Sunday, September 6, 2009

Online Political Discourse Jumps the Shark

Maybe I am a little naive, but I think that people ought to be able to talk, even argue, and still be friends in this world. Case in point: today, I made a post on Facebook related to an Obama poll. One of my "friends" (application related) decided that it was his duty to post on my wall how wrong I was. Of course, being someone who enjoys engaging in discussion, I felt the need to correct him on my wall. After about ten posts going back and forth, I sent him a PM asking him to not spam my wall, and to limit his discourse to civil discourse. To which, he replied that I was what was wrong with America, he "unfriended" me, and blocked any further communication.

Now, this isn't someone I have talked to outside of Facebook so it isn't a great loss that will be heartfelt or anything, but it seems to me that online political discourse often jumps the shark and may be part of the growing hostility in America between parties. It is easy to say things when we aren't face to face, when there isn't really a concern of return aggression, when we don't really face any consequences other than lack of online contact given that there are millions to talk to online.

Yet, this increased aggression in online discourse may be finding its way into real life discourse, which may explain some of the increased organized aggressive stances being taken at townhall meetings and other events. If not checked, this aggression could break out to far worse as it escalates, turning America into a third world country overnight politically.

Now don't get me wrong. This type of hostility isn't exactly unusual in America to an extent. If you check the history of America, the most polarized discourse in American politics is generally around the turn of the century as there is a fight for the new century's political course, so this isn't all that unexpected. However, it is always something to be mindful of its consequences should it spiral in more aggressive manners.

Now, while I downplay online discourse among "friends," realize that some of my really good friends are people that I know only "online." And some of our politics are very much at odds. However, the difference is that at the end of the day, we are still friends, our discourse remains relatively civil, and we respect that we have differences and we debate them hard, but we have developed a respect for each other that transcends the debate and allows for friendship in spite of political differences.

Americans must realize that political rhetoric is meaningful, but it is also part of the political game. While politics matter, relationships that bind us as Americans regardless of party are equally important. We shouldn't define our whole lives by our political party. Imagine the consequences of Republicans on the right, Democrats on the left in church, in school, at shows, in games, in neighborhoods, and so on. It benefits no one's self-interest to create such a distinction throughout our society.

Besides, ideas must be challenged for the best ideas to float to the top. To isolate yourself only to your own ideas leaves you weaker, not stronger in the quality of your ideas. To challenge ideas based totally on propaganda isn't a challenging of ideas, it is an attempt to drowned out ideas. That benefits no one either in the long run.

So engage political opposites, both socially and politically. When the political debate ends, build the social relationships. It benefits us all to engage in both, for the betterment of America and our own lives.

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