Tuesday, 18 May 2004

Labels / Multi-dimensionality

Some things, though they are pretty obvious to most folks, routinely get ignored most of the time. Most people would agree that we are complex beings, with views and beliefs which vary from issue to issue, based on our values, assumptions, and evaluations of cause and effect. And yet many of us routinely fall back on the attempt to label people as being fixed at some particular point along a single axis. When thinking politically, that is more often than not how 'liberal' or 'conservative' one is, with 'moderate' being defined as the center of the line, but moving considerably toward the opinion of the speaker.

Ever since George I, in his debates with Dukakis, chose to denigrate his foe with the label of liberal, clearly used as a pejorative, I've taken to wearing the label as a badge of honor. The core values I have, which often lead me to liberal positions on issues, are such things as concern for the disadvantaged and downtrodden, a sense of fairness, a spirit of generosity, and a willingness to try on new solutions. These hardly seem deserving of the mockery with which it has become fashionable within some circles to demean liberalism. But I certainly have some conservative values as well. Caution in exercising new solutions, temperance in personal behavior, respect for honored traditions, calm in dealing with new situations are some examples.

What seems saddest to me, is when people become so attached to how they are identified, that they constrain their beliefs to some sort of orthodoxy, rather than thinking out what really makes sense to them for any given issue. These same folks, liberals and conservatives alike, then apply the same orthodoxy to what they hear from others, rather than judging an opinion on its merits. It's possible to deeply respect an opinion with which you vehemently disagree, just as it's possible to disrespect one whose basis is adherence to orthodoxy, even though you might agree with its conclusions.

So if, for instance, I happen to agree with Richard Rodriguez' opinion on the failure of affirmative action to achieve its aims, it hardly follows that I want to deny opportunities to black Americans based on their color. Neither does it mean that I won't listen to cogent arguments to the contrary. But some would find me out of orthodoxy and hence dismiss all my opinions out of hand. I confess to tending to do the same thing when someone argues a position with which I vehemently disagree, but I do try to be watchful that I not let my leanings cloud my ability to follow someone's logic, even if I end up dismissing their conclusion based on a separate line of reasoning.


Walker said...
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Mike said...

I agree that the division in the country now seems huge. My fear is that promoting this division is acutally good for business for the two parties. At my most cynical I see a political party as desiring two tihngs, money and votes. What is the best way to get these. One way is to always increas the divide between you foe. If there is no middle ground than anyone who believe in most of your positions will be forced to go with your party, since the other one is so far away.

Lee said...

Could not agree with you more on the importance of moving away from the labels 'republican' or 'democrat' and concentrating on the quality of our current administration. Very basically, its decisions have been bad. We do not even need to argue whether or not this is a result of blind "neo con" ideology or stupidity or faulty information (deliberately skewed or inadevertently erroneous). The bottom line is that they have made bad decisions that have cost lives and billions of dollars and made us less safe by fueling hatred for the US and alienating our allies. Good, smart leaders would have taken into account that their main source of information on the existence of weapons of mass destruction was a criminal wanted not for 'political crimes' but for embezzlement, i.e. dishonesty. Good leaders would have taken into account the fact that Iraq was in shambles and that it would require billions to put it on its feet. Good leaders would have foreseen the likelihood of Iraqi factions forming, dictating the need for large numbers of troups to keep the peace. Good leaders would have made sure that the very instrument --the military -- through which they hoped to "spread democracy" understood that this meant, among other things, respecting human rights. Why, for example, should the military assume the administration meant it to treat prisoners taken in Iraq differently than those taken in Afghanistan? Both were captured as part of the same war on terror, both are presumed to have information on terrorist activities harmful to the US, both have been declared by the military's Commander in Chief as evil. Good leaders would have crafted a policy regarding the treatment of prisoners that was clear and consistent -- not to mention in accordance with international law. A good Commander in Chief would at least recognize that murky policies lead to murky actions and would have acknowledge some degree of responsibility for fostering an atmosphere in which the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison took place. So it is not a question of republican, neo con, democrat.... It is a simple matter of good or bad leadership. As you say, Duh!