Fix the Discourse, Fix the Country

It's probably not helpful that we liberals tend to consider conservatives to be either evil or stupid. It's a bit of a non-starter. I assume the same or worse is going on on the Right, so I'm not trying to say we're special or hold some majority share in the shit-storm that is our current political dialog.

We are in the midst of a cold civil war. The political parties divide us (and yes, we also divide ourselves) into hostile camps. We do not share a sense of reality. Any fact, even any shared fact, is considered, and often defined, in a totally different way across party lines. And what's worse, is we Americans don't trust each other enough to accept any facts from our opposition. We fear that facts given by the enemy will be half-truths, and are ultimately untrustworthy.

If we cannot share facts, we cannot learn from each other and we structurally eliminate the possibility of agreeing on anything, ever.

Our whole framework of dialog is designed to be competitive and mutually exclusive. To be a good member of our respective camps is to believe that our version of the world is the only intelligent and moral one, to be on the other side, means you're either ignorant or evil.

I don't believe that "the truth is in the middle" and I don't believe that if we take two opposing viewpoints and divide by two that we somehow get the truth. It's more complicated than that.

It has become obvious that we cannot effectively share a country without sharing an understanding of the world. We don't have to derive the same implications, or observe the same lessons, but if we can't get to a place where we at least agree on the same basic facts, discussing and testing those lessons becomes impossible. For example: how could you possibly decide whether pepperoni or sausage is better on a pizza, if you can't agree which one is which in the first place?

We're never going to get to a shared reality as long as competition is the fundamental basis of our elections. The hyper-competitive nature of our elections has created a country where winning elections is it's own end, rather than a means of selecting better leaders who generate better policy.

We like to think that competition is the best way to get improvement, but we forget that a great and very common way to win any competition is to cripple or undermine your opposition. This is our primary means of political competition.

Why bother doing a better job of running the country, when actually doing so is harder than just convincing people you have? In a complex world, why try to be better, when it's so much simpler, and more effective to just trash your competition?

Why collaborate on best practices when turning them into wedge issues and dividing the electorate is so much more effective at driving voter turnout?

To fix all this, we of course have to get money out of politics, and to fix the electoral college and to undo all the gerrymandered districts, and probably to replace the two party system since it's outdated and naturally creates this bad kind of competition.

Most importantly, though, we have to learn how to actually speak to each other.

If every conversation we have with people who politically disagree with us is an all out war, then that's what we're going to get at the national level as well. We have to learn to ask open and non-judgmental questions of each other. We have to learn to dig, vigilantly and honestly to the root of a statement we don't agree with, until some shared fact is found, and then to discover what difference in perspective or experience informs the different conclusion. We have to be honest in our conversations and to avoid playing "gotcha" when we talk politics. I'm not saying go and concede a political point to "play nice" or that we should just go compromise because that's what good people do. That's not honest either, that's just bullshit.

We can only move forward together, so let's start doing the hard work of earnestly digging until we can all get to some shared truth, and to jointly and honestly test our assumptions thereafter.

If you read all the way down here, I'd love to hear what you think via direct message or email: cameron dot ottens at gmail dot com