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Hot stove league

So, yeah. Communication. This arises from some comments Mike made on my previous entry, which I very much appreciated. Most relevant: “… it just seems sometimes that both sides are longer even speaking the same language anymore. And that’s not a good thing.”

I think that’s a really good summary of the problem. You can’t point fingers and say it’s the fault of any particular group of partisans. I can easily find left-wing blogs who are as shrill as anyone on the right. I can find blogs at any end of the political spectrum that are rational, calm, and very sensible even though I may disagree with some of the things they say. Wanted to get that out of the way first, although one suspects it’s no insulation against irate screeds.

But you know, it’s not really a blogger problem. (Whew! He avoided navel-gazing!) It’s a problem with politics. It is accepted practice in this country to take statements out of context in order to damage a political opponent. It is accepted practice in this country to lie about someone’s beliefs for the sake of electoral advantage. It’s a brutal, brutal world.

Why? Because politics is seen as a war, and all’s fair in that arena. Here’s the thing. It’s in the interest of both parties to convince their supporters that loss would be damaging to the country as a whole, and to them specifically. It’s not enough to simply say “We’d be better.” You get far better results if you say “They’d be a disaster.”

It’s the same portion of human nature that makes exclusive proselytizing religions generally more successful. You hold better things in one hand, and you ward off disaster in the other. You motivate with fear and greed (to put it admittedly in the worst of lights). It’s a win-win situation, and we humans love win-win situations.

This adversarial dynamic makes it really hard to talk to one another, when in theory the Democrats and the Republicans (or Tories and Labour, or…) ought to be cooperating to bring the best possible good to the country. However, very little visible time is spent on talking, and lots of time is spent on persuasion of the voters.

This is also, mind you, a result of the way our government works. Why persuade the guy who disagrees with you when you can just get someone more like you elected four years down the road? The only people you really have to work with are those who are very good at playing the election game. Hm, and what’s the message there?

How do you mend this? You refuse to accept the concept of politics as a competition. You remember that the insane words you’re reading are probably not written by someone who wants to destroy the American way of life. You give people the benefit of the doubt whenever you possibly can. Sometimes you can’t, but at least be aware of what you’re doing. If you think someone’s wrong, it might be worth trying to make sure you each understand why you disagree before teeing off on ‘em.

The thing is, in the long run, short of a dictatorship you’re always going to have to deal with dissent. Which is, of course, a good thing — progress comes from a free and open marketplace of ideas. I’m glad the Ninth Circuit made that decision regarding gun control, because I think the necessity to address it furthers the entire debate and provides Second Amendment defenders with a chance to refine their positions. It’s like a big fat messy peer-review journal.

On the other hand, if you dismiss something with a snide comment you haven’t really done anything except perhaps give people who already agree with you a chance to feel smug. (Yes, I’m guilty of this on occasion.) I have no objection to mutual backpatting societies, but don’t mistake them for anything other than that which they are.

I don’t know how to mend this on the societal level. I suspect it’s one of the flaws inherent in the system.

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