As I’m sure you noticed, we live in interesting times. We live in times, in particular, where it seems like everyone is going crazy. We’re struggling to talk to each other, struggling to stay friends, struggling to feel like we fit in anywhere in a cultural environment that keeps getting more political and less welcoming to anyone who just wants things to be normal again.
I know I feel this pressure personally, and it has impacted many of my relationships. When I hang out with my friends, part of my attention always kind of lingers on the fear that someone is going to bring up something political, something about Trump, something about racism, sexism, or some other topic. Usually, it’s tense, and it gets in the way of an otherwise good time.
It always seems like politics come up, too, even when we’re all going out of our way to avoid the issue. A lot of the time, this ruins the mood. At other times, however, it comes with that sense of relief where we all find ourselves thinking–or even saying–”Oh my gosh, you too?!” and then we can relax.
We really have lost our sense of normalcy to having to talk about politics and other social issues all of the time. And if we’re going to have to talk about it, isn’t it a shame that a big part of that sense of normalcy that it feels like we’ve lost is the ability to talk productively with other people, especially people whose views don’t match ours? What if they’re a conservative?! What if they’re a progressive?! What if they’re an atheist, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or an anything else?! We’re all walking on eggshells around one another, and it’s exhausting.
What if I say the wrong thing and offend them without meaning to?!
This is madness, and it’s uncomfortable and damaging to our psychologies, our social groups, our communities, and our societies. We can’t keep living like this. We need to be friends again, and we need to start talking with and understanding each other again. We need something different, and if we can’t have something old, we need something new. We need new discourses. We need to be able to have new conversations with new people in new ways and, most importantly, on new terms–terms that we set, not terms that have been set for us.
Sensing this need, not least because I feel it myself and have grown rather tired of it, I’d like to welcome you to New Discourses, a platform where we can start taking back our terms and our societies and using them the ways we want to. My goal is to make this a place where, for many of you, you can have that relaxing breath and realize, oh my gosh, you too! The world is kind of going mad, and you’re not alone in thinking so–or wanting things to be different.
I called this platform “New Discourses” for a reason. There are two meanings of the word “discourses” that are of central importance to our current–and untenable–situation, and New Discourses is meant to help us do something about both of them at once.
Our discourses are as most of us understand them: discourse, discussion, dialogue, conversation–talking to and with each other. New discourses in this sense represent the discussions we’re having, the dialogue we want to have, and the conversations we need to be having. Honest conversations. Real conversations. Conversations that cut through the partisanship and propaganda and political expectations of our time and speak bravely, forthrightly, and courteously about topics that matter.
Our discourses are also a more technical concept that means, roughly, how we speak about things and what makes for legitimate (and illegitimate) ways to speak about things. Discourses in this sense are like linguistic maps of meaning through which we can make sense of the words we use, the context we use them in, and the features of our lives, our minds, and reality that they reference. When we “talk shop” at work, that means we’re using discourses relevant to our jobs. There are also discourses that are relevant to all of our lives. New discourses in this sense represent breaking the molds that we’ve found ourselves in that prevent us from having the kind of clear, honest communication with one another that we want and need.
My goal with New Discourses is not to be political, but the fact is that it is primarily matters of politics that are shaping and constraining our discourses, limiting what we can say, how we can say it, and who we can say it to. Whether it’s “political correctness” coming from the progressive left, “patriotic correctness” coming from the reactionary right, or “blasphemy” coming from the religious, New Discourses wants to help us rise above all of it so that we can talk honestly, clearly, and courageously with each other. That’s why these discourses will be new–at least in the sense that they’ll be new again and new to many of us.
This commitment to open and forthright dialogue won’t just risk offending people. It will offend them. Being offensive isn’t the goal of most of our communication, but it is part of the human condition when we live on a planet teeming with billions of humans in thousands of cultures in hundreds of nations and with myriad views on the world. We’re different. None of us knows best. Still, we have to make this whole civilization thing work.
Learning to accept that differences of opinion can be both offensive and acceptable at the same time is a core component of civilization in the modern world, and those who push us toward forgetting it are asking us to risk more than they think. Uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, this norm of liberal tolerance is a non-negotiable necessity, the cornerstone of modern societies, and it must be defended. To the degree that our discourses are fettered for one political project or another, they must be set free. Repressive tolerance isn’t tolerance; it isn’t liberal; it isn’t open or free; and it won’t work, whether your goal is societal progress, conservation, or some happy-enough mix of the two. This is true no matter who is doing the repressing, left, right, or center, representing any faith or none.
At present, our discourses are limited, and many people are coming to realize it. Those who do, don’t like it, and we’re ready for a change. I know I am. You may too, and if so, welcome. The project of New Discourses will therefore center upon exposing, explaining, and articulating alternatives to anything that attempts to constrain our discourses, whether that be for the greater good, to keep the faith, or to find ourselves on the right side of history. We believe that any of those laudable goals–at least as they read on paper–are only possible when our discourses are civil and free in both senses of the word, and that’s what we’ve brought this organization into existence to foster.
We hope you’ll be a part.