Here I am, about sixty six hours out of surgery- surgery made much more complicated and invasive than expected because during the course of the scheduled procedures, they found and removed a two-lb benign tumor! I’ve been advised not to make any important decisions, sign any contracts, nor attempt to drive or cook because I’m taking narcotic pain pills, muscle relaxants, anti-inflamatories, and ferrous sulfate in the hopes of someday having red blood cells. So what’s a guy in my position supposed to do? Why, blog of course!
I’ve been wanting (during the lucid moments) for a month to comment on something the Ranting Rev said. I always read his stuff- while we don’t agree often, he has the enormously valuable knack of asking the right question. The “right question” I wished to address he asked in the comments section of Helpless But Not Hopeless : “Begs the question of how can positions be different if principles are alike?” This question is at the heart of all the devisive, bitter debate in America today- because most would say “They can’t- you must be either stupid, evil, or both.”
That belief- rarely stated aloud (except about Bush; people glory in calling HIM names) but always in the back of people’s minds- is the cause of all the shouts of “Nazi”, “Commie”, “Fascist”, and often “Racist” or “Homophobe”. As almost no one actually studies rhetoric or debate these days, it’s incomprehensible to most people how two people with the same morals, values, and desires can disagree about some pretty fundamental things. It is worth the effort to understand how this could be, both to civilize the state of politics and to understand how to come to a compromise everyone can live with.
The first thing to understand is that no belief or position is an island, complete unto itself. The “interdependent web” applies to concepts and ideas as much as to the environment. Any position will have ramifications and consequences- some of them unintended- that your opponent may be considering. For example, twenty-some odd years ago I opposed Gay Marriage. Was I a Bible-bashing fascist homophobe (as I was accused of being)? No- I was a small businessman who could only afford a really crappy health insurance plan for my employes. These were the early days of AIDS; the only treatments available were costing upwards of a quarter of a million dollars a year, and insurance companies were trying to find ways to dump gays from existing policies and prevent them from signing up for new ones. I was afraid that without insurance reform first, Gay Marriage would push all married couples into the same high-risk group and make health insurance out of reach. Fortunately, several major corporations decided to extend health coverage to spouses of gay employees, and used their clout to force the reforms Congress didn’t have the courage to pass. Stumbling point removed; I could now support Gay Marriage.
Sometimes your opponent may have experience or perspective that calls the basic precepts of your position into question. For example, many opponents of the new immigration reform bill call it an amnesty plan; proponents say that it is not because it calls for more enforcement, more papers, etc. Opponents say we’ve heard all that before- dating all the way back to Eisenhower, every immigration reform law has promised closed borders, more officers, more clerks to keep paperwork up to date- and fifty years later we’re still waiting. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. So are the proponents of the bill spending all their efforts trying to reassure everyone that this time the comprehensive parts really will happen? No- they’re just calling them anti-Hispanic bigots and saying they don’t know what’s good for America.
There is a truism in business that if a plan has no downsides to it, you’re missing something- go over it again. It helps to grill all your positions now and again to see if conditions have changed, if it still makes sense. Read your opponents positions to see if they also make sense- do NOT presume that you know why he opposes you. There was an exercise in debate class that I found invaluable for personal growth in finding my way philosophically and politically. This was a formal debate that you had a week to prepare for, and winning it was major extra credit. The catch? You didn’t know until you took the podium which side you would be arguing, for or against! Can you imagine how much I studied that subject? Can you say that you have given all your positions the same comprehensive study from both sides?
Of course you can. But most people just read the proposal, say “This is a civil rights issue; therefore I’m for it. Anyone against it is a bad guy.” and believe the issue settled. From then on, they aren’t debating the issue, they’re debating the morals of their opponents. This is a shame. I had friendships cool over the Gay Marriage issue- were they rekindled once we were on the same side? No; I do not enjoy being insulted, and I found I could not respect the thought processes of someone who would do so. Who knows? Had they listened to me at the time, and joined with me in writing Congressmen, we might today have better health insurance laws AND Gay Marriage.