A civil discourse site?

2012-05-21 (Monday) § Leave a comment

Would you visit a website devoted to user discussion of controversial issues if it required (and enforced by moderation) that all posts be aimed at either 1) convincing another user of your point of view on something, starting from premises they already accept, or 2) arriving at a point of agreement or a common goal with another user who you generally disagree with? Let’s say all these conversations would be readable by anybody.

Here’s an idea for how it would work. There’ll be a form you fill out to start a post with the fields “Topic” and “Assertion” (multiple fields). In the Topic field you describe the issue you’re trying to arrive at agreements about. In the Assertion fields you detail some premises your view starts from that you think you can get most people to agree with. You can connect some assertions to others with arrows to show that you think one follows from another. Lots of (unlimited?) links are allowed in the chain so created, so if you wanted, you could detail a whole argument from the most abstract of premises to the most concrete of conclusions.

You create the post. Your topic shows up in a list. When people click on the topic, they can see the assertions displayed with all their connecting arrows like flowchart objects. They can add comments on any of the assertions to explain what would have to change about that assertion for them to buy it, or why they don’t think it follows from what you say it follows from.

Above every input form (comments, post creation) is a reminder that your purpose in writing must be to arrive at agreement with another user on some particular point, and any input that obviously doesn’t aim at that goal will be removed.  In other words, anybody who isn’t interested in finding common ground with people they disagree with or reconsidering their existing views will not be interested in this site.  But people who are pursuing those goals will be able to pursue them more clearly and with a wider variety of people through this site.

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