Every year my partner and I journey to northern Minnesota to meet a family of friends for a long weekend of cross-country skiing. It’s a decades-long tradition that all of us, from the whip-smart grade-schoolers and capricious teenagers to the proud adults who’ve watched them grow, begin looking forward to weeks in advance. The only difference between my fellow travelers and me, I’m guessing, is that everyone else makes extra room on their schedules and in their budgets so they can savor the community, easy camaraderie, and clean air that waits in the woods.
Me? I’m just spoiling for a fight.
There is never any physical contact, of course. But on the second night, after the milder spirits populating the cabin climb into their bunk beds, I can always depend on a few folks to start a political dialogue that, as the hours pass and our eyes droop, slowly but surely changes from a polite conversation into a passionate argument. Assuming everyone is on his or her game, the evening’s final rebuttals tend to feature the full-throated bombast and take-no-prisoners rigor of a parliamentary brawl.
While we sometimes stumble off to sleep on the brink of being sworn enemies, we awake with our close bonds and mutual respect not only intact, but invigorated. Our convictions robustly challenged and ultimately stronger or subtly—sometimes even radically—changed.
I drive away from these end-of-the-year getaways intellectually refreshed, reminded when and why I fell in love with the art of debate and recommitted to Utne Reader’s mission.
Unlike the media personalities who long ago abandoned the rules of rhetoric in an effort to demonize their opponents, our editors’ goal is not to cajole you, con you, or, worst of all, fortify a partisan talking point. Instead, we endeavor to fill the pages of the magazine with beautiful writing, painstaking reportage, and fearless opinion pieces that will at turns make readers empathize and sympathize, recoil and reengage, nod their heads and shake in violent disagreement.
Every now and then, a caller or letter writer who disagrees with an article’s conclusion or is made uncomfortable by a certain topic or moral question on these pages will wonder how Utne Reader could, in all good conscience, endorse an author’s approach or point of view. But we don’t choose to publish only pieces we agree with by people we like. We strive to feature the brightest minds, newest ideas, and most fearless thinkers, no matter how unorthodox. As a result, we pledge allegiance to neither partisan ideology nor philosophy, cult of personality nor moral absolute.
More to the point, if there isn’t something in each issue that challenges a reader’s preconceptions or prejudices, if at some point a good fight doesn’t break out, we haven’t done our job.