Column: Civil discourse is not dead in America; But it is on a ventilator, and we’re fresh out of hydroxychloroquine

By Dan Kontos

When the Point/Plover Metro Wire put out the call for “columnists with a political slant,” I recognized it to be what I have come to expect from the editorial staff at our only truly local news outlet. That is, they are creating another one of many opportunities to have community discussions, exchanges of ideas, and even some spirited debates surrounding what is important to us here in Central Wisconsin. So, my colleagues and I bit. After all, who doesn’t like an opportunity to express their well-crafted ideas to anyone who is willing to listen?

However, unless you have been completely isolated from reality for the last four years or so, I’m sure that you will agree that in all too many cases our societal capacity to withstand even a few moments of politely entertaining the opinions of someone who may not be politically or socially aligned with us has become problematic, to say the least. Tribalism, partisanship, true ignorance, and blind support for “our team” have replaced individual thought, critical analysis, and civil discord for far too many of us.

I understand to an extent. Thinking for one’s self can be hard for some. Straining your brain to muster the energy to research for yourself is beyond the capacity of many, not in the accomplishment, but in even caring enough to exercise the intellectual curiosity to find out for yourselves. After all, we have the legacy “news” networks, and social media sewers like Facebook and Twitter to think for us, all while “protecting” us from their version of the forbidden truth. Well, who can blame you? Life is hard.

However, for a dangerously increasing number in our society, we say (or don’t), do (or don’t), or live (or don’t) in a conditioned way that avoids the wrath of a pervasive and destructive element of our society. They insist that you toe the line in the way that they have deemed as appropriate to speak, act, and live. After all, they are the virtuous ones, so they tell you. They struggle in an endless quest for a litany of nebulous and vacuous ideals that have been spun like a siren’s song, promising the impossible while righting the ills of the world at the same time. What is the punishment from these bullies if you fail to obey their new order? You are shouted down, labeled with unimaginable and horrific names, and even have your life and property threatened, or worse. A political jihad or societal defenestration is in order. Nothing less than the total destruction of their enemies will do. Yes, they see you as the enemy. To make matters worse, many are now teaching their children to do the same to other kids.

The same hypocrites who demand that we have a societal “conversation” on whatever particular grievance de jour they are capitalizing on this week, actually mean that you should just shut up and listen to their unintelligible and idiotic musings about some fantasy laden rainbow utopia that could never possibly exist here on earth. Who wants to deal with that? Not many of us. So instead of civilly talking about these issues, many of which are truly worthy of discussing, we keep our heads down, mouths shut, and avoid becoming a target for the angry and vocal minority. Yes, minority. Most Americans are decent, hardworking, friendly, generous, and truly good people. You wouldn’t think that if you listened to these burgeoning overlords. We don’t want to engage in a shouting contest where all too often the biggest gasbag wins. After all, this does not advance our lives or those of our families. So, instead, we don’t push back, and just go on about our day, hoping the aforementioned gasbags go away. But they never do. A July 2020 poll conducted by the Cato Institute found that “62 percent of all respondents said they’re reluctant to share their political views for fear of offending others—up four points from when the same question was posed in 2017.” Huh.

Don’t think for a moment the lack of resistance would ever mollify the mob. No, on the contrary, it emboldens them. Never content with silencing the opposition and forcing most of our community to virtue signal their acquiescence, they double down on their rotten gains. If one lie worked, let’s do it again and again until the masses are convinced that it is the truth. The louder, the better. Faux experts, coerced group think, manufactured crises, leprechaun science, and dire predictions of doom and gloom that never, ever come to fruition are their tradecraft. Presidential candidate Joe Biden summed it up very well in an August 8, 2019, Iowa campaign speech when he proudly proclaimed that “We choose truth over facts.” Well said, sir.

Camouflaged by words and phrases that are designed to stave off discussion, like “the science is settled,” “everyone agrees,” and “no one would argue that…,” are just a few of the war banners under which they march. Like inhabitants of a 10th-century Mongolian village watching dust clouds swirling above the oncoming hordes of Genghis Khan, many of us can see the threat ahead when we hear the shrill voices of the political zombies, and opt to simply shelter in place.

What are the causes of this? Well, I find that we can often neatly pigeon hole the foundations into two root origins, that of tribalism and emotion. Tribalism is the belief in the supremacy of one’s team, side, or banner. “We are the Lemon Party, and if you ain’t a Lemon, then you ain’t… nothin’.” Like diehard sports fans, even if you stink, we still support you, no matter what. Need an example? Look no further than the fans of the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who stuck with them over a horrific 26 game losing streak. As a Lions fan, I can sympathize, though we only had a 19 game streak. Many virtue warriors do the same thing with a false and revisionist history of their own tribe. Too often it’s party over principle, ideology over intellect, and social acceptance over societal improvements. “I hate your ideas!” “But why?” you ask. “Orange man bad!” That’s it. You get the drift.

The other reason is emotion. The conversation usually goes something like this. “The facts are A, B, and C. Here’s the proof, read for yourself.” “No sorry, I feel that my ideas are better.” “Feel? I have facts.” “Yes, but my feelings make me a more virtuous person, so your facts are inconvenient. I’ll just substitute my own more comfortable alternate reality, thank you very much.” “Well, that makes no sense. Really, the data shows…” “Orange man bad!” And away we go.

I truly hope that the editorial team at the Metro Wire knows what they are starting. I think they do. I look forward to our new endeavor of civil, though often spirited I suspect, conversations. I only ask that you keep an open mind. Don’t take my word for anything, or take anyone else’s word as gospel either; check for yourselves. Facts, data, and real science are the keys. Don’t let someone tell you something is true, make them prove it. Be civil, respectful, kind, and understanding. In a society like ours, we should debate, discuss, listen, and explain what we believe are the ideas that best advance our community, county, state, and nation. After all, we are your neighbors, friends, and often family. But we need to be adults about it. There is a lot more to come so buckle-up. No, seriously, wear your safety belt, always.

Join me on Parler @DanKontos for some bare-knuckles political opinions, a bit of overly dry humor, and shades of columns to come. All opinions are truly welcome there. God bless.

Dan Kontos lives with his family in Whiting.