Aug 21, 2012

Silence was a Statement

I think I've done a fair job of keeping North American political discussions off my blog - I've tried to keep the focus on a roadmap of my endeavors as a self-publishing author, and I've left my personal views on things like religion, politics and society for my books. Especially due to the volume and tone of the current political climate in the United States, it's become increasingly tumultuous - downright violent, or getting fairly close to it.

Up to now, I've kept my statements to more of the sense of "hey, let's try and remember how human beings discuss things, and stop from becoming poop-throwing monkey heads" and avoid dipping into the topics of the debates themselves.

I do this for several reasons - mainly, no matter how smart you think your opinion may be, there's going to be at least one person out there who will try to skin you and wear your flesh as a suit because of it. But also because I find the majority of the debates going on more like the fights that break out in a game of hockey. Basically, they're entertaining as hell, but in the end you're not actually winning any points that way.

I've been asked my general political leaning (most people think I default to Democrat or Liberal, which is not the case) - - but when I tell them my position on the "political spectrum", there is much misconception, I find, in the reactions I receive.

See, I'd categorize myself as an Aggressive Moderate.

Yeah- - that look - the one you have on your face right now - that's what I'm talking about. A common misconception of "moderate" is that it's the big group of people who can't make up their mind, or that they're the ones most lacking in conviction. This cannot be further from the truth.

A general fallacy in modern politics is that there are two sides to each debate. On every news program, on most blogs and so forth, all political discourse invariably breaks down into a war of words between "us" and "them." It's like the old joke about putting a dozen people into a room. They usually only agree on one thing, and that's the one dude in the room that none of them can stand. And from that Ultimate Opposition, each camp splits the chasm wider and wider by trying to press the other camp into as small a defining space as they can.

Let me give you an example:

Abortion has been a hot debate for some time (and looks to be going for a revival), and the two most vocal groups define themselves as "Pro Life" and "Pro Choice". Just take a moment to look at those camp titles. On the surface, how could anyone truly oppose either one? We both support the idea of living, and we all like being able to choose - - - so why are they truly opposing camps? To understand that, look at the way they define each other. The "Pro Life" group looks at the Pro Choice people and implies that they are baby killers, people with loose morals and radical "I spit in the eyes of God" heathens - I heard someone call them "Terrorists" the other day. Meanwhile, the "Pro Choice" people point at the ProLifers and call them Nazis, Fascists, antiquated misogynists from the dark ages of social reform.

Now, honestly - there might just be some elements of truth on both sides, but - - - as an aggressive moderate, I suspect the Big Truth lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe you can have a love of human life and still demand the constitutional protection from being told what medical procedures you can or cannot have?

Gun control is also a funny debate (and "funny" I mean very serious but not handled particularly well), but maybe we can talk about that another time.

You see, that's not where the debate goes. No one wants to give an inch of ground, so the two groups dig in their heels and demand the other side's surrender. Neither group wants to try to meet in the middle, suspecting (potentially for good reason, but honestly, who knows?) that the other side will see their flexibility as weakness and go on the full offensive.

And I see this same situation play out across the board - constitutional law, budget debates, foreign policy, tax reform, religion, publishing (traditional versus self-publishing) and on and on and on.

I'm going to share with you the challenge I give myself, every day: if you're watching the news, listening to a social debate, discussing whether or not the latest Batman movie was any good - - whatever it might be - - pause in your typical rush to slap down your own personal two cents, and ask yourself what the OTHER person's opinion REALLY is, look at what your intuitively contradicting opinion is, and find the place in the middle, where both opinions meet. Not every debate has to be peanut butter versus jelly. Sometimes, the two go together much better than we imagined they might.

My favorite analogy for this is how we need two eyes, two ears, two feet, and so on in order to exist as human beings - - at least, if we want depth perception, auditory directional sense, good balance and that sort of thing. The common human being was designed for balance - and while it's just fine that we as a nation have more than one general idea on how things ought to be done, the purpose of that duality is to find a means by which all our people can be cared for, so that the rising waters lift all boats.

We have to find ways to work together. This doesn't mean surrendering our ideals or our principles - it means finding the commonality between us that will allow us to work together for the goals we all share. Or, to quote Benjamin Franklin, we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.

THIS, I believe, is why the founding fathers of the United States of America urged a separation of "Church and State" - because we're never all going to completely agree on one; but we can at least try and come together on the other.

Let's change the narrative, everyone.


Peter S said...

A different narrative may have to wait on a different tone. It's tough to meet in the middle with someone who is trying to wear your skin as a suit, to borrow your excellent imagery. Why, then, is our political tone so virulent? When did mere disagreement become the grounds for making us mortal enemies?

I see it as a result of Identity Politics: the deliberate association of a political position with a group identity. That conflation made conformance to a political position an article of faith rather than a matter of personal choice or even rational debate. If you think you are A, and in order to be A you must believe B, then no amount of dialogue or rational debate or evidence will make you agree not to give up your A-ness by disagreeing with B.

So, how do we de-conflate politics with identity so that we can go back to disagreeing politely like rational human beings? Probably not through boycotts or internet petitions. Certainly not be continuing with the hateful, violent language used in our current public discussions of matters political.

My feeling is that we need to validate disagreement. It must be legitimate to have differences without that making us mortal enemies locked in an epic battle. To do that, someone has to take the first step and be, y'know, a decent human being to someone who believes something different. Not someone. Lots of someones. When enough of those someones exist, they will be called Swing Voters and both sides will court them.

Wait. Did I just agree with an Aggressive Moderate position? I guess I'll have to learn to accept that identity. Politely. :)

Ren Cummins said...

I place it under the category belonging to statements like "Hitler made the German trains run on time." You can agree with an element of a philosophy without adopting the philosophy. It's like being impressed by a musician/actor/author's success but not enjoying their music/movies/books.

You're right, there's this whole issue with people wanting to categorize other people in the most offensive and pejorative manner. "Oh, you think the rich should be taxed more? YOU'RE A COMMUNIST!" It's just ridiculous, and a means by which they want to change the discussion.

Because then, you're suddenly debating whether or not you're an actual communist, rather than the financial benefits of a balanced and evenly established tax code.

Smoke and mirrors, man.

Peter S said...

"You can agree with an element of a philosophy without adopting the philosophy."

True. Adding that to the idea of Identity Politics, it almost seems as if we are owned by our ideas, rather than the reverse. If one holds liberal ideas, one is labeled Democrat - and so on. This makes it increasingly harder to hold a nuanced position, as one's views have been pigeonholed for convenience into a tidy Identity box.

Hélder Câmara famously stated, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." How can we get beyond talking about the labels and the identities and start grappling with the issues themselves?

Blow away the smoke. Break the mirrors. See each other more clearly.

Ren Cummins said...

Well, we like to have check-boxes. It's nice and tidy that way. It's not that the world is automatically prejudiced, but we do like to categorize people into groups as simplistically as possible. It helps our monkeysphere.

Also, it's easier to violently disagree with someone if you stop thinking of them as an individual person and only see them as An Extension of That Which You Morally Despise.

The current political climate denigrates people who try to associate with people "across the aisle". In fact, have you heard some of the members of congress use that phrase? It sounds more like an insult than a statement of respect.

Sadly telling.