Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Problem With Talking Heads

Not the band, the sort you find on your TV. Ta-Nahesi Coates hits the nail on the head.

So for instance, making this specific to me, let's say I go on television and say "We can salute the bravery of the Confederate Army, while deploring their aims." This is a fairly conventional point which relies on relatively established mores. They are, in this case, 1.) Slavery was bad 2.) The men who died at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg on both sides, were brave. Or some such. Moreover it makes me sound fair-minded in my willingness to allow for a kind of moral out for all sides, regardless of their sympathies.

But let's say I go on television and say, "Confederate bravery is neither unique, nor in and of itself, praise-worthy. Mohammad Atta was brave. The kamikazes were brave. But bravery in service of evil should never be commemorated." This is a problem. Even in writing it, I've had to take up more space then the previous assertion. Likely, I could edit it down to a sentence or two. But I leave it this way to show how much space and time it takes me to make the more contentious point, one that challenges our accepted thinking, (the 9/11 bombers were brave) and leaves no room for an honorable retreat. Pushing the point further, I could, as was done the other night, simply call the firing on Fort Sumter a terrorist attack. This is almost certainly untrue, but it incites our visceral disgust for terrorism and thus leaves the point of commemorating implicit.

He's not the first to make this point and for all the complaining about the problem, I'm almost (but not quite) surprised that the format has lasted this long. I can't stand 99% of the programs that have a couple of heads shouting banal talking points back and forth. It educates no one and only worsens our discourse. Unfortunately, most people are looking for reinforcement of already formed opinion and not honest, challenging debate.

One thing I've tried to instill in my daughters is a willingness to question one's own beliefs, to always be accepting of new ideas, to test them, to mull them over. If some new fact or circumstance causes a person to rethink some notion they have held and to change their mind, that should be respected and not ridiculed. This can be disconcerting at times, but in my mind the rewards outweigh the drawbacks.

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