Mero Moment: Civil discourse cannot exist without also seeking deeper meaning

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OPINION — If you want elevated dialogue, you need an elevated mind. Most Americans, across the political spectrum, seem to mourn the loss of civil dialogue.

Indeed, civil dialogue has been kicked to the curb in the age of Trump. But Trump is only a symptom, even if a modern icon, of discord. The true villain here is the mundane minutia that fills our minds through round-the-clock information on social media. It has lowered our civic IQ, subsequently lowering the substance of civil dialogue.

Social media creates the delusion that all opinions are of similar value. Social media is the great equalizer. Unfortunately, its egalitarianism is mongrelized not idealized. It often displays the beauty of humanity along side the “wild ranting of the unhinged masses” – the opposite of any truly transcendent environment.

Look at a museum or an art gallery or, what used to be, the college classroom. Very discriminating. Very enlightened. Very serious. Then look at social media. Picture yourself standing in the Louvre and now picture yourself in any number of social media conversations.

I have a theory about today’s incivility: The less serious we are, the more incivility we will see. The more we focus on worldly, mundane, materialistic and selfish matters, the less intelligent, tolerant and civil we become.

Serious people understand this disconnect, regardless of politics or worldview. Atheist and feminist author Camille Paglia gets it. She explains:

All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts … no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

What is that heritage of which she speaks? It is the quest to understand the meaning of life. Let me take this one step further. Civility is not the domain of intelligent people alone but rather the domain of all serious people. Serious people seek the meaning of life. Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going? Seeking answers to the great questions of life comprise western civilization.

There is a reason why many Utahns are more worried about civility today than partisan politics. Utah is a heavily religious state, more so than any other state. Its predominant Latter-day Saint population typically cares as much about its discourse as it does its politics.

Now, admittedly, I am not suggesting that all Mormons participate in civil discourse. They don’t. But when an otherwise faithful Latter-day Saint dons the tinfoil hat, that person has problems running deeper than issues with civility. On the whole, Utah makes a wonderful case study in civil discourse.

To be clear, the key to civility is not faith; the key is transcendence. Only a people focused on humanity and the meaning of life is able to achieve such a lofty goal. Paglia, though an atheist, is transcendent in many ways because she embraces the quest for life’s meaning.

So do Latter-day Saints. Their entire religion is premised on this quest. A young boy asked God which church was true. In other words, Joseph Smith wanted to know the true meaning of life, its purpose and his role in it.

Given numerous historical examples of religious contention and discord, the search for meaning is not enough. We must find it. Transcendent ideas lead to transcendent behavior.

Utah, as much of the country, is increasingly divided along the lines of civility not politics. We argue today mostly about process not substance. We trust leaders who speak intelligently, with self-control and a sense of transcendence. We distrust ignorant, inhumane and reckless voices. The difference between the two, I maintain, is the degree of seriousness each person views the meaning of life.

I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

Paul Mero is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

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  • statusquo September 29, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Well said Paul. The unfortunate truth is that the social media zombies won’t take the time to read what you have to say. I’m not sure there is a way to reach them other than turning off their media. This also demonstrates the failure of our education system in this country. The desire to think logically must precede actually doing so. As you state, our culture is more enamored with entertainment than understanding the meaning of life. Truth matters.

  • NickDanger September 29, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    As a “serious person,” I can agree with this. The last time I lost an argument was the 1990’s. Maybe I should start debating the relative merits of Kim Kardashian’s fashion choices or whether there should be a “Sex and the City 3” if I really want to put it on the line.

    Aldous Huxley predicted there would come a time when we’d be so inundated with trivialities that we’d collectively lose interest in serious pursuits. So did the rock band Devo for that matter. And sure enough, the Information Age has led to a mass intellectual de-evolution.

  • Alex September 29, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    As an individual that grew up in a “mongrelized” education system, I can confidently state that you are inaccurate. Religious based education does not result in “transcendence” and “civility.” it results in opression and restrictive dialogue between students. Isn’t the classroom supposed to broaden our minds? Instead you secular, right winged, nazis wish to push the Bible on children who have grown up in a society that encourges free speech and identity.
    I’m not saying religion doesn’t play a role in civility and society, but our government ran school systems is NOT the place to be pushing your bible thumping practices.

  • bikeandfish September 30, 2017 at 12:36 am

    I see this another lense to view life through but it has imperfections in it like most. It relies pretty heavily on the vestiges of the “Protestant Work Ethic” and its concepts of grace and hard work (ie seriousness) as a sign of the “elect”. It led easily to judgements of high entertainment, ie Mero’s observations about museum’s and that they are “Very discriminating. Very enlightened. Very serious.”, versus low entertainment, like Pub’s or Mero’s view of social media as “worldly, mundane, materialistic and selfish matters”. Those who focus on it in society are “less intelligent, tolerant and civil”. Mero uses “we” in those critiques of society but its clear from his description and pride in Utah that this a rhetorical tool.

    We have every reason to evaluate civil discourse in society, including its impediments. But I recommend skepticism when anyone waxes nostalgic or claims a sweeping “loss” of a historic norm. In this case, I haven’t seen much evidence that civility is lost but alot of evidence that uncivil discourse is amplified.

    There are also elements of Romanticism and Transcendentalism layered throughout, each of which also come packaged with pros and cons.

    At the end of the day its hard to accept one variable like a dedication to the meaning of life defines seriousness and therefore civility. Human experience is too contextual and nuanced for such simplicity in my opinion. There are plenty of folks who are serious and civil who pay no heed to such questions and remain purely focused on survival of life, not its meaning. I haven’t seen alot of evidence that life is nearly as binary as the author claims.

  • commonsense September 30, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    I really like social media. It has no monetary dog in the fight. Information is distributed without profit. No commercial media trying to sell copy or viewers.
    Social media provides dialogue with full opportunity to rebut, explore or accept. It has truly changed everything. Big commercial media outlets like the NY Times can no longer control the flow of information. TV networks pale in viewership compared to Facebook and Twitter. The public doesn’t trust the commercial media and they shouldn’t. Keep tweeting and following. Get the real news out there.

  • Kilroywashere September 30, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Are we not men, we are devo, D.E.V.O. You can be even more reductionist, but that would be uncivil discourse. Seems, many elevated people commenting above, so I don’t deserve much credit pointing out the obvious, we are STILL all bozos on this bus. But now the bozos have cell phones. If you are a clown, please accept my apology and substitute a simian species of your choice.

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