to be faithful accordingly. (We mustn’t just simply checkmark all of the boxes endorsed by “our” party.)
  • As citizens, we have to uphold the process of the discussion as a whole — discussion by all sides –, not just out of a sense of courtesy, but again in order to ensure the richness and viability of the solution.

My emphasis on the courtesy part of it is just a simple reaction to the quality of American political discourse during the time I have been a participant, some 30 or 40 years. The demonizing of the opposition by both The Left (“my” group) and The Right and the Vince Lombardi style need to win at any cost have become so prevalent and so dangerous that it seems a cliché to point it out.

We need to see why we have to work together.

Answer: It’s the only way to find solutions that work in the long-term, i.e. sustainable solutions. America was in many ways paradise when I was growing up in the 50s, but it was only so for some. Different groups were systematically excluded in different ways. (As a white male, I happened to be born to the “winning” group on almost all of these issues — except I was in the minority in being born a homosexual.) Therefore that solution was torn apart. A comparable solution, in many of the important ways that that one was successful, has yet to be rebuilt for anybody, much less for everybody. Of course, the other real problem with the 50’s solution was that it assumed that there were no barriers to indefinite expansion of basically the same solution: we would all be locked in in a kind of amber, only there would constantly be more of us and we would each “have more.” I remember how unbearably stifling this was at the time and also how soon it came to seem unsustainable.

In the context of the Hyperforum, opponents of sustainability aren’t going to just be defeated and go away. We’re going to have to build a future that is both sustainable and includes these people (if not necessarily each and every one of their curent demands.)

Thu, 13 Feb 1997 17:11:06 GMT

For more, please see
The Hyperforum on Sustainability.

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