Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monkey man don’t do 'civil discourse'

Sisters Mayor Lon Kellstrom read a proclamation Thursday night reaffirming the city council’s commitment to civil discourse. The proclamation was in response to the Tucson shootings and the (tenuous) connection with the overheated rhetorical climate in America.

It’s always a good idea to remind ourselves that, as our president is fond of saying, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.” But how realistic is that? In a free society, with a lot of convenient megaphones that amplify our sometimes strident voices, people’s feelings are going to get hurt. And they’re going to get mad. And at a certain point, they’re going to get so mad they can’t think straight.

When our political ideologies are tangled up with our identity, civil discourse is really difficult, maybe impossible.

One of my favorite bloggers is a corrections officer/writer/martial artist/philosopher named Sgt. Rory Miller. One of his recent blog entries hits on a phenomenon that I believe explains the tenor of a lot of our national — and even local — political and social discourse.

...Two conversations today, talks where intelligent people lied and math (not fake philosophical math but simple "2x4 is less than 2x8, you realize that, right?" ) was dismissed, and historical documents didn't count. But the most important thing is realizing, whether in criminals or martial artists or debate, that there is an identifier. When the other side gets labeled. When the person says "You are a _________" or "You sound just like___________" Right there the tribal mind is engaged. You are no longer reasoning with a human but trying to reason with a monkey...
With patience and by pretending to not notice dominance games or accepting a label as 'other' I have sometimes given people the space and time to let the monkey brain die down and get back to tangible problems. But rarely, if ever, when the problem was tied directly to their identity.

We’re in a phase where, for many people, politics is tied directly to their identity. People choose sides, and lash their identity to their party, their movement, their tribe. They label those who disagree and perceive them as “other.”

This is by no means a new phenomenon in our history. In fact, I’d argue that it’s more common than periods of broad consensus and “civility.”

No proclamation, no matter how heartfelt, is going to change the climate. Unless... it causes us in that critical moment to pause, to question whether our identity is really under threat, to ask ourselves, “am I a monkey or a man?”

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Label and demonize!

    1. Socialist
    2. Neo-Con
    3. Nazi
    4. Liberal elite
    5. Job killing _____.(Fill in the blank)
    6. Traitor
    7. Treason
    8. Hitler
    9. ...(just about anything Rush Limbaugh says)
    10. ..(most things Keith Olberman says)

    Each side has their own war chant. It is all noise and no substance, and the louder they yell the less they have to say.

    The amazing thing is that most people probably agree on 90% of what things need to be done in this country, but our politicians excel in emphaaizng the 10% where we disagree, precluding any chance of moving forward on the 90%.

    I encourage all to tune out the loud noises and listen for the quiet ones.

  2. Jim -

    Rolling Stones' fan that I am...

    Your editorial and the reference to "monkey mind" immediately jangled my musical memory...

    "Let It Bleed", Rolling Stones, 1969...

    "I'm a fleabit peanut monkey/All my friends are junkies/That's not really true...Well, I am just a monkey man..."

    As a combative arts practioneer - not "artist" - I have seen the truly scary effective Kung Fu "Drunken Monkey" fighting style demonstrated. Very crazy.

    All this to say I wouldn't want anything to do with a "monkey mind", "Monkey Man", or a drunken monkey...Kung Fu fighter or otherwise!

    They apparently all be bad in one way or another.

    With great respect,