Friday, November 23, 2012

Preaching to the Choir

The recent election in the United States, the reactions to it, and the news of the looming “fiscal cliff” in which rising taxes and decreased government spending are said to threaten driving the economy into a second recession or worse unless the President and Congress (particularly the House of Representatives, which is dominated by the party the competes with the President’s party) can reach a compromise agreement have served as reminders of how polarized the country has become.  Compromise seems to be getting more and more difficult.  There is a tendency among not just politicians but people of all political ideologies – conservative, liberal, and libertarian – to think of those who do not share their opinions to be at best misguided and at worst extreme and dangerous.  We tend to associate mostly with people who share our opinions and reinforce our belief that they are correct and based on reality.  We read books, watch television programs, listen to radio programs, and view websites and blogs that reinforce our opinions and avoid those that express a contrary opinion.  I am as guilty of this as anyone.  There are a couple of reasons why we should resist this tendency and communicate with those who have ideologies that differ from our own.   One reason is expressive, a reason why we should express our ideas to those with whom we disagree, and another is receptive, a reason why we should seek out opinions different from our own and examine them seriously.  The expressive reason is that we can’t spread our ideas by preaching to the choir.  Trying to convince those who are already convinced is not productive; to continue with the religious analogy, we need to leave the congregation at least once in a while and go out and become missionaries.  The receptive reason is that some of what we believe may be false and some of what we don’t believe may be true.  We should be grateful to those who help us align our beliefs with the truth.  Even people we distrust or despise most of the time are right some of the time.  We should recognize that and learn from it.
There should be a forum for open-minded people of all ideologies to get together to debate and share ideas in a civil manner.  Certain ground rules would have to be followed.  Each person would promise to be open to new ideas even from those with whom he disagrees most of the time.  In return, he would have an audience for his ideas that would be open to being persuaded.  It would be a place in which attacks on ideas would be encouraged, but attacks on personalities would not be tolerated.  A visitor to such a place would be exposed to a wide variety of ideas that he might find both entertaining and enlightening.  It might be a blog with a number of contributors from all perspectives.  It might be a magazine.  It might be a show on television or radio.  There have been some efforts along this line, such as “The Five” on Fox News Channel, in which four conservatives gang up on one liberal, or “The View “on ABC, in which the liberals gang up on the lone conservative.  Sometimes conservatives appear as guests on shows dominated by liberals and the other way around.  However, there never seems to be balance, and the problem with television format typically used is that everyone seems to be trying talk over everyone else, with no one listening, which is annoying and not enlightening to the viewer.  A blog or Internet site seems the best format because it can be timely, inexpensive to operate, and avoids the problem of everyone talking over everyone else.  I have toyed with the idea of creating such a blog, or turning this one into such a blog, but frankly, I don’t know if I have the time or the ambition right now.  I mean so far, my blog posts have been sparse and irregular.  The last one was in May and it is now November.  However, I do have some acquaintances who are liberal but who seem to be respectful of people with conservative and libertarian ideas and, being a combination of conservative and libertarian myself, I have some friends with conservative and libertarian opinions.  So, here is the plan:  I plan on contacting people whom I know to have liberal political views who seem to be respectful and civil and ask them to point me to the sources of information (books, blogs, television programs, etc.) that seem to them to best explain the liberal ideology and which they think would be most convincing to someone who does not share their ideology - yet.  I have some ideas of my own about sources of information about conservative and libertarian ideas.  Naturally, I hope to convince rather than be convinced, but I am willing to read, watch, or listen to anything that might change my mind in return for persons with political ideology completely different from mind to so the same.
Whoever reads this can help out in this project is asked to help.  Whether you are conservative, liberal, libertarian or have some political ideology that I haven’t mentioned, please comment about what books, articles, blogs, or whatever you think is most likely to persuade someone that your ideology is the correct one.  I will start off with one of mine:  The book The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek is an excellent explanation of why, in spite of the best of intentions, socialism tends to lead to totalitarianism.  I challenge any liberal to read it and tell me he or she has not learned something.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, thank you for inviting me to read and comment on this blog post. I think it is important to understand the point of view of others, especially in politics. Nowadays, political polarization is acutely tangible, not only among peers but in the media as you have described above. Though I consider myself a liberal, I find that all too often, left leaning media outlets are over-the-top in their diagnosis of the issues and in their response (right-wing media are culprits of this as well) and much of their commentary is difficult to digest.

    I prefer those who take a pragmatic, measured approach to issues, like economist Robert Reich. He is certainly left of center, but is generally more thoughtful and goes into more detail than most commentators.

    And though I'm in the middle of reading it, A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (considered one of the greatest alternatives to the modern US History books we find in our schools) so far for me has been a telling account of how the most vulnerable in our country, since before its foundation, have been widely taken advantage of for the benefit of the elite, whether knowingly on unknowingly.

    I also do want to say that I appreciate the fact that you periodically challenge some of my posts as well - I have always found our dialogues to be insightful and refreshing.


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