Wednesday, 7 July 2004

Do I Protest Too Much?

If anyone had followed my blogging from its inception, they should have noticed what seems almost an obsession about labels and where people are on the political spectrum. And yet I disavow the over-simplification of the left-right yardstick, and see the addition of an additional authoritarian-libertarian axis as better but still wholly inadequate to describe the complex positioning of an individual or group in our political fabric. On the one hand I describe myself repeatedly as an unapologetic liberal while on the other hand I emphasize the importance of dialog between disparate views and insist I have some conservative values as well. I wring my hands about the rancor in the current political discourse, then I turn around and wail about Bush policies which I see as unconscionable. It could be easy to see this as my trying to have it both ways.

Like anyone, I am not immune from falling into traps and making unjustified inferences based on my own biases and associations. I like to think of myself as open to re-examining assumptions when faced with new information or perspectives. Being open-minded, however, need not mean that one necessarily eschew all radical views, or avoid making bold assertions if evidence suggests they are warranted -- even if someone's character is impugned. What I do my utmost to avoid is applying guilt by association to anyone defending a position that I find untenable, and in turn I am most appreciative when those with radically different viewpoints to mine respect the earnestness of my position, even though I may be taking a stand more radical from their perspective than someone that they already disdain. This may be redundant, but the point bears repeating. The seeming extremeness of a particular view, does not imply that it's holder is a shrill intolerant divisive close-minded ideologue. Conversely the seeming centrism of another view does not imply that it's holder is an open-minded bridge-building unifier.

Being pretty far to the "left" on some issues, I can attest to having heard acquaintances I know to be more centrist than me on those issues vilifying someone a little to their right, when I seriously doubt that the vilifier has sufficient knowledge about the basis of the belief of the person they defame to warrant the character assassination. Then if I later express a more extreme view than the intolerant person to my right, then gee, I must be a real whacko from the perspective of a more conservative person who heard both of us. Michael Moore has been getting a bum rap in part because of the kind of logic I'm alluding to here. Just because you can find liberals arguably considerably less liberal than Moore who are shrill and intolerant, doesn't mean Moore doesn't raise many points in Fahrenheit 911 worthy of due consideration. Sure he takes some cheap shots, and does selective digging to make his points, but the earnestness and genuine concern that motivates him to put such a documentary together are no more craven than the earnestness and genuine concern that motivates some neocons to believe that America's intervention in Iraq was a worthy and noble cause because it rid Iraq of an indisputably evil tyrant. Find the right neocon, and a lot of people would be amazed how civil a debate s/he might have with Michael Moore on the topic. For a fuller discussion on the importance of not dismissing such screeds in the interest of avoiding polarization, I recommend this article from the dialog promoting Co-Intelligence Institute. [End of Post]

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