Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Debating about a Comic and Political Conversation

A friend recently posted this comic with the caption, "every political conversation ever." The caption, I'm sure, was written half in jest, half in earnest—just like this post.

Every political conversation ever.
J2: It's true, you know. If you think about everyone you've discussed politics with over the past 5 years, they all hold the same political identity they held 5 years ago. Nobody's mind has changed; nobody's mind is going to change. Political debates are merely academic calisthenics.

J1: Academic calisthenics are nice, though, in their own way.

J2: They haven't improved your abs, is what I'm saying. Think of your abs. All that time you've been debating politics . . .

J1: Well, maybe I just need to do more sit-ups as I type.

J2: Go ahead.

J1: Okay. [The rest of the post has been written while doing sit-ups.]

J1: Really, though—getting back to your point—I don't know if my purpose in debating politics is to persuade. 

J2: Of course it is. You have a drive for respect, I know you do—like most people. When you write, you want the homage that comes with being right. 

J1: But I've cut that side of me down. I don't know what good it's ever done me. Certainly everyone craves admiration through different avenues. That's human. And, anyway, a longing for respect isn't what's motivating me to write about politics.

J2: What else?

J1: I don't know. I've got a strange sense of urgency, it hangs like a ghost at my back, that if I don't contribute something meaningful to our public discourse, I'll regret it. 

J2: Why? If minds can't change, why the interest in politics? 

J1: Because minds can change. My mind has changed tremendously, for instance, as a result of the collective conversations I've had with people on- and off-line. 

J2: Well maybe that's just you. You want to appear openminded, and so you change your mind sometimes just to prove you're openminded.

J1: Haha, no. That's not it. I'm not alone in this. It happens to everyone. We read an argument and our mind changes. Without exception. I don't mean we experience a groundbreaking change in worldview—though that might happen once or twice in a lifetime. I mean when we hear an argument, our mind changes. 

J2: But I hear you and I'm unconvinced.

J1: Convincing you isn't the hope. My hope is that through an ongoing conversation, and because of it, you and I will inch closer to truth. 

J2: That's just a semantic trick, though—a meaningless turn of the phrase change your mind. In the comic change your mind means convince someone, and I remain unconvinced—though I must say your ability to do sit-ups while typing makes you more persuasive. Hats off.

J1: Thank you. And I haven't even broken a sweat . . .

J2: But look at all the incessant political chatter between team Republican and team Democrat—I don't see minds changing.

J1: You're confusing changing labels with changing minds. People seldom change labels, but they do change their minds. Over time. By degrees. Every rational conversation forces us to rethink our assumptions and fine-tune our positions.

J2: Ah, I see you slipped the qualifier rational in there. Every rational conversation forces us to rethink. Before you seemed to be saying every conversation does that. 

J1: Oh, you see I've changed my mind?

J2: Haha. My point is that most political conversations aren't rational. In the comic, for instance, the argument consists of "change your mind, change your mind, CHANGE YOUR MIND"—not the nuanced interchange of ideas you're idealizing about. 

J1: That's true. Maybe it is an ideal. I don't know. I'm convinced that our opinions are nothing more than the collective conversations we've had, through books, blogs, film, art, etc. And if that's the case, then each conversation affects us. But—I'm sorry to interrupt this conversation—can I be done? I'm sorry . . . it's just that I simply can't do another sit-up.

J2: Sorry, you can't stop until you concede that I'm right about this.

J1: What? I'm not going to admit that. 

[endless sit-ups]