... which is certainly a platitude, but it's one I am examining fairly closely this morning.
One of the things that has struck me over the past two weeks, both here and throughout our local element of the political blogosphere, is the routinization of argument. Most of us have settled--now that it's not election year any more--back into our comfortable political/ideological grooves and are cherry-picking stories, facts, or even factoids from the news to wave in the faces of people with different ideas, seeking the "I told you so" moment from which they will never recover.
I did that here recently in the prolonged, multiple-post interchange with anonone over the flap at Central Connecticut U. and the student who had the gun control argument in class and later got interrogated by the campus police. I'm not rehashing that one, but I'm thinking about where the conversation between myself and A1 took us. Both of us went through detailed examinations of the facts as they could be gleaned from the stories we had available (which stories mutated themselves as the days passed), and explained to each other what inferences we drew from the facts, and why. Both of us admitted (at least in passing) that our inferences about the facts were driven by a combination of personal experience and political perspective (in my case working in a university; in A1's case having literally been attacked with death threats after a letter to the editor).
And in the end (as it says on Abbey Road), we resolved nothing, even if we had a good discussion and learned a lot about each other's viewpoint. Nor did we make any progress (even notionally) toward solutions.
And that, to me, is one of the problems in current discourse.
With respect to America's financial meltdown, deepening recession, continuing military interventionism, and ongoing argument of the nature and role of government in our society, very few people are thinking about doing anything different.
Now, wait, I know--doesn't he realize that President Obama is utterly transforming the role of government? [whether that's leading toward utopia or socialist hell]....
Except that what President Obama is proposing, for the most part, is not different in an intellectual sense, merely in a political sense. By that I mean: the items on his agenda have been on the general liberal agenda for years if not decades, they just haven't been adapted. Hell, all you have to do is read Krugman, or Reich, or Steiglitz to realize that they are talking about using old Keynesian methods for jump-starting the economy. They want desperately to use their moment in power to implement the programs they've been advocating for years, but...
... the fact that they've been advocating them for years is part of the problem.
Let's see if I can make this point without it sounding partisan: the world is changing, and American society and way of life are necessarily going to change with it. Continuing to prop up the old economic and social models--or to try and institute a different old economic or social model--is not going to work in the long-term, because the wheels are coming off the bus.
What it means to be an American is something different today than what it meant 200 years ago, even allowing for cultural and historical continuity.
But what is that? What are the core values, the essential aspects of being an American?
The difficulty in answering this question is that ideology always gets in the way. As a Libertarian I want to start with the fundamental that any definition that does not begin with individual rights and limited government can't possibly be correct. On the other hand, my friend Dana Garrett, would start with the fundamental (this is a guess, Dana, be kind) that any definition that does not begin with guarantees of basic common necessities for every American citizen (food, shelter, medical care, education ) can't possibly be correct.
When I write down those two positions, in the stark cold print, they look like they can't be reconciled: the extent to which one position wins is the extent to which the other position must lose.
Except that I know Dana, and he doesn't want to take away my political rights any more than I want children to starve.
So I conclude that there is something wrong with the way in which we are conducting the dialogue (in general: Dana and I have no trouble talking).
Freeman Dyson suggested something like this years ago in his book on nuclear disarmament (Weapons and Hope). He pointed out that policy makers were primarily quanitifiers, interested in throw-weights, kill-ratios, and acceptable losses, while nuclear opponents made primarily anecdotal arguments involving qualitative observations about burned children and poisoned milk.
Dyson argued that the two sides could not even hold a meaningful conversation until they developed a third language in which to do so.
I'm not at all sure how to do that, how to get people working on the intellectual problem of moving beyond win/lose dichotomous thinkings into the realm of consciously trying to think differently about political dialogue rather than thinking about how to score points. Hell, I don't even know how to get myself to stop in any way that doesn't resemble unilateral disarmament (as jason says, every time you stick your ass out of the trench you get it shot off).
But I do know that how we're talking is not working anymore, and that the fundamental intellectual disconnect has far less to do with political ideology than most of us would assume. We live in troubling times, and in troubling times people tend to hold onto what they consider fundamental rather than embracing the future.
As understandable as that is, it's almost always a mistake.