The end of intelligent discourse

Longing for the days when differences of opinion were acceptable

The author is a wildlife biologist with 50 years of field experience. He is now semiretired, but he regularly travels to practice his passion for wildlife photography. He lives in Paradise.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, some of my most pleasant memories were of the friendship and camaraderie among my father, grandfather, uncle and cousin. At holidays, the men gathered in the living room for “after dinner drinks” and conversation that lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

I fell asleep to the sound of their voices, shouting and guffawing at each other’s political views. They seemed to agree on very little, and the loud, argumentative conversation indicated such. Yet, in the morning, they were friends again, laughing and talking. I learned early that differences of opinion are acceptable as long as intelligent dialogue and discourse are permitted.

This is not the case today. Political and religious differences alienate friends, split up families, and have become the primary obstruction to creating new friendships. The new model is: “You must agree with me on everything or you’re my enemy!” There is no longer any room for intelligent discourse or debate; no interest in facts that may or may not support a predetermined point of view; and a reliance on rhetoric, ridicule and intimidation to make one’s point.

As a scientist, I rely primarily on facts. If none are available, the least I can accept is logical theory with some factual foundation. Being both a progressive and an atheist, I am acquainted with a number of people who strongly disagree with my views. A few are friends with whom I can discuss these issues; express my views; listen to theirs; and if nothing more, at least understand the thought processes and basis by which our views were formed. Occasionally, one or the other of us will say, “Gee, I never thought of that!”

Unfortunately, so many others have become former friends. One of the most hurtful experiences in my recent past was when a longtime friend emailed me saying, “People like you are what’s wrong with this country.” Another longtime friend dragged me across a restaurant table by my shirtfront when he perceived I disagreed with him on the interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Such divisiveness is not limited to personal relations; it now extends into all our political entities, from the local town councils to Congress, and appears to be growing in application and acceptance. I fear for our society and wish for a return to a time when decisions were made using facts, common sense and civility, not so much for me but for my grandchildren.