Here’s what I mostly learned from my post on the EpiPen controversy and what it said about greed in health care: civil discourse is an endangered species, hovering on the edge of extinction. And it’s not just on the right. Left wing bigotry is alive and well. And dangerous.

Facts are an endangered species

As of last night the Facebook share on the EpiPen post reached over 19.5k people and got 319 reactions, 77 comments with a ton of replies, and 204 shares. Hardly a viral explosion, but bigger than I expected even with a small paid boost. Because I was the one that started it, I had to break my own “don’t. read. the. comments.” rule and learned a lot.

Mostly I was surprised by the tone of the debate. Clearly I hit some nerves, on both sides of the aisle. Some of the discussion was great, and a few comments were quite flattering. One or two actually did some research on which to base their comments. But facts were about as rare as sightings of the hairy nosed wombat.

And really, what do we expect when our news sources are Fox and Breitbart? And Addictinginfo and Occupydemocrats and Slate, which, even though I want to agree with them, are no better for all the cherry-picking and click-baiting.

Stop ruining a great argument with facts

The name calling on Facebook got to me, and there were a couple of people I reluctantly had to ban. A few more didn’t show any signs of actually reading the post, and instead used the comments as a platform to push their particular agenda: Obama is a secret Muslim who is out to destroy the country, George Soros is really running the country, Hillary wants to put death panels (remember death panels?) back in health care, Planned Parenthood is selling body parts, yada yada.

I wish I could say it was only the right-wing nuts who take uninformed hardline positions. But the left had its conspiracy theorists. Corporations are universally evil and we have to destroy them all, drug companies are withholding actual cures in order to sell more drugs. No facts, just certainty.

One commenter, an obvious Trumpet, interestingly said this: “Liberal minded people irritate me. No facts.

And you know, he had a point.

The biggest thing for me was the level of contempt some – too many – had for anyone who disagreed. I got called a liar more than once for presenting facts that didn’t agree with the other person’s world view. Think about that for a minute. How do you make a rational decision if any contrary fact is labeled a lie?

Obviously, you don’t.

We must be. do. make. better

So you, on the left, I’m talking to you now.

The problem is that familiarity isn’t breeding contempt: certainty is. We are certain that the Trumpets are wrong, so we hold them in contempt. We are not listening. I think that’s very, very dangerous. Because ignored people get angry, and angry people do unpredictable things. But they stay focused, and an unpredictable, angry, focused electorate got us the candidate Trump. We on the left cannot afford to be bigots about those on the right, lest we become them. Or get them elected.

I don’t mean to be a doormat; I have every intention of calling out bullshit, racism, xenophobia, and hatred when I see it. But the angry and the disenfranchised and the fearful aren’t going anywhere. Neither are those that want to protect their money from the 99% of us that have less.

You want to win? Then start paying attention. Investigate even when, hell especially when, you disagree. Even if facts won’t convince others, at least know the facts well enough to challenge yourself. And for heaven’s sake, get your facts from actual journalists and scientists.

And then listen to people’s stories.

Radical civility is the cure for left wing bigotry

What I notice is that when I listen to people’s stories, I understand better why they think what they think. Like the woman on the EpiPen thread that adamantly didn’t want any government interference with healthcare, even if it was designed to help her. She said it reduced choice. I got the idea, but not the vehemence or the passion. Until she wrote that she has stage 4 cancer and felt betrayed by her insurer. Yes, her anger at the government is misplaced, but at least I can understand being pissed about choice when you’re battling a disease that doesn’t give you much.

I’ve written about radical civility before. In early August I posted a how-to primer on it (listen a lot, think more, talk less). Then there was this one from four years ago, just after the last election. It strikes me we haven’t learned much, didn’t change much, and what I predicted has come true. We on the left gloated, and now the right has a new champion leading a misguided attempt to bring us back to the good old days that never were.

Too bad Andrew Shepard’s speech in The American President is fiction. No one is going to rise up and save us. Cultivate radical civility, and make it count. Let’s make the world better.

Dr. Les Kertay


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