Monday, November 2, 2009

Middle Ground

Those who know me and have had any kind of political or social discussion with me will attest to the fact that I consider myself a Centrist. If you really want to put a party name to it, I'd say I'm a Conservative Democrat. But as is usually the case with political views, the more you try to align someone under a standard party label, the less accurate it is. I tend to see some good ideas from most of the various points on the political spectrum. From Republican to Libertarian, Green and Democrat.

This is what frustrates me so much. Every one of these factions, which is of course splintered into moderates and extremists among its own members, claims to know the truth. They boldly state that they have the answers to all the country's woes. But every one of them is wrong. The answers to most issues are not contained within a single ideology. Especially the really contentious ones. This is something few seem willing to understand. Partly it's a human tendency to look for absolutes. And partly it's an underlying need to compete with another group to see who's better or smarter. And since humans generally want to belong to a group of like minded individuals, we end up with these clots of people, each person reinforcing the other's feelings of absolute certainty. I can tell you, there are few things more detrimental to intelligent, reasoned problem solving than a sense of 'absolute certainty'.

In fact, that sense of certainty is the antithesis of reason. There are rarely absolutes in this world, aside from some basic moral codes of conduct. Even some of those are less absolute than we like to think. We all agree that killing another human being is wrong. Yet we do it all the time, institutionally, in wars and capital punishment. So even that's not entirely black and white. So why do we seem to think that one, ironclad political philosophy will serve to solve all of our problems? Socrates is quoted as saying, "True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." I would modify it slightly and say that true knowledge is when you realize that you don't have all the answers. I truly believe that the most important skill anyone can learn in life is to be able to step outside yourself, intellectually, and look at things from another point of view. Call it a reality check, if you like.

Without this kind of reality check, it's very easy to become so entombed in our own opinions that we just assume that every other viewpoint is wrong. Once you've walled yourself so deeply in this certainty, you become intellectually dead. All you end up doing is spinning around in tighter and tighter circles, blocking out more and more of the outside world.  Then add to that the effects of listening to pundits and assorted personalities who mirror your own opinions. It becomes harder and harder to even consider other ideas. This is how a society stagnates.

If America is going to find the answers to healthcare reform, financial policy and the myriad of other problems we are now facing we all have to venture out of our personal bunkers and talk to each other!  Then we work together and not against each other. Everyone, from every extreme, has to stop assuming that their 'side' is the answer. Because I'm telling you, not one of these political parties or social movements hold all the answers. Not one. We like to talk about America as a 'melting pot', but someone must have turned the heat down, because we have started to congeal into large, disparate clots. We are at our best when we work together, when all these diverse viewpoints come together for a common goal. It's only then that we benefit from ideas that we, ourselves, would never have thought of. Conversely we are at our worst when we pull back into like minded enclaves, each claiming a monopoly on good ideas. I'm sick to death of this 'I'm right, everyone else is wrong' blather from the politicians to the cashier at the local Target. None of us is right about everything! And even those who are wrong about one issue, aren't necessarily wrong about everything else!

Take a moment and really, honestly listen to those you disagree with sometimes. Most  Liberals are NOT neo-socialist nut jobs! Step back from your own opinion occasionally and think about it from the other side to see if it really makes sense or if you're riding a wave of pure, knuckle-headed emotion. Because sometimes you'll be surprised to find that you're spewing cross-eyed-badger-spit rather than the insightful political commentary you thought. Don't assume someone is an idiot just because they are a Democrat or a Republican. I guarantee you that there are nut-jobs in every group! Stop using labels like 'Liberal' and 'Conservative' like insults.They denote a political viewpoint, not an indication of intelligence. Once you start hurling insults and derogatory comments, everyone goes on the defensive. When that happens, all meaningful discourse stops and any chance of actually learning anything ends. There are a lot of really smart people out there and not all of them occupy your political orbit. Doesn't make their ideas any less valid or any less likely to be right.

1 comment:

Please let me know what you think, even if it's to disagree.