the (not so) great conversation

My closing question in this post asked, somewhat rhetorically,

If exposure to the facts won't change conservatives' minds, what will?

S at Explicitus Est Liber responded:

The answer, I think, is nothing. Sure exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking will help. Repeated exposure is even better but until a person decides in themselves that they are ready to ask the questions, they simply will not.

Particularly insightful is the observation that "it's not about changing minds:"

It's about having the conversations. It's about being able to talk to people that are completely opposite from you and come away feeling like you've learned something about them. Whether you agree with what you learned or not, the point is you are always learning something new from different worldviews.

I enjoy the conversations, but it just seems so lopsided sometimes. If I may be permitted an over-generalization: The liberal side listens and responds to--and, ideally, learns from--the other; the conservative side ignores evidence, parrots a set of talking points, and makes personal attacks. A steady diet of those responses is what drives me into crafting less-than-productive (and, sometimes, less-than-civil) sarcastic retorts. (Debating passionately isn't a problem for me, but I need to do better in maintaining respect in difficult circumstances!) S comments on our common tendency to tune out ideologically conflicting ideas and become insulated from controversy:

With all the information on the Internet, you'd think we could find out anything but even I find myself just hanging out with my "own". I don't read conservative blogs or join social networking sites for Christians. And they don't want me to either. People don't want to participate in The Great Debate. They want to be right.

I read several conservative magazines, visit their websites and subscribe to some of their RSS feeds, but--like many other liberals--it's a struggle to fairly evaluate their positions before the tendency to critique them becomes overwhelming. (I don't always succeed, as you may have noticed!) Dialogues on political and philosophical issues, which so animated our intellectual predecessors, now seem to degenerate into monologues with depressing regularity. The Great Conversation is my ideal, but can we maintain it by ourselves against opponents who look to Dubya for statesmanship, Bill O'Reilly for civility, and Ann Coulter for intellectual depth?

Is it still an argument/conversation/debate when only one side is fully participating (i.e, listening in addition to speaking)?


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