January 14, 2011

Some Guy Named Chafee, On the Remedy to Bad Discussion

Carroll Andrew Morse

Professor Zechariah Chafee ended Chapter 5 of Government and Mass Communications, the chapter on "Group Libel" and its possible remedies, with this passage...

When wise men refuse to mention disagreeable facts, foolish and stupid men will have their say more than ever. The responsible leaders of the press ought frankly to face the facts of group dissenions whenever a proper occasion demands. When the evil is thus frankly faced, its size will seem to be smaller than is commonly supposed, and methods for reducing it still further can then be satisfactorily explored. The remedy for bad discussion is not punishment but plenty of good discussion.
Since having a discussion, good or bad, requires multiple parties, and since not many people would be interested in a press that simply talks amongst themselves, the challenge that Professor Chafee puts to "responsible leaders of the press" applies to responsible political leaders as well.

Zechariah Chafee believed that in an open discussion, evil would lose. I don't know that Lincoln Chafee would label the adversaries he perceives he has in talk radio as "evil", but he is certainly not behaving as though he believes that he (or the members of his administration) can win in public debates with them.

The question is, does this tell us more about the ideas of Zechariah Chafee or of Lincoln Chafee?

(Fortunately, there is some evidence that the tradition represented by the older Chafee is being carried onin the form of former Republican Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille, who advised Governor Chafee via Philip Marcelo of the Projo to directly face those with whom he disagrees...

Robitaille, whose former boss had been a regular on talk radio during his eight-year tenure, suggested that if Chafee disagrees with the positions taken on talk radio, he should face his detractors head on. “Go into the den of the lion. Conflict avoidance never settles a dispute, however, open and honest communication often does.”