Those who know me know I’m a very political person. I have strong views, and I think about politics a lot. I’ve tried to keep the political content of this journal to a minimum though, for the same reason I avoid talking politics in social settings.
I hate political discussions because they rarely result in greater understanding. I know some people advocate “promoting dialogue”, but I’ve seen precious few political dialogs where the people involved actually learned from each other. Most often they just talk past each other. All too often tempers are raised and the participants go away angry and with their view of the “other side” reinforced.
I’m no centrist. I don’t believe we can all find a happy compromise in the middle ground. But I do believe that at core, most everyone has the same goals in mind, albeit with wildly different ideas about the best means to achieve that end. We all want a world where people don’t kill each other, where humans can find fulfillment in their own way without impeding other’s fulfillment.
What I hate about political debate is that it has a way of making us believe that because the opponent has a different idea of how to achieve that world, he or she doesn’t really want that world at all. Politics makes monsters of us all – cold, inhuman and insane. We start to see the opponent not as a person, but as an abstract concept, or as simply one face of a group. Political debate seems to lead to the objectification of each other. We are so ready to believe the worst about people. Especially when they are a stranger on a podium, or on the radio, or on TV, rather than a smiling face across a coffee table from us.
I know that the temptation is very strong for me to call those who think differently “stupid”, “uneducated”, “crazy”, “evil”. It’s a natural human urge to boil things down to us vs. them. It’s easy to think of the Left as barking moonbats, the Right as money-mad theocrats. I’m way too easily tempted by those stereotypes.
And it hurts me to see others applying the stereotypes. It hurts watching people on the left accuse Conservatives of being selfish imperialist theocratic racists, just as it hurts watching people on the right accuse Liberals/Progressives of being loonie America-hating perverted terror-appeasers. It hurts because all it accomplishes is to create more anger, more hatred, more one-dimensional misconceptions, more strawmen.
I’m not saying we should all agree – I’m saying that in general people want the best for other people. They want a peaceful world. Their intentions, at core, are good. No, I’m not saying everyone’s selfless, but I believe that most people’s selfish needs are complementary, not conflicting. Yes, I’m an optimist, an idealist, and a romantic that way.
I think people, by and large, do what they do and believe what they believe because they honestly think it’s for the best. Including our leaders and pundits. Even George Bush. I don’t think they are insane or bent solely on death and destruction, profit, fame, and domination. Greedy? Egotistical? Almost certainly. Power-mad? Sometimes. But nobody really knows the mind of another; anybody who pretends otherwise is selling something. Ultimately we can only judge people by the fruits of their actions and words, which may require the long view of history in order to be fully surveyed.
And that’s really the crux of my argument – making assumptins about your opponent’s ambitions, motivations, education, and attitudes is presumptuous and brings dialog to a screeching halt. It makes an object of a human being. It accomplishes nothing. And until I can find a way to foster political discussion which does not provide such fertile ground for presumption, I’d rather just avoid it.