Civil discourse has changed over the years.  Debate has become a lost art, replaced by bi-polar argument and an estrangement from comprehension or understanding.  Clarity and articulation of thought have been replaced by obfuscation and repetition of pre-determined talking points.  This has led to antagonism and levels of annoyance which routinely devolve into a state of rage for both parties, and a termination of communication.  This has led a division within our country and silenced all discussion on important issues that shape our society.  Has the failure of deliberation led to the ruin of adversarial discourse?  No, I say that responsibility lay elsewhere.  I say that the movement toward a politically correct, non-offensive, culture has silenced debate.

Historically, etiquette and decorum shaped the way we communicated and the manner in which we asserted ourselves.  In days before television and radio, conversation was our primary form of entertainment and debate considered a sport.  Both were important skills all children learned in school.  Rhetoric was the primary weapon with which one armed oneself; one which a master could mortally wound an opponent and assume victory.  Those who mastered the art of debate and had command of language were the ones who were able to assume positions of power.  Those with intellect rose above the crowd.

This is not to say that debate never denigrated into an uncivil verbal battle.  Insults were common during debate, and depending on the level of slight directed toward the other individual, some sort of physical confrontation may have developed.  History is filled with famous duels, where the combatants were defending their honor or that of someone close to them.  These conflicts were normally a result of what we refer to today (incorrectly) as an ad hominem attack, or in the common vernacular, a “yo momma” assertion.  Even though this lead to confrontation it was part and parcel of the decorum of the day.

Our society has attempted to tone down debate and de-claw it, so to speak.  To artificially develop a new decorum that supposedly makes discourse more accessible.  There has been a concerted effort made to make everything non-offensive and as neutral as possible, and while doing so, making discourse less accessible.  If you cannot offend, then debate will remain civil.  Unfortunately offense has two meanings, both important to argument.  Offense is not only the act of offending or making an affront, but, when you change the emphasis on a syllable, it is also an important tactic, where one makes a conscious decision to attack or become the aggressor.  That ability to offend, and immediately change to the offensive role in an argument, is the great equalizer.  By taking the offensive weapon away, we have eliminated a great rhetorical tool that can be used to undermine and defeat the opponent.

Some may argue that if an individual has the command of his spoken language that an insult is not required.  I call bullshit on that.  A prize fighter is taught many different punches to use against an opponent, and the most effective ones are those not expected.  A clever insult not only hits your adversary, it can distract him from his position and pull him off topic, potentially opening other gaps to attack.  I’m not saying that a run of insults is acceptable, or a way to win an argument, but a well placed affront to the dignity of your rival can leave an opening that can change the tone of the debate.  This is nothing more than a tactic, one that political correctness has attempted to remove from the rhetorical arsenal.  I feel that the loss of this weapon has weakened our ability to challenge those in power, and those who set the rules.

Those who define decorum have an unfair advantage.  They know they cannot be opposed in their home arena, as they have the tools and the ability to change the rules as they see fit.  Standing on decorum and using political correctness as their shield, the powerful continue to keep the common folk down, no matter how wrong they are.  Even though it is disrespectful and politically incorrect, why has no one stood up to President Bush and said, “Sir, you and your cabinet are complete failures and are manipulating the people of this country with your War on Terror.  Your dog, Barney, would do a better job at tracking down Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda operatives!”  I think the national debate on this very important subject matter would come back to life in a very big way.

As much as insults can be counterproductive in a discussion they can also be an extremely effective apparatus to move a debate forward.  I certainly do not suggest that discussion breakdown to a game of the dozens, or a contest to see who can come up with the most inventive and cutting insult, but I am advocating utilizing any mechanism that can spurn more debate in our society.  Anyone who has ever observed two Arabs barter will certainly understand that their harsh words only hurt if they let them.  If we became less wishy-washy, and worried about our feelings so much, we may actually find ourselves in discussions that find resolutions to our biggest cultural problems.

Our adherence to this Politically Correct rule continues to weaken our society.  We fail to engage in discussion attempting to find the answers to important issues because we are afraid to offend.  I find that to be quite ironic as it has always been our greatest leaders who have not worried about who they offend, they just made the comments and decisions that worked for the majority.  We should strive to deliver our positions in the most eloquent manner, but if the message being delivered to us is an endless insult to our intelligence, an attack on the dignity of the individual delivering said message is fair game in my estimation.  Failing to do just means the message is acceptable, and the dumbing down of our society continues.

When it comes to communication, Darwin was wrong.  The strong do not survive, nor do they pass their superior traits on to the next generation.  Superior traits get lost in the crowd, as all things continue to gravitate toward the mean.  We may believe that we take strides to improve society, and our culture as a whole, but the stark reality is that we continue to regress to the mean.  We continue to appeal to the masses rather than encouraging the masses to emulate those who are exceptional.  Political correctness does not lead to more balance within society, it helps sustain the status quo.  When people are afraid to speak their minds they remain silent.  When people are prevented from sharing their outrage in what ever verbal form they desire, they are censored.  Political correctness does not make our society better, it only makes it weaker.

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