One is that you care about human decency and how we get along.
You care about me and don’t want to see me spiral into the abyss of outrage. Nor do you want to see another person’s outrage leveled at me. That’s why you care about the public square. You want things to go well and decently for everyone, not torn apart by partisan bickering.
So many of us police debate, not because we are concerned for the health of the debate, but for the people.
The other reason is that your own partisanship blinds you to nuance.
For many people, every single statement or action must be filtered into the binary system of Left versus Right. Everything has a partisan motive and must be labeled and contained. No matter what actually motivates people or how they are looking to engage public debate, this filter is applied and supersedes everything. Even the motives the individual believes are her own.
The failure of either of these two reasons to deliver on better conversations is not surprising. Neither cares much for maintaining them or addressing social dysfunction. In fact, both are far more interested in maintaining social norms and the order of our interactions.
When practiced well, either reason can engage us to arrange fruitful and productive conversations. But practiced poorly, both lead to further dysfunction and isolation. Fear of conflict, social difference, or misunderstanding of intentions lead us to prioritize our health over others or call in the pitbull to protect our ego.
Daily we witness practitioners of either method lash out at any person who breaks social mores. Either for endangering the safe space of debate or appearing to side with the unspoken platform of a political party. And for some, simply identifying with one party discredits everything we say.
[This doesn’t include the trolls. They want to highjack or destroy the debate for nihilistic glee or despair. This is about the 90% who actually care about life and other people.]
Don’t focus on tone, focus on dysfunction.
I care enough about the public square to deal directly with it’s dysfunction. And to not fall for our simplistic tendency to sweep injustices and moral failings under the rug. Those things which erode and destroy our communities from the inside. Or the systemic violence which cruelly pits us against each other.
Focusing on dysfunction rather than the tone of debate is a sign of community-building. It isn’t inherently divisive. We can see it as a sign of hope and a willingness to fight for this thing we claim to value.
We don’t need to silence debate or pre-sort political opinions into entrenched debates. This isn’t about PC anything or protests on campus.
Instead, we care about the tone of debate because conversation is important. So it isn’t enough to argue and debate or worry about the motives of the participants. And it’s far too important to simply listen to one another and “agree to disagree.” We must recognize that conversations are complex, people have many motives, and not all community acts require winners and losers.
Ultimately, those attempts to police tone are about fear and control.
But it is out of love for the common space that I strive to rebuild and protect it. Not by saying nothing of substance or rejecting the two way street. Or by having nothing to say and no solutions to our present problems. It is precisely the opposite.
We must deal with the cause rather than the symptom. Which means we deal with dysfunction more than the tone of debate. And chances are we’ll solve both problems.