Democratic Discourse 101 is a tool that enables a different kind of textual analysis. It is designed to help us, the citizens of a democracy, develop a critical appreciation of the ways in which we use written and spoken language. While it was designed to examine language as used in the public sphere, the skills that it can teach are useful even in our private and informal communication.
Democratic Discourse 101 is based on several assumptions, the most important of these being that language and thought are interdependent, each feeding off and contributing to the development of the other. Where language is unclear and misused, the possibilities of miscommunication, misunderstanding and manipulation are greater. Democracy, more than any other system of government, is dependent upon an intelligent and well-informed citizenry. Without this, despite periodic elections that can effect changes in government, it can quickly deteriorate into a form of public entertainment or spectacle with spin-doctors, charlatans and demagogues determining what we hear and how we understand the world.
With this analytical tool, we will analyze influential speeches and text, and demonstrate how language is commonly used by politicians, PR departments, partisan intellectuals and advocates of all stripes. To this end, we will analyze influential pieces of literature including historic documents, contemporary newspaper and magazine articles, transcripts of influential public speeches or statements made by public figures. This initiative aims to raise public awareness about the level of discipline, rigor and intellectual honesty that might be present (or absent) in the thinking and communication of influential ideas. Democracy requires not just elections and good intentions but critical thinking and communication capabilities, both of which are critical to a constructive and mature public discourse.
The analyses will focus on two primary criteria:
- How successfully does the author, in this text, maintain or adhere to the standards of Critical Thinking through the use of reason, logic, evidence, objectivity and intellectual integrity? We will also examine the text for unstated assumptions and any logical fallacies or biases that the author may be unaware of or consciously using.
- How successfully does the author, in this text, create opportunities for those who think differently to engage in a constructive dialogue. We will do this by analyzing the ways in which the author includes or excludes relevant perspectives; is open to listening and learning from other people; respects opposing points of view; and is able to empathize with those who might disagree.