October 31, 2004 · Lessig
It is astonishing to me how hard it is to talk to friends and family about this election. It must have been easier before we entered the age of the broadcast. People must have expected it. But today, politics is religion � and neither are to be discussed among people who disagree. We feel free to stuff envelopes at an election headquarters. Or even to blather on in a blog. But the act of directly confronting someone else — at least if you know them — and asking them to explain their vote is as rude as asking them to explain their heart.
Most of the time, that doesn’t bother me. But in elections like this, it depresses the hell out of me. My family has had a vicious, extended debate through our mailing list about this election. I never understood how families were torn apart by the Civil War. I understand it now. Yet despite the bloodiness, it feels to me a duty. I swayed just one vote in that exchange with my family; I never expected to sway any. But the expectation of failure is not a reason to concede — see, e.g., the free culture movement.
I think this a duty we all share. We should learn to do it civilly. We need better tools. But if we’re ever to become a democracy that is immune from the spins of the likes of bin Laden and Rove, we need to rediscover, or just discover, the ethic of reasoned persuasion.
We built p2p-politics to ease people into this practice. Despite its brilliant technical implementation, the idea was a bust. Billions came to the site to watch the clips; scores of great clips were submitted; but precious few used the tool to send to someone else an argument, or a reason, or even a clip.
Whatever your tool, make this a duty of citizenship. Not always, maybe not in every election. But at least in this election. I spend a huge part of my time (insanely, my friends say) engaging with people I don’t know who email all sorts of questions and abuse (and even some words of praise). So this might seem more natural to me. But citizenship must mean explaining why. At least this time, it must. We are divided, and furious. We should use that anger for some good.