I've recently been involved in a lively email debate with a small group of friends and family over the health care issue. It's been interesting because we don't all agree, but the conversation has remained civil - for the most part.
Earlier this week I posted a description of my current research project. When I started that post, I intended to present this debate as an example of an emerging discourse community (DC). For better or worse, I got a little wrapped up in trying to describe my academic work with non-academic language. It proved to be a good exercise for me, but as a result my example went by the wayside.
Like I said, it has been a lively debate. There have been carefully laid out arguments, jokes, jabs, sharp back-and-forths, and an ongoing balancing act as we try not to take ourselves too seriously while still addressing a serious issue.
The debate started with one of those video clip montages that show Obama on the campaign trail stating his support for single-payer health care and comparing those clips to his current line that the reforms do not represent a move toward single-payer health care.
The video was sent to a distro list along with the comment, "Hogan should love this one..."
I suppose now would be the appropriate time to say that I am the only person in the group who is for the eventual move to single-payer health care. I responded with my argument for such a plan.
Then the sparks started to fly. Below you will find a summary of the exchanges. You don't have to read it. I only include it here to illustrate the tools used in an emerging DC.
First a former Rear Admiral who will remain unnamed sent a set of statistics. Those were questioned.
Then a small business owner chimed in with how the current system's problems have been exaggerated, and the type of reform proposed is going too far.
These ideas received a lot of positive feedback from other group members.
There was a wise crack about the Obama administration surveilling our discussion.
The debate then turned to the movement resisting the current reforms. One member favorably contrasted the town hall disruptions with some protests held by the extreme left.
This was followed by the small business owner's call to leave the extremists out of our debate. In his request he pointed out that the freedom to dissent is a privilege, and he linked this to successes in the recent war in Iraq.
This was followed by the quip, "Amen! Or whatever the Islamic equivalent is."
Which led to me ranting about the oversimplification of the argument, in which I accused several people of demagoguery. I probably over-reacted.
We then got bogged down in the details of the difference between supporting the current reform proposals and supporting the eventual creation of a single-payer plan.
The nit-picking over semantics is probably what led to a group member sending this image with the caption: Very Important Finding this weekend!!! An archeological team, digging in Washington DC , has uncovered 4,000 year old bones and fossil remains of what is believed to be the first Democrat.
Things have trailed off since, but looking back, I learned a lot about how people exercise power and persuasion in a DC.
- There was the use of authoritative quotes and statistics.
- There were attempts to respectfully point out logical flaws in other arguments.
- There was the use of sarcasm and humor to dismiss others' views.
- People presented their own credentials in order to give more weight to their points.
- Accusations were bandied about.
- The group decided it wasn't interested in semantics.
Bottom line, we all spent time trying to discover how to best argue and persuade within a group where relationships of authority were fluid. When you take a step back from such an experience and examine the decisions people were making, there is a lot to learn about how we communicate within a community.
Those are the lessons I hope to bring to my composition classroom when I ask them to build their own DC.