As best as I can tell from the inside, I was raised in a family that, besides being loving, was characterized by quick thought and quick wit. I was privileged to be brought up by a father who taught me by example about incisive thinking and constructive verbal engagement. If you weren't prepared to discuss the question, whatever the question happened to be, you didn't have much conversational fun. It wasn't hostile -- it was exploratory. It honed minds and tongues.
I was reminded of this when I read John Leo's recent piece titled Let's Keep Arguing. Leo suggests that what passes for discussion these days is actually partisan shouting to an audience of those who already agree with us.
This cheats us of one of the main benefits of living in a democracy. Raising the level of discourse includes Courtesy as the price of entry. But after that, points go to well-considered, well-articulated argument. More ideas, rather than fewer, are a good thing. (One would hope that colleges and universities would know and espouse this, but evidence suggests the opposite.)
In addition to enriching the thought life of the listener, argument serves the speaker as well. "When a friend launches an argument and your rebuttal starts to sound tinny to your own ears, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out that something's wrong -- usually that you don't really agree with the words coming out of your own mouth. Arguing can rescue us from our own half-formed opinions."
Let's go to it, America.