October 9, 2014

We're Fooling Ourselves

3rDegree's 2012 album The Long Division is a political album.  In the sense that it's about our modern political world, not that it was trying get people to vote one way or the other.  The verdict of the album's half dozen related tracks is that the system is undeniably fucked up, partly because we, as a nation, have lost the ability to talk with people on the other side of an issue.  The lead off track lays it out well:

But this isn't just a snarky observation by a bunch of musical types from New Jersey (mostly) - it's backed up by statistics.  In a post over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin (quoting a Cass Sunstein op ed) lays out some numbers about the rise of "partyism" in the United States.  They're kind of chilling:
In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said that they would feel 'displeased' if their son or daughter married outside their political party. By 2010, those numbers had reached 49 percent and 33 percent. Republicans have been found to like Democrats less than they like people on welfare or gays and lesbians. Democrats dislike Republicans more than they dislike big business.
As Somin then points out:
Increasingly, we assume that supporters of the rival political party are not just misguided about political issues, but also untrustworthy or malevolent people in general.
Although it's sometimes hard to admit, democracy (and life, more generally) is about compromise.  To quote another rock lyric, "you can't always get what you want."  You have to be able to give a little to get a little.  But that's damned difficult when the person on the other side of the aisle isn't just wrong, but is (in Somin's words) "evil, selfish, or stupid."  Compromise with evil is immoral and compromise with stupid is impossible.  So we all throw up our hands and go have a press conference while nothing gets done.  It's the modern equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.

So what to do about it?  Do we chastise talking heads and Internet commenters who jump to the worst possible conclusions about their political rivals?  We should, but I'm not sure that's going to get very far.  What I think it's going to take to back the country down from this precipice is the very thing 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats fear - ideological mixing.

Because, here's the thing.  When it comes to most people who hold opinions different from you, they're actually not monsters or morons, evil or stupid.  They're people, with all the flaws that entails, who, ultimately, probably want the same broad things you do (a good life, safe neighborhoods, educated kids, etc.).  They may be ignorant about a particular issue, but we're all ignorant about something (lots of somethings, more likely).  When we forget that, we slide back into ideological tribalism.

I'm speaking from some experience here.  I'm the outlier among my brothers (and sisters in law, for that matter) in being a liberal atheist.  My older brothers have both become more conservative and religious as they've grown up, had kids, and the like.  When it comes to many matters of politics or theology, I think they're wrong.  But I know, because I've known them all my life, that they're not "evil, selfish, or stupid."  We see the world differently, but that's all right.  It makes it a lot harder to demonize the opposition when you know them as real people, not just soldiers for Team Red or Team Blue.

That's not to say all we need is to get together, sing "Kumbayya," and everything will work out.  Like I said, folks on either side of a political dispute are just people.  As there are (generally) good, thoughtful people out there, so to are there assholes, opportunists, the short sighted, and, yes, the evil.  But they're a smaller proportion of the population than we think in our worst "our side uber alles" flag waving moments.

Through my forty years, it's just been a fact that (at the national level anyway) one side doesn't get what it wants all the time.  Even during all those years the Democrats controlled Congress they had to deal with fierce GOP minorities or a GOP President.  Neither side will ever triumph over the other completely.  None of this is to suggest that partisans on one side or the other should refrain from calling the other folks out for being wrong. But there's a world of difference between calling someone (or, more correctly, his or her idea/proposal/argument) "wrong" and calling them dipshits, evil doers, or (to pull one example I saw today) a "weasel."

If we don't recognize that and try to at least make a good faith attempt to understand, rather than caricaturize, the other side, then we really are fooling ourselves if we think the country is ever going to get better.

No comments:

Post a Comment