Two articles in this week's New York Times Sunday Review touch on the rapidly disappearing art of rational debate.
In his front page article, Neal Gabler discusses how:
It is no secret, especially here in America, that we live in a post-Enlightenment age in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy.Gabler's culprits? Academic insularity and hyper-specialization, visual culture, social media, and, ultimately, information overload. But he omits two of the biggest causes. One is the precipitous decline in analytical writing and debate at the k12 level.
The other one emerges just 4 pages later in a piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Citing Bill Bishop of The Big Sort, Solberg discusses how:
Americans now choose “in their neighborhoods and their churches, to be around others who live like they do and think like they do — and, every four years, vote like they do.”Political sorting extends even to retail:
David Wasserman, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, recently calculated that 89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain.And even, I'd argue, to jobs. Consider academia (especially the humanities, social sciences, and education schools) vs. business (big and small), not to mention the starkly divided nonprofit and political sectors.
The more we live, work, shop, and play with--and even "friend"--only those people who appear to agree with us, and the more we keep our mouths shut whenever we find ourselves in a tiny minority of dissidents within an increasingly intolerant majority, the less we engage in rational debate about anything. And (the more so because our k12 schools have abdicated their role in nurturing it) the worse we become at it.