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Left v. Right Pt 7

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October Sky, Good Harbor Beach MA
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There's no denying the great divide separating the Left from the Right. The conflict does little but make problems more intractable, enduring, and ... well, worse! But what we overlook too often is the divide itself. That great big "middle" has room enough for everyone willing to take a few steps away from the beliefs--genuine or the result of a lack of accurate information--to which each side is firmly anchored today.

The obvious, however, isn't always the easiest.... Given the high level of animosity that our polarized political discourses have created, who wants to be the first to give in and pursue a wiser and more cooperative path? That we even have to ask that question seems absurd! Isn't that a poster-child "Duh!" inquiry?

The idiotic and dangerous pandering that Donald Trump has based his campaign upon has done absolutely nothing to ratchet down the vitriol. It has also, unfortunately, exposed a dark underside of long-obscured--but not exactly secret--ignorant, racist, and generally offensive attitudes and beliefs of a much, much too-large segment of white America.

Can we recover from what Trump and his inane public backers have unleashed?

Judging by the comments and assessments of the most prominent voices on the distant reaches of the Right [and their rabid followers], the answer to that question is in some doubt at the moment. It is also quite clear that most of them do not have anywhere near an accurate assessment of progressives' motivations or values. It certainly makes it easy to oppose, deny, obstruct if you've demonized the "other" side of a debate, thus obviating the need to actually learn anything about them or their intentions and purposes.

Trump's implicit acceptance of the ugliness his followers have demonstrated hasn't exactly helped tone things down. It's also given long-suppressed voices a platform and permission to display how little they know. That new-found power [such as it is] will be difficult to contain. We'll all suffer the consequences.

But if effective and meaningful progress is the objective, that strategy is as useless a choice as one can make. Perhaps more consideration ought to be extended to dealing with truthful and accurate assessments instead of those manufactured to preserve extreme ideology?

That inquiry--and a realization of what happens if simplistic mischaracterizations remains the preferred choice--should come long before we're up to our eyeballs in the consequences of our ongoing unwillingness to work together. Worth noting that the reasons for sustaining that unwillingness have tenuous connections at best to various truths--the ones that must be constantly ignored in order to play the game "successfully".

Idealistic, to be sure, as most of these observations may be. But if we keep doing what we've been doing, we'll be doing the same things for years to come. The result is easy enough to anticipate: we'll be faced with a collection of already-burdensome problems just that much worse and that much more difficult to address.

A choice of course, but not a very good one. Worth pondering?

The bitterness, futility, and self-righteousness of most moral arguments can now be explicated. In a debate on abortion, politics, consensual incest, or on what my friend did to your friend, both sides believe that their positions are based on reasoning about the facts and issues involved.... Both sides present what they take to be excellent arguments in support of their positions. Both sides expect the other side to be responsive to such reasons.... When the other side fails to be affected by such good reasons, each side concludes that the other side must be closed-minded or insincere. In this way the culture wars over issues such as homosexuality and abortion can generate morally motivated players on both sides who believe that their opponents are not morally motivated.

When people exasperated from a heated political argument exclaim that their opponents just don't get it, moral intuitions are almost always the ineffable it the opponents don't get. Unfortunately, getting our political opponents is no simple feat when the gap to be crossed is a matter of intuition rather than information. The intuitive origins of political partisanship make civil discourse challenging because affective differences are difficult to identify and verbalize, and thus are readily misinterpreted as evidence of our opponent's illogic or ill intention. But just as an appreciation of the intensity of your imaginary neighbor's phobia would cast a more charitable light on his actions, a hard-won empathy for the moral intuitions of our political adversaries could lead to more benign (and perhaps more productive) interpretations of their character, motivations, and policy preferences.

Worth a try?

Adapted from a blog post of mine

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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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