Civil Discourse…

On a night of profound boredom in the now distant past, the editors of The Evening Look came across a truly inspiring article on The Morning Watch by Adam Green, the President of James Madison College Conservatives. This article — “Civil Discourse: Where We Falter”— has driven us to action, and we hope that our contributions can help inspire a truly open and productive intellectual environment. This is our attempt at civil discourse…

Despite the chorus of moans arising from 5th grade English teachers across the country, we feel obliged to begin with a grammatical definition. Specifically, we must define the role played by a 3-dot ellipsis in the English language. If the reason for this pressing need is not apparent, a quick look at Green’s article should clear up any confusion. According to Merriam-Webster, an ellipse is a “marks or a mark (such as …) indicating an omission (as of words) or a pause”. Literarydevices.com claims that these three dots “can stand in for whole sections of text that are omitted that do not change the overall meaning” or can “indicate a mysterious or unfinished thought, a leading sentence, or a pause or silence”.

If you have followed our previous guidance, then you are surely aware that the usage of ellipses in Green’s article fails to fit into these narrow definitions. They are almost exclusively used in places where a mere comma would suffice. Perhaps Green is issuing a scathing critique of left-wing attacks on civil discourse by refusing to be bound by traditional grammatical rules. Perhaps he is encoding a deeper, more important message in the frequent repetition of three dots. We would dare not suggest that Green simply fails to understand basic English, that the editing standards of The Morning Watch have declined in the wake of a recent influx of readership or that such standards were porous to begin with. No, such positions would be absurd.

Given that an ellipsis consists of three periods, there are 39 periods being used to form ellipses in Green’s article. There are also exactly 39 periods being used to end sentences in the article. That this could be a mere coincidence seems patently absurd, but our devoted editors have discovered no hidden codes after hours of research under the influence of mind-altering drugs. This is where we falter. But you can trust that we will continue to do our best on this noble quest for the truth.

While our interns turn their attention to the two kilograms of peyote currently sitting on our boardroom table, we must turn our attention to the rest of the article. Just as an ellipsis consists of three points, Green’s entire 18-paragraph article consists of only three real points. These three points are: 1- “We (society) are divided”, 2- “We don’t talk to each other”, and 3- “We should talk to each other”. Here is a sample paragraph from Green’s article with the parenthetical numbers referring to which point he’s making:

Opposing sides will rarely come to that center table or that center aisle and engage in civil discourse… rather engaging in anything but civil discourse. (2) This is where we falter. (3) We have polarized ourselves from having a conversation and attempting to recruit the opposing side to our own side…(1+2) Political discourse used to involve holding an educated civil debate, a policy forum, or a town hall in the hopes and in the expectation of convincing the opposing side of the merit of your proposed solution. (2+3)

Instead of wasting your time with complicated and unnecessary jargon, we can save some valuable trees and make the exact same points with just three simple phrases:

We don’t talk to each other. We should talk to each other. We are divided and we don’t talk to each other. We don’t talk to each other and we should talk to each other.

See, it’s that easy! We urge you to confirm this repetition for yourself and review the original. You’ll see that the article really is just full of irrelevant variations of these three points.

Despite these basic criticisms of the article, there is nothing inherently problematic with Green’s project. Conversation, discussion and debate are fundamentally important for civil society, and their necessity is exacerbated by a democratic political system. America is a deeply divided nation, at least according to 77% of Americans in a 2016 Gallup poll. However, the divisions America currently face actually problematize civil discourse itself. A recent survey revealed that almost 80% of Americans firmly believe that Democratic and Republican voters disagree on basic facts. In an environment in which the truth itself proves more elusive than proper usage of an ellipsis, coming to the table will only perpetuate our divisions. This is where he falters.

Even if one believes that this factual divide can be overcome, and that civil discourse should be pursued, Green’s article suffers from a lack of actual substance. Green’s article fails to in any way advance our understanding of the practice of civil discourse. Specifically, Green’s article does not provide us with a concrete method for solving our divisions. Should we attend the bipartisan debates presented by the James Madison College Conservatives? This seems problematic for three reasons: the importance of fact-based argumentation and two further reasons deriving from the social setting of such debates.

First, our editors’ attendance of such events has revealed that while facts are thrown around constantly, there is no method for discerning truth and falsity in the midst of the proceedings. Further, the environment of such debates exacerbates a problem Green observes: “we do not often enter a debate setting looking to gain followers” and “we shy away from uncomfortable political engagement, and often choose to attack the opposing side from a great distance under our own protected fields of influence”. As much as such events reduce the physical distance between participants, the great presence of ideologically similar participants allows people to use “trendy political slander” to retreat from intellectual engagement in the knowledge that they are surrounded by supporters. Additionally, while it is true that “screaming into one’s face and insulting their humanity doesn’t provide any more reason to them to join in our supporting our proposals”, our editor’s first hand knowledge of these events suggests that such things are not an uncommon occurrence, rendering the discussions less effective by Green’s own standards.

How then, should we engage in productive civil discourse? Should we just find random liberals or conservatives and talk to them? Surely not: this is similarly problematic with regards to fact-checking and such individual discussions are limited in the magnitude and scope of their effect.

We at The Evening Look thus present ourselves as the second half of the solution. Civil discourse can be maximally effective in interactive debate between our platform and the “independent conservative voice on campus”. Fact-checking accountability is heightened through the ability of one site to watch the other and the easy linkage to internet sources. Interactive debate is able to reach a greater audience without creating a damaging social environment. We will falter no more.

The Evening Look is a direct response, in Green’s words, to the “need to invite everyone to the table for a discussion, work at convincing them of our proposed ideas, and not shy away from being allowed to be taught something from them as well”. We invite, no, we challenge The Morning Watch to meet us at the virtual table and to debate, with humor and gravity, the issues of our world.

– The Editors of The Evening Look