Are civil discourse skills teachable?

This has become the season for big news sites to announce the alterations of their editorial policies, shelving public comment capacity (a defining characteristic of online news reporting, essentially a blogging actvity, over paper publication). The arguments put forth are all of a theme:

  • Regret at the loss of access for democratic discussion, as well as some factual correction
  • Announcing that trolls’ egregious expressions–racist virulence, ad hominem arguments, threats against other commenters as well as the original writer(s)–can most effectively be silenced by silencing all

I see another trend as related: the stories this graduation season of controversial public figures, having been invited to provide university commencement addresses then having the invitation retracted when the graduands vote against listening to whatever they might have to offer on this (future) occasion.

Demonstrative actions, including protesting public policy and political stands, and arguing against expression with responding expression are valuable and essential to a healthy society. Instead, we have evidence of our culture lurching toward censoring interchange because we seem to be over valuing the modulation of all behavior over correcting bad behavior, and closing off potential articulation lest it sound disagreeable.

Is civil discourse so all or nothing that we can’t engage in practice, in allowing good and bad models to exist, stand–or fall–to critique, open minds to possibilities each of us alone is too limited to imagine? How can we re-engage in the practice of debate?

Islands don’t choose their stream.

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Filed under American cultures, conflicting beliefs, intellectual freedom

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