For a Productive Discussion, Voters Must Fight the Impulse to Do Harm

After recent events during this bizarre election season, let's pause. Do we want to inhabit a culture of human dignity, or an honor culture where every slight is met with face-saving, self-important insults? Do we want to transcend harm--or to cause it? Do we want to allow the indignant ill will swirling within our flawed human souls to overflow, or to temper such poison with its only true antidote--empathy?

Our civic duties lend these questions import. As voters, we are responsible for electing legislators who translate our values into laws. We are responsible for electing executives who direct the government's monopoly on the lawful use of force, both inside and outside our borders. Our votes will affect everything from mass incarceration to how we fight terrorism.

The point is simple: Elections are important. How can we debate the 2016 election in a way that recognizes that gravity? To me, improving our discourse means rising above "the impulse to do harm," which is something humans naturally feel after being slighted. We must suppress our biases. We must embrace System 2 thinking over System 1 impulse. We must strive to see others, especially others who are "the Other," as human beings rather than political beings. Only then can we create an all-encompassing rhetoric that lends equal dignity to all who enter the arena of good-faith political debate. Only then can we have a productive discussion.

I'm not singling out the Right. The illiberal Left's festering tendency to shut down speakers because they are conservative "cis white men" is troubling; it's fueling the rise of Trumpist sophists peddling a different flavor of identity politics. Still, the Right's growing obsession with Mexican immigrants is contributing to our polarized discussion at least as much as the regressive Left's illiberal tactics.

As Americans, we are failing to be kind. We are failing to realize that to advocate for a cause, one need not advocate against people. One can disagree with ideas instead of disagreeing with people. One can view people--all people--as flawed beings worthy of good-faith treatment, as ends rather than means to the fulfillment of one's parochial sense of self-righteousness, of anger, of political vindication.

2016 proves, to me, that there is only one thing we can do that is truly revolutionary. We can be kind.

This post was modified from a previous post concerning the tenor of campus debate at Harvard Law School.