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Which cultures are capable of respectful debate? In other words, where can one disagree with another person's opinion without this leading to personal insults? About 30 years ago, America certainly qualified. Today it doesn't at all. Latin cultures don't handle diverse opinions very well, but still better than America. The only culture that I am sure is still capable of respectful debate is Orthodox and Karaite Judaism. Are there any others? And I am particularly interested in how Japan handles this.
Well, I certainly get the impression watching Questions for Prime Minister on PBS that the Brits have a far, far more robust and open debate culture in Parliament than we have in Congress. They insult the heck out of each other, but it's all taken in good fun, and substantive policy issues actually get debated in public.
The contrast couldn't be any starker with Congress. Public policy is already bought and paid for, so there is no debate. One of the whores just reads to an empty chamber remarks prepared by pressure groups and passed along via some 25-year-old aide. No one pays attention, because everyone knows nothing is up for debate.
Don't be hung up on respectfulness and lack of personal insults. Often the insults facilitate communication. The sociologist Lewis Coser has done interesting work showing that conflict often leads to genuine communication. When lines and interests are clearly drawn, accord may be reached. It's when both parties have already reached an accord with the monied interests and collaborate in disguising the fact that debate gets stifled.
As an example of conflict leading to communication: The interchanges on this forum between Cornfed and Publicduende could not be any more vicious, on a deeply personal level. But they are often quite informative to anyone paying attention. Both are very intelligent, are coming from strong belief systems, and argue their positions vigorously.
I don't know much about debate cultures anywhere but the US and UK, but I hope that will be different in six months. I'm leaving for Brussels next week, and am going to try to do a bit of free-lance reporting on the European Union. The EU isn't getting much right these days, IMO, but I'm expecting a more adult political culture than what we have in the U.S.
You're probably thinking more of inter-personal communication than political, but I think the latter has an influence on the former. Where you have no honest communication on public matters, as in the US, you tend to have no real communication on any level.
Respectful debate occurs only is certain spheres of western culture. The legal profession, corporate boardrooms, government executive meetings (not legislatures), etc, all value respectful debate. However, any sphere related to interest groups, pressure groups, social movements, and or labor interests is absolutely full of disrespectful debate.
I know how to do both. I prefer to debate respectfully, but I will not hesitate to bludgeon some sophomoric idiot who needs to be put in his or her place. With these types, you simply have to "break one off up in their ass" because politeness is seen as weakness to them.
While I suppose it depends on what you mean by respectful debate, I don't think there are cultures anymore that practice it, even the ones you named. I don't think it has anything to do with culture or even politics. It really has far more to do with technology. As communication becomes less and less face to face and more and more done via technology and often done anonymously people feel it's fine to attack the person and not debate the idea. Why write pages of proof of my position when I can just call the other guy a name. Plus it is often more effective. If you call someone a moron often enough it will stick.
And honestly back before all this technology existed calling someone a bad name to his face might get you handed your ass. Now I can do it via the Web with complete impunity. And one politician being quoted in a sound bite insulting another politician is the rule of the day. 200 years ago insulting a politician or his wife or mother would get you called our for a duel. Not that I am advocating that but some consequences are necessary and today none exist.