Loading Events
  • This event has passed.

Cafe Inquiry

July 30, 2019
6:15 pm - 8:15 pm

Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Neighborhood Library
1630 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20001 US

Get Directions

Organized by:
Center for Inquiry–DC (CFI–DC)


This month’s discussion topic: public discourse

People widely agree that public discourse is difficult, and that bringing together people from differing ideological perspectives may be more difficult. Internet comments, for instance, have illustrated the extent to which misunderstandings and bad-faith arguments lead to the online flame wars. These exchanges seem to actually push people apart on ideological positions, rather than give people a chance to find more common ground.

Classic Greek argumentation had clearly defined rules for argumentation, but was also very much a tool of the wealthy and educated classes. The goal was to convince an audience of a perspective, and the strategy followed a fairly clear topical paragraph structure: something like thesis, support for your case, consideration of counterpoints, and conclusion. With the rise of the printing press, and more recently the internet, more people can comment on issues and ideas.

However, classical argumentation is too rigid to address modern problems in public discourse, such as bad faith arguments and “trolling” that are fairly common in the discourse. There’s been at least some movement on social media to restrict viewpoints of what society views as bad actors. In Sri Lanka for instance, following the bombings the Sri Lankan government restricted social media to prevent misinformation from circulating. Others advocate for a return to more formalized debate and public commentary structures, to restrict the ability of bad faith actors to influence the public discourse or hijack a debate.

What constitutes good public discourse? Can we encourage a public discourse that can help resolve complex issues, while also discouraging certain types of bad actors? Are restrictions/structures effective in promoting a “good” public dialogue? Do the negative consequences of any proposed control measures outweigh the benefits from a “good” public discourse.

After the discussion we will head over to Beau Thai down the street for those who wish to have food and continue the conversation.