Too much argument

In a recent TED-X talk in Nashville, Robert Talisse (Vanderbilt) argues that to save democracy, we need to do less of it. Here’s the video:

There’s such a strong connection between argument and democracy that I think what we’re being asked to less of is not so much democracy, but argument. We should argue less in order to argue better.

2 thoughts on “Too much argument”

  1. This thread reminds me of an exchange, some years back, in which I made a comment about a right-wing blogger who insisted that he disagreed with President Obama about almost everything. I pointed out that in fact he agreed with Obama about most things and that his disagreement was in fact at the margins. He responded with something of an outburst, and refused to concede that the common ground he shared with Obama was actually a vastly larger territory than his quibbles over the future of Social Security and the Affordable Care Act.

    The blogger’s body of work reflected that agreed with Obama about the essential framework of government, the importance of rule of law, the need for at least a basic social safety net, and the like; his philosophy was more market driven, more laissez-faire, than Obama’s, and seemed more hawkish, but their long-term goals for the nation were not sharply at odds.

    Perhaps there is something to the idea that we can reframe how we think about politics (and the purpose of a family dinner), and to rise above the conflict to focus on how to achieve what we want. Had that blogger (and his co-bloggers) been willing to concede his common ground with Obama, rather than approaching him as a political enemy, they might have devoted some of their time to proposing how to improve Obama’s policy proposals or explaining why one alternative or another would be both politically achievable and also be better public policy. Instead they focused on opposition, and on tearing it down.

    For reframing to work, though, we must share a conception of our approximate destination — where we hope for our politics to take us — as otherwise we are likely to encounter the issue raised in your dissensus profundus thread. If we move beyond the dinner table, also need our political and media leaders to adopt the new framework, as opposed to approaching politics as if it is a team sport. Alas….

  2. Hi Aaron,

    That seems reasonable (and pardon the very long time since you wrote this). I’m often impressed by the way people can compartmentalize themselves: a perfectly fact-oriented, reasonable person will be an expert at home repair but completely unreasonable in another (usually political) context. This kind of thing suggests that it’s political argument in particular that drives us batty. What’s odd is that it’s the same basic argument moves as home repair. One explanation might be this: for many people (unfortunately) the stakes are very low in political disagreement. It usually just doesn’t matter, so they have the luxury of extreme positions. Curious to hear your thoughts about that.

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