Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Seek and ye shall find.

I know it's indulgent of me to post again, especially not only given how much I have to do, but also because I take such pains to complain about how much I have to do, but I got such a lovely response to my birthday post that I convinced myself to get out of bed early to get something down.

American's Elect is trying to establish a 3-party system in America. Unless we change to a parliamentary system where the president is chosen by congress, however, this is an awful, awful idea. In the current system, moderates--and by that I mean anybody who would be willing to vote for either or a Republican or a Democrat depending on the circumstances--have all the power. When the Democrats choose an overly-ideological or inept candidate (I didn't live through Jimmy Carter's presidency, but I still use him as my example for this. He may have been a good person, but he was doing a rubbish job of fixing inflation) for office, the middle of the electorate deserts him or her and throws their votes behind another choice. It's not that Reagan was necessarily the moderate's first choice (and many Reagan democrats were surely annoyed at how badly Reagan plunged America into debt), but they still found him superior to their practical alternative. Americans elect (and other moderately-minded voters) would do well to focus on their efforts to bring the Republican and Democratic candidate to the middle, rather than trying to select a 3rd option. This is especially true when a large section of the country is extremist in its views. Obama may be less market-friendly than I would hope, for example, but if throwing my support to Gary Johnson (my actual first choice among those running) were to allow a far-right candidate like Santorum to win the presidency, my vote would have helped select someone even further from my ideal than before. Primaries will likely have to change in the future if the two major parties want to select candidates who can actually win the general election. The current Republican contest is going a long way to re-electing Obama by pushing Romney to the right and highlighting the very worst side of what the Republican party has to offer. If my choice were to vote for Mitt Romney from 1994 or Barack Obama from 2012, I'd probably actually select Romney. If my choice is the born-again Romney who is fashioning himself into a red-meat-loving George W. Bush clone, however, suddenly Obama is a centrist who has my vote.

But I didn't just want to talk about moderate politics in a concrete sense. The same rigid and ideological thinking that leads people to become life-long Republicans or Democrats unfortunately spreads into the world of ideas as well. I am convinced that many people pick their ideas in the same way that they pick a favorite sports team--for social and practical reasons, rather than on what is true. In the world of sports, such arbitrariness is not a problem (and "truth" does not exist in the same way). The economics of sports demands that someone sticks by even bad teams, and there's no denying that there's a certain joy from cheering for the losers (I like the Cubs, Tigers, and Bills). It also makes sense to choose sports preferences on where you're from; I would be able to connect with random people on the street much better if I were a Bears fan here in Chicago. I can also cheer for the Bills without having to claim that they are somehow more talented or athletically superior to the teams they compete against.

A few events in recent days have highlighted the problem with ideological and dishonest thinking for me. First off, I had a brief argument with a FB friend about abortion and infanticide. Although I think it's an interesting debate and one with much room for honest disagreement, it only took a few back-and-forths to conclusively prove that my friend hadn't read, much less understood the argument he had originally commented on. Although I think we still salvaged an entertaining discussion, I'm still flummoxed by his move to post a link to an argument he couldn't hope to understand (not because he's incapable, but rather because he was unwilling to take the time to understand it). Furthermore, his argument COULD only make sense to those who were equally ignorant of the posted arguments, since his position had literally no bearing to what it was he ostensibly want to talk about in the first place.

The second example of this form of "thinking" is the current kerfuffle over birth control, especially Rush Limbaugh's horrible, classless attacks on a Georgetown law student. Again, Rush's arguments (and many of those from FOX) can ONLY make sense within the confines of a willful misunderstanding of what birth control is, how it functions, and why it may or may not be useful in certain circumstances. Although I have strong opinions about what the law should be, I'm willing to entertain a debate on the issue, and even compromise on my position in certain circumstances (I can see both sides and am willing to let laws and democracy arbitrate on the debatable points). What is happening instead, however, is that birth control opponents like Rush Limbaugh START with their conclusion, and then re-write the facts to suit their foregone conclusion.

I'm not quite sure how I should navigate an intellectual marketplace of ideas where popular, widely-held positions are not really debated or even debatable, since those who hold them are incapable or unwilling to understand the positions they so strongly hold. A further complication of this is that there seems to me to be a strong positive correlation between ignorance and stridency, with the most ignorant voices (Rush Limbaugh) are simultaneously the most vitriolic and loudest voices. When millions upon millions of people them willingly give their time to fill their brains with the ignorant drivel that spews from that man's awful mouth, It doesn't exactly make me hopeful that we as Americans will be able to come to a shared, mutually-acceptable compromise. In fact, I think I'm stuck concluding that Rush Limbaugh, as well as many of the people who listen to him, are the willfully-ignorant masses on the poles of American politics--those who would vote Democrat or Republican no matter who the contest was between. While I feel no intrinsic antipathy towards such ideologues, I'm hoping that there exists a middle arbiter between them, and I want to be part of that group.

So as not to end on such a sour note, or to merely shoot fish in a barrel, I'll post something that I think is a step in the right direction:


Bravo, npr. I'll be sending you a check soon. Unless you start calling civilians sluts, that is.