Put a Socrates in It! #270

Even before I taught English grammar, I was a literal guy. I spent a lot of time in my head, analyzing how I worded my thoughts, with an equal concentration on others’ word choice and what it conveyed to me; I thought words had magic, and I still do.

Words feel magical because they attempt to signpost our thoughts and feelings to others, and ourselves, and when you use words with another human, you have a conversation, and conversations, when effective, produce a closeness we covet.

I believe strongly in the Socratic method: “a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.”

My issue with modern conversation, especially political ones, is that much of the world seems to have lost its ability to engage in “cooperative argumentation,” preferring instead to insist on a moral prerogative that justifies dismissive hostility.

I’m in a “unique” position: I did not vote for Clinton or Trump in 2016, so I have no skin in the game, unlike most (not all) of the 128,838,342 Americans who did and who feel strongly about their decision to do so, or another’s decision not to do so.

I am tired of constantly hearing 60 million people attack another 60 million (or so) instead of having Socratic dialogues, or even better, accepting others’ autonomy, free will, and for lack of a better world, the democratic/electoral college system.

I see no purpose to our discord. We could be cooperatively arguing, asking and answering questions to stimulate thinking, instead of the “they started it” blame game, which is so ubiquitous that even comedians are afraid to make political jokes!

I think our problem is happening on a linguistic level that precedes the aforementioned finger pointing: Before we can have Socratic dialogue, we must first accept that concepts are not literal, instead of insisting that they are.

Justice. Fairness. Tolerance. Equality. These are not definite, literal, or tangible. They are conceptual—metaphors at best. Furthermore, they are deeply personal, with a delta of variance that polarizes people when a conversation gets serious enough.

Words are clunky. My words, your words: they are not precise. No two humans agree on which blue the sky is, we just agree that it’s “in the bandwidth” of blue, so perhaps its time we allow ourselves the same space with concepts like Justice.

Until we re-learn how to pardon each other and allow space for “cooperative argumentation,” we’re going to continue to create hostile, self-defeating situations in which both sides lose their cool and sometimes people lose their life over it. Can we please sit down, and have a talk? We all win when no one wins.


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