As lifetime members of the Indiana University Alumni Association Peg and I receive IU’s magazine which usually is devoid of substance and replete with solicitations for even more money. I normally toss it in the trash with a casual glance. However, this Fall 2017 edition contained an essay by C.J. Lotz titled “Fighting Words” which took up the issues surrounding the questions being asked by every Talking Head. Of course, no one really wants to know what anyone else thinks so right after the questions are raised the Talking Heads answer them for us as they wish. The main question is, “Are we becoming an ever more polarized society?” The question the Talking Heads deign to answer for us is, “Why?” It is simply assumed that we are.
Frequently someone opines that we are in the midst of the most fractured, volatile social and political environment America has ever experienced. Such a priori statements reek with irony. The people who boldly assert such an evaluation are themselves adding to the fracturing. Often there is neither citation of facts nor any attempt at logical analysis. The nearest thing to a thought process is an assessment of blame. Targets might include everything from a nasty election to Hurricane Harvey being the wrath of the gods for the outcome of the election.
While Hurricane Harvey has neither mind nor soul, it does remind one of the kind of natural disaster the gods of the Bible or those of Ancient Greece might use to send a message. Harvey’s destruction struck at the just and unjust without discrimination. Such an approach is similar to the types of statements you can hear every day in our national and interpersonal discourse. You will notice I did not say we were engaged in argument. Arguments entail clashing viewpoints. What we so often witness today are simple pronouncements as if from Olympus.
The past two years have witnessed the kind of hyperbole and vitriol one might expect from the buildup to a professional boxing or wrestling match. Take the recent bout between the boxer, Floyd Mayweather, and Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Conor McGregor. Mayweather made $300,000,000 and McGregor $100,000,000. With four letter words and gross threats of physical harm the pre-fight “conversation” sounded like two twelve year olds in a school yard. It reminded me of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and FOX’s Sean Hannity yelling out fake news. On the other hand the banal invective did help gin up lots of money from red meat loving fans, which of course, is the objective of the news media too.
Fighting words by groups and individuals are our society’s replacement for the kind of physical fighting that once was used to quell disagreements. Each side of a dispute would choose a champion, a mounted knight for example, then the two champions would fight to the death of one of them. The survivor won the argument. In other words, might did make right or as we might observe today, one side was right because it won, not won because it was right. There are often no nuances to our contemporary verbal clashes. It is all or nothing.
What is more concerning are the motives each side projects onto the other. It is simply assumed the opposition is lying and venal. The possibility of an honest mistake or another reasonable alternative is not considered.
Perhaps such a development in our national and personal discourse is itself subject to interpretation as suggested by the IU publication. So, if you have nothing of particular interest to do for awhile perhaps you might want to take an Odyssey with me for a week or so in search of constructive conversation.