Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ashoka Vs. Talk Radio

One of the new digital TV channels we get with the new converter box is a local weather map, that shows the current temperature and conditions, which is, actually, somewhat handy in these days of twenty below. Unfortunately, it's operated by a station that also owns a talk radio channel, so they run the audio from that behind it, and I just do my best to ignore it.

The other morning, my honey switched over to the weather channel for a second, and the radio person was asking whether talk radio had had a negative effect on -- something I didn't catch, probably a particular situation.

I looked up from my book to scoff. Of course talk radio had a negative effect on it, whatever it was. When has talk radio had a beneficial effect?

Now, I will go out of my way to avoid talk radio whenever possible. It's irksome that a public trust is handed over to bitterly partisan people for the specific purpose of creating artificial controversies, and encouraging hostility and misunderstanding between different groups of people.

As luck would have it, I barely turned the page of my book, Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian, to discover him quoting Emperor Ashoka (third century BCE, and known to all of us from the movie Asoka if nowhere else) on basically the same subject as my train of thought.

Ashoka "was strongly committed to making sure that public discussion could take place without animosity or violence," Sen says, and then quotes from an edict on tolerance.

"He demanded, for example, 'restraint in regard to speech, so that there should be no extolment of one's own sect or disparagement of other sects on inappropriate occasions, and it should be moderate even on appropriate occasions.' Even when engaged in arguing, 'other sects should be duly honoured in every way on all occasions.' "

So, turns out there were higher ideals for civic participation thousands of years ago. More evidence for the "we're all de-VO" school of thought? Or at least evidence against the notion that we as modern people are more evolved than our ancient ancestors, who tend to get tarred as primitive because they didn't have laptops.

Even better, Ashoka goes on to say:

" 'For he who does reverence to his own sect while disparaging the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own sect, in reality inflicts, by such conduct, the severest injury on his sect.' "
-- The Argumentative Indian, p. 16, 18

I certainly can't say that any better.

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