The Snapshots of Existence
Jason Steck at The Moderate Voice has an excellent post about his move from the conservative right into the moderate middle. He uses as his lede the similarities between his shift from the right towards the left to those presented in the new book Conservatize Me by John Moe, an NPR broadcaster.
Where Moe moves from the safe and comfortable liberal world of alternative music and health food to country and jerky, Steck outlines his move from being rabidly anti-gay to someone who would consider having a gay ‘comfort zone’ in his office.
In the end both adapt a more moderate viewpoint.
What amazes me is that both these obviously intelligent individuals felt it necessary to travel the distance. Perhaps it is Moe, the open minded liberal who surprises me most.
While a staunch belief in dogma is considered to be critical to conservative ideology, the suggestion ,or perhaps better phrased – the myth, of liberal open mindedness still lingers around most leftist positions.
For me, and what has always forced me into an uncomfortable position in almost any argument, is my inability to harbor the belief that the other side is completely dishonest. While there is enough disingenuous manoeuvring in all walks of life, I think most people argue from the knowledge and mindset they have. They rarely step outside the issue to look at both sides.
And excellent example is the current war in Iraq and the soon to be decided Libby perjury trial. Through all the political disinformation and attempted smear campaigns, one thing is absolutely clear. Even though the administration and specifically Dick Cheney publicly and perhaps privately (perhaps even internally) refuse to believe that the casus belli supporting the war in Iraq was erred, it was nevertheless felt that military action would not harm America. Had the current marginalisation of the American political agendas been seen, the difficulties in the “disablement” of North Korea, the increase of Iran’s influence in the Middle East, the setbacks in the ‘global war on terror,’ I doubt neither Cheney nor the administration would have preceded as we have seen.
Perhaps Cheney still refuses to see these ‘facts’ as reality. Perhaps he still manages to choose his information and his informers in a manner that reflects the world he wishes to
rule live in. Perhaps Cheney does not realise that, by pandering to the extremes, an inevitable extremism is created. By choosing not to discuss homosexual issues, a hot button topic in his own party, he chooses to ignore the treat by unstable extremists to his own family.
On the other side of the coin are people like Noam Chomsky, Israel basher extraordinaire. By repeatedly and continually exclaiming that Israel is an American puppet is to enflame the issue for those who choose to look no farther. Thus he does not fight against American imperialism as much as he fights for American anti-Semitism. For Richard Dawkins to decry as child abuse the mere naming of a child to be a member of a religion does not advance the cause of atheism and dismisses the horrors of true child abuse.
Both positions manage to alienate those who might have had an open mind. Those people who might have been prepared to listen to the ideas being presented.
But by the very act of being extreme, the view of a ‘middle,’ the ablitily to see the other side is moved farther and farther from mainstream discussions.
And that is the cost of debate.
Instead of nurturing a society where solutions are sought, modern and most specifically post-modernist societies have deified debate. Discussion trumps solution. Reality is unimportant because there is only a marginal understanding of reality. My word against hers. And ultimately it is the rhetoric being debated, the realities long forgotten.
In Slate, Jonathan Alter points to a solution-based philanthropic effort. There is no debate, there is action. By highlighting the efforts of the New York based DonorsChoose, he shows that often the solution is not found through a single monolithic debate but by solving each mini-problem to bring about a wider answer.
Perhaps that is more important than the move from right to the middle or from the left to the middle. It is the ability to agree not on the proper course but on the very reality of the situation.
But not on the big picture, just the snapshots of existence.