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On Polarization and the Moral Pathologies of America: Two Thoughts

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On the thread "Another Arena of Ideologically-Driven Simplification: An Exchange about Understanding Israeli Motives," on my own website, I posted the following in response to a comment. The point it makes seems to me worth underscoring, so I'd like to share it here as well as part of an entry on its own.
Response to Philip, who closes with: "If I see one-sided cheerleading in the mainstream for the state of Israel , then perhaps my efforts, as just one member of a huge society, are better spent acting as a corrective than as a microcosm of perfect balance." I respect your effort here to find truth and seek justice. In response to that idea of yours I quote, a thought: while I understand the logic of that position, I do not think that is the route to truth or justice. Think of all that's been said here about the dynamics of polarization. (And set aside for the moment the particular set of issues we've been discussing here.) Polarization is at the foundation of many of our problems, at least so I have argued, and the "balance" of two extreme views does not create any of the balance that the world really needs. There is no "invisible hand" that takes the polarized "social atoms" of controversy and merges them into wisdom. Polarization just confirms division, and tends to drive people further apart. Only wisdom brings wisdom. It cannot be the fruit of competing follies. Only truth brings truth. It is not the offspring of contrasting extremist distortions. I believe that a truly fundamental part of the challenge we seek is to find the genuine truth, genuine balance, genuine justice- and to speak it and to embody it. These things cannot exist outside of the minds and souls and hearts of individual human beings.
********** On the thread, "What's With that Stubborn One-Third of the American Public," also on my own website, I wrote as a comment in response to another comment:
Responding to Phil, who writes: "If Bush is as bad as we believe he is, then would it not follow that anyone who supports him must, by definition, have SOME sort of problem?" Two things I'd like to say. First, yes, I think they DO have some sort of a problem. And my best effort to articulate what that problem is can be found in my piece, "Here's the puzzle: How is it that many remarkably decent people can support leaders who are remarkable precisely for their lack of such decency?" which can be found at Second, while yes, those people who support Bush do have a problem, it has been part of my overall thesis about this moral crisis in America that the whole cultural system in America has a problem, and that problems manifests in different ways on the different sides of our polarized cultural system. Because the defects of the right are embedded in a hierarchical structure, when the right makes a mistake about good and evil it can be a catastrophic one: all it takes is an evil leader, skilled at exploiting the defects in the right-wing structure, and the system can lurch as a whole in a disastrous and destructive direction. THat is what has happened in this BUshite era. Meanwhile, out of the polarized nature of our cultural breakdown, the other side of the polarity on the left tends to reject hierarchy as excessively as the right embraces it. As a result the people on the left side of the divide, out of their defects, abet evil (in the form of moral disorder) not in one wholesale lurch (following a Hitler or a BUsh) but in a myriad of small failures to uphold the good. The defects of the right are prone to fascist tyranny. The defects of the left are prone to moral anarchy. And in America in the past couple generations, we've seen recapitulated the pattern of Germany in the early decades of the twentieth century: moral anarchy created the environment that evil fascist forces could exploit to come to power. So we all have a problem.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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