Carson City forum focuses on achieving common ground in discourse
Politics don’t have to divide friends, families and communities, according to a panel discussion Tuesday hosted by Sierra Nevada Forums.
“There are ways people can come together with different opinions and speak respectfully,” said Amy Pason, assistant professor, communication studies, University of Nevada, Reno.
Pason spoke alongside Patrick File, a teacher and writer on media law, and Katharine Schweitzer, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno, on a panel called Finding Common Ground in the Brewery Arts Center 1864 Ballroom.
“It makes sense there is a lot of passion, a lot of conviction,” around politics, said Schweitzer, because politics is about making decisions that affect people’s lives.
She said people assume when they disagree politically it’s all about facts when it is really about emotion.
“When we make a moral statement or a moral judgment, we are not making a proposition saying something is true or false. We’re making a statement of approval or disapproval,” Schweitzer said.
“It’s not to say facts are irrelevant, but understanding people’s emotions and attitudes might help us more.”
Schweitzer said we should bring back the concept of evangelism because it assumes people are of equal standing and can be persuaded.
“It brings back wonder, and rather than rushing to bring facts about an issue, maybe it’s better to start with how people feel about the issue,” she said.
Pason called much of the current discourse “conquest rhetoric.”
“The goal is to win, to belittle and put down other ideas,” she said.
Pason said there are three misconceptions people have about political debate that keeps them from hearing out the other side.
“People think that just being willing to listen to people means they support their ideas,” she said.
Or that a willingness to understand the opposition’s idea implies a weakness in your own beliefs.
Finally, people fear being proven wrong or even modifying their opinions.
Her remedy: focus on issues, not people, when talking and describe your position rather than evaluating the other person’s stand.
As an example of success, she cited her father, a practicing Catholic, with whom she has had many civil discussions on issues they don’t always agree on.
As a result, he has two bumper stickers on his pickup truck, one espousing his belief in the right to life and the other in support of Planned Parenthood.
“He likes it. He thinks it confuses people,” said Pason.
File talked about the importance of freedom of speech in fostering civil discourse, not destroying it.
“Freedom of expression is meant to provide the conditions for the common ground we seek,” he said.
He said there are challenges to it, including media consolidation.
“Are there too few large voices in this marketplace, too much power in too few hands?” File said.
Challenges to freedom of speech and expression may not come, though, from bills in more than a dozen states that are aimed at restricting protest.
File said protest that turns violent is already a crime, and these bills mostly seek to up the ante.
One, in Arizona, has already been withdrawn.
“It was doomed to fail,” said File.
“They all tend to fail the constitutional test.”