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Inside View: Absent conversations

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 21:41:54 -0700

We are living in peculiar times. As if we needed proof, delare it a strange epoch when political subjects can't be talked about seriously in virtually any company—polite or rude, friend or foe.

The problem isn't “politics” per se, the often nasty business doesn't really change over time. The polarization, who's in and who's out durably persist over centuries. Rather eye-opening to read that compared to ours many of the same kinds of issues, policies, and public outrage existed in the 17th century Dutch Republic. Very different eras yet so much alike.

What goes on in Washington DC among Congress, the White House, the “press” (or what passes for it), has always gone on, but not a shock we'd notice our own times more. We might assume it's because "news" is more up in our faces than in past eras, possibly true, but probably not. Having only lived when we have, hard to know how people really felt about things before.

No, what's troubling is a real difference from a few years back: that in so many instances it's become nearly impossible to have a reasoned conversation about political events or issues. At least interchange around these subjects feels very risky, kind of like opening a package that's hissing. Damn thing's likely to blow up in your face, a decidedly unpleasant experience.

Discussing political views doesn't mean people have to agree, almost certainly they won't, not even if they're on the same “side”, whatever side it is. And dammit, it's ever so obvious that I'm right and anyone who disagrees is a moron and dead wrong.

And that's when folks are in a good mood, politically speaking. Nowadays people are seldom in a good mood when it comes to national politics. Sure seems expecting a rational discussion about anything emanating from our nation's capitol is a fool's errand, ain't happenin'.

Is it too much to ask people to set aside their emotional biases, for maybe 15 minutes, to consider well thought-out positions about real issues that affect us all? Why is it that so few people are actually willing to do that? What's it about that obviously bright, well-educated, successful individuals succumb to political propaganda at an unprecedented level?

Encountering it time and again we know it's true. Disheartening, not because political battles were lost or won, no, rather because it's such a shame such otherwise wonderfully smart people are intellectually inoperative in a critically important aspect of civil life. It's ruinous to public discourse (which is, so to speak, greatly coarsened), corrosive to friendships and family, and most destructively, absolutely interferes with solving serious problems affecting our cities and our country.

And no, I'm not going to say which “side(s)” I favor in the ever present warfare among ideologies. For one thing I'm not an adherent of any particular ideology, rather more concerned about pragmatics than which “isms” are “truer” than what others. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” have long since lost all meaning, if they ever really were meaningful. In any case, far too many “liberals” are vastly illiberal these days, and not a few “conservatives” aren't conserving what's worth keeping.

Rather I classify the hyper-reactive masses all around as suffering a condition I'd call “Political Derangement Disorder”, in danger of becoming the dominant dysfunction in the civil realm.

The cure is radical, it requires a massive dose of self-observation, which can trigger a gigantic allergic response in a great many people, at least that's how they act. Nonetheless, however few take up the offer, we can recommend this therapy with a clear conscience, after all, it merely restates humankind's oldest remedy, that surely we'll get better if we practice listening to ourselves and hearing what we say.

Inside View

Absent conversations 2018‑03‑28
Turning 72 2017‑04‑11