Can you believe what he thinks about the economy?
Did you hear her position on education? What kind of idiot would vote for her?
Politics is a fascinating beast. It channels our passions and hatred, giving them one of the most profound outlets I can imagine. It inspires us to love and to hate – it validates our convictions. Its motive power draws together strangers in the thickest bonds of the thinnest substance while tearing ties of friendship asunder. Politics simplifies good and evil through designations of left and right, conservative and liberal, and other affiliations that serve as shorthand for evaluating others. We are drawn to this dichotomy because it is tribalism of the highest order; it provides the comfort of company while giving us license to forego inspection beyond the R or D following one’s name.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a post lauding the vacuous virtues of no labels. I have yet to decide who is worse: the partisan with terrible views or the easily ruffled moderate who stakes compromise and “sensibility” as his guideposts. If you were bargaining with the Devil, would you be satisfied meeting him halfway? Those who immodestly affix the badge of reasonableness and levelheadedness – the post-partisan – are trapped in the golden mean fallacy.
Regardless of their position relative to yours, it’s easy to dismiss someone, especially when it feels like you’ve met a million people like them before. With the advent of social media, we are able to subscribe precisely to those who agree with us and block whoever challenges those beliefs. Revolutionizing communication has ironically curtailed engaging with those different than us. Lefties aren’t striking up meaningful dialogue at The Weekly Standard; meanwhile, right wingers aren’t exactly posting thoughtful comments over at Daily Kos. Everyone has their corner of the internet, and the echo chamber has never sounded sweeter.
The obvious remedy is to step out of your bubble and seek news from sources you know you disagree with. Yet I’m hesitant to advocate hate-reading because I do it all the time and it is exhausting. To properly hate-read requires detaching yourself from the matter and reasoning through it. Writing something like my earlier piece on the folly of subsidizing education can’t be done without genuinely entertaining the ideas of my opponents. Too many people blind themselves to dissenting opinion by entering into a toxic relationship with their politics. A colleague summed it up nicely for me:
“Debate requires the ability to actually recognize that your opponent’s opinions are a valid position that you disagree with for whatever reason. This doesn’t apply in a worldview where everything is a cut-and-dry, good-vs-evil battle where you see yourself as the ultimate ethical actor and your opponent as some sort of non-fictional antagonist. So many people treat their politics as a source of identity and ethical virtue that any attempt to challenge it is seen as an affront to the person and blocked out.”
My opinions are admittedly contrarian, and I hesitate to share them with others precisely because this is how people behave. It is, after all, no coincidence that this blog is posted under a pseudonym. I fear that political discourse breeds more enmity than it’s worth, and that is an unfortunate state of affairs. I hope this site challenges your ideology, and I hope you challenge mine.
Politics is a fascinating beast because it so effectively exposes the stupid in us. After dealing with people across the whole political spectrum, I’ve come to the conclusion that politics and intelligence are not correlated. Say what you will about Ted Cruz, but he is undoubtedly a brilliant debater. Likewise, a majority of people may not approve of Obama’s work, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t intelligent and a skilled orator.
Your politics may be stupid, but I trust that you’re not. Thomas Jefferson – my favorite founding father – said it best: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”