Sunday, July 17, 2011

A modest proposal: come reason together

A while back I put up something you could probably call wishful thinking on this blog I participate in pretty regularly called Homes & Co. —"a blog for independent minds" we like to call it. The piece I posted was under the title "Shouting/thinking: "come let us reason together". Anyone who cares to visit that older post will note that my wishes weren't exactly realized then and there. But still something of the idea sticks with me and I mean to make a modest proposal —and not in the Jonathan Swift sense, I don't think —I mean this seriously.

The notion I meant to see examined with the earlier blog post was this idea of "reasoning together" that came up in an interview I heard on the radio with author and philosopher, Jacob Needleman.

Here's something Needleman said that I heard —that struck something of resonant tone with me:

"Shouting is not thinking. “Come let us reason together,” the prophet says, or God says to Isaiah. What this country [needs]... is thought...

I spoke to some members of Congress not long ago. We had a very quiet evening together and we started opening up, just what you and I are doing now. And they said, in effect, you know, “We never get a chance to do this. We’re in there trying to, you know, speak to television cameras or make points with electorates or with lobby groups, but we never …”

I said, “You mean you never come together and just reflect together?”

And they said no.

To me, that’s the dirty secret of America at the moment. That’s the problem."

Like I said, I'm not sure my blog post succeeded in engendering a whole lot of reasoned exchange, but then again I could have asked more clearly, too. We do settle into shouting mode sometimes on that site, more often than I really like, but one thing I do appreciate is that people of differing perspectives (very differing) do visit the forum on fairly level even terms. And there are those occasions when we discover merit in each others ideas, even from opposing points of view. That "reasoning together" does happen from time to time. We may not broker great compromise or arrive at consensus very often, but maybe in that first step of twelve approach to problems, we begin to recognize them... the problems.

So anyway here's my modest proposal: Soon enough the standoff over the budget and deficit and debt will be resolved down in D.C. —or it will be somehow left tentatively/definitively unresolved/resolved once again — and it will be that time of year when Senators and Congressmen can finally leave the Capitol and have a chance do their local visits and availabilities with their constituents. Town hall meetings will be in season, where the disgruntled among the citizenry can show up to shout down and/or the different choirs can turn out to be preached to. As I've said many times before though, what I would like to see is a different kind of debate. Suppose that, instead of each of our Commonwealth's U.S. Senators going off on their own tours, with their own itineraries and agendas, suppose we were to get them to sit down together in the same public forum where we could ask them to compare and contrast their ideas, their sense of the issues of substance and the issues of failing process we are all seeing on display in Washington. Suppose we were to ask them to —or offer them the chance to— reason together. This would be a discussion not about the next election contest —as it seems our politics always is about the contests. These two Senators do not oppose each other in any such contest. They actually serve together. What if we reminded them? What if we conceived of a debate as an opportunity to reason togther —rather than for one side to best the other?

Wouldn't it be interesting to offer them the opportunity for that better debate, to actually make such a debate happen?

Anyway, I post the notion here as a suggestion. Anyone with ideas as to a venue and an approach to the moderation? Maybe someone has some insight, some pull or connection or skill they could lend towards seeing such a discussion happen? Can we each accomplish something by spreading this idea? Simply asking of our senators and ourselves, why not?

I know we all have opinions here. I suppose anyone who wants to tell me this is a foolish idea is welcome to tell me so as well. And maybe this is only that Swiftian kind of modest proposal, useful only as we realize it's such a crazy idea?