Thursday, April 1, 2010

Healthcare Reform, Lively Debate and The Third Place

On Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010, President Obama signed the Healthcare Reform Bill into law. A lot has happened since. Republicans have been very negative about it and have said that they plan to get the bill repealed and replaced. Some have suggested it might be unconstitutional. A large group of ultra-conservatives calling themselves the Tea Party Movement have protested against Healthcare Reform, calling it socialism. And, most worryingly, there has been an extremist fringe who have engaged in violent acts, threats of violence, vandalism and even gunfire.

Many people have been surprised at how quickly this behavior has spread. On my Facebook page, myself and some of my friends were talking about it and why it might have happened. It certainly appears to be true that the popular media has been whipping these people up into a frenzy. A recent video clip from the Rachel Maddow Show reports how the Republican Party themselves seem to have encouraged dissent, and how they would not stand with the Democrats to denounce even the most extreme acts of this nature.

I think part of the problem is that many of us are reluctant to talk about politics face-to-face with others. I can understand people not wanting to offend their friends, but I think we should try to overcome this hesitation. I think it is important to remember that you can nearly always find common-ground with the people you are talking with. If, for example, you're in a bar talking with someone whose political beliefs are the opposite of yours, the chances are that at least you like the same bar - that's common-ground! Of course, we should avoid personal attacks. One friend of mine, Asha Hawkesworth, said, "I think it's helpful to see where others are coming from. I know many, many conservative people, and I do understand why they feel the way they do. I don't always agree, though sometimes I do, but whether I do or not, I can see why they feel the way they do. This allows me to have compassion and respect for their point of view, which is also crucial for any reasoned discourse." Another friend, Susan Jones, says, "I'm working on the art of asking questions that prompt the other person to have to do more than recite propaganda."

Another reason why we seem to be losing the ability to engage in lively debate about politics is the decline in what has been referred to as the Third Place (the first place being home, the second, work). I'm referring to bars, coffee-shops and places of that nature. Some may think that Social Media sites such as Facebook or Twitter can replace the "Third Place." While one can always find a group of people on-line who feel the same way as you (which can often be an advantage), its rarefied atmosphere can also become a breeding-ground for lunacy. If you were sitting in a bar with an average group of people, you would probably very quickly get a strong feeling whether your thoughts were reasonable or not.

The danger of us not talking to each other about politics is that it opens us up to manipulation by the media and politicians. Many people seem to be content with getting their politics spoon-fed to them. If we don't make the effort to be informed and to discuss these matters with others, we risk being walked over by the politicians.

I do, of course welcome lively debate here, via the comments section.


Asha Hawkesworth said...

I agree that we need the Third Place, and the Internet isn't it. It's too anonymous. People are more likely to attack if they can't see the face of the person they're attacking. Obviously, attack is not discourse.

In addition, I find that knowing a person online and knowing them in person can be two different experiences, depending on the person. We need to be able to look each other in the eye and say, "I hear you. I may not agree, but I hear you." This is how we build mutual respect.

Graham said...

@Asha - I think that the Internet, and in particular Social Media, can be very helpful for many different things. I think it can be good for listening to other people's views. I think it's great for collaborating with others. It's breaking down many boundaries.

When President Bush was in office, and I was despairing because everyone around me seemed to be singing his praises, I realized that it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, because there were others who felt like I did. That was because of the Internet.

But I do agree that its anonymity is a problem. There is definitely something missing out of the equation when we are not face-to-face.

Perhaps the dangerous phase is when you REPLACE face-to-face with the Internet. The Internet can augment just fine.

Ian said...

I was chatting to an American guy on the Internet last weekend who I have known for a few weeks now. We've had some really great discussions over the time I've known him. However, we started discussing Healthcare Reform and he became rabid!! I was not at all forceful in my views, I just commented on how free healthcare for all works in the U.K., and tried to allay his fears when he called me a "Communist" and banned me from his chatroom!!!!

It would be lovely to have a lively debate, but it appears some do not want to listen.

Graham said...

@Ian - I think that just supports what we're saying. I believe that the "venue" has some inherent problems. If you were face-to-face, there might not be the same problems.

And this guy would not get you barred from the pub for having the beliefs you do! ;)

Anonymous said...

I just groan when others feel the need to 'convert' me. I typically do not share my political views with those who are not my close friends. I don't fear intelligent debate but I do fear the crazies throwing rocks!

Graham said...

Ms. Mous ;) - I don't think there are many people that anybody can "convert" per se. I'm pretty open to people about being a "bleeding-heart liberal," and even make light of it, in certain company.

What we can get out of talking face-to-face is an understanding of their point of view, while perhaps they can get a little understanding of where we're coming from. We can do that without getting to the rock-hurling stage! That, I think, is the point that Asha has been making.

I think I've talked about this example before, but it's a good one. There was a guy who used to frequent a (now-defunct) local pub here. He was a staunch Republican, from a military family. Yet, we struck up quite a friendship. We were able to find some common-ground. He was pro-life (I'm pro-choice) - however, unlike a lot of pro-lifers, he was also (like me) anti death-penalty. I admired him for his consistency.

jopete said...

I've found this blog quite by accident, and I greatly appreciate the tenor of your comments. I am of proud English heritage, but of American lineage since the early 17th Century. I've been to England once, and had to be dragged home. I am unhappy with American public and private behavior these days, and trace it back to poor Dr. Spock, who indoctrinated American mothers and fathers with the "royalty" of children. His son committed suicide, and the good doctor apologized to the American public before he died. But he left a legacy of entitlement that we suffer for today. I am an Independent after a lifetime (77 years) of waffling between the left and the right. The middle is an uncomfortable place to be, but it is also honest for me. I can see the right and the wrong of both extremes, and would love to debate them but fear for my very life should I do so. I am upset with the health care bill because of the earmarks -- perhaps Congress could have done it in pieces? I am quite taken with Obama although I wish he would make clear the reasons why he could not stick to his campaign promises. He is much misunderstood and maligned because of his race, his age and his party, but I feel in time he could truly mark an intelligent course for the future. Dear me, I could go on and on but will not. Thanks for listening.

Scrivener424 said...

I'm the first one to cheer the Internet and social media, particularly blogs, for giving voice to such a wide range of opions. Unfortunately, just as they do in a high school cafeteria, people tend to find the table that suits them well and sit there every semester. Righties tend to congregate to right-wing blogs, and lefties to left, often finding themselves in a soothing echo chamber. While it's admirable for people to have strong, well-reasoned opinions (I have a few myself) we all need to listen respectfully to the other side. This can be done with practice and a little bit of criticial thinking.

harry ad free said...

Thanks so much, great article and very useful information