We live in a time when public discourse is more skewed than ever by the propaganda that big money can buy, with trust in the leadership of elected officials at an all-time low. The “news” has degenerated into sensationalist sound bites, and the idea of debate has become a polarized shouting-match that precludes any meaningful discussion. It’s also a time of anxiety, as we’re faced with economic and ecological crises on a global scale, with stakes that seem higher than ever before. In times like these, it’s essential that we be able to think and communicate clearly.

In Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialog, published by City Lights, University of Texas professor Robert Jensen attacks the problems head-on, sharing strategies on how to challenge “conventional wisdom.” In this excerpt on the Nation of Change website, Jensen points out the obvious problem in asserting that God must be male. He argues:

given that most believe God to be beyond our human capacity to understand, asking whether God is male or female is a bit like asking whether God has curly or straight hair, is tall or short. It’s not that the questions are hard to answer, but rather that the questions don’t really make any sense. Whatever God is, that isn’t it.

In a second excerpt on Truthout, Jensen points out that politicians and pundits, on all sides, are quick to suggest that opponents are “blinded by ideology,” in an attempt to undermine critique. But we are all ideological, and:

Rather than denying the role of ideology out of fear that it will poison political discourse, we should move ideology front and center, to encourage a substantive discussion of those underlying values, attitudes, outlooks, and beliefs. As we face unprecedented challenges economically and ecologically – as the stakes for our policy decisions get higher – we stand a better chance of finding meaningful solutions if all of us have the resolve to challenge our own ideologies.

Jensen is also the author of the We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out, in print and on Kindle.