A couple of thoughts on political discourse

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Any data that do not fit the solution or theory we have already clung to are ignored or discarded. Merim Bilalić and Peter McLeod, “Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones” in Scientific American. 

“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King

Persuasion may play a part in a man’s conversion; but only the part of bringing to its full and conscious climax a process which has been maturing in regions where no persuasion can penetrate. A faith is not acquired; it grows like a tree. Its crown points to the sky, its roots grow downward into the past and are nourished by the dark sap of the ancestral hummus. Arthur Koestler, The God That Failed

A couple of days ago – maybe a week depending on how long it takes to write this – an old friend that I haven’t seen anywhere but on facebook asked me, “What is it that concerns you about a lack of dialogue between “liberals” and people who disagree with them? That if they talked to each other more it would change things? I think that until willfully ignorant people start educating themselves about reality, we have to just do the best we can to limit the damage they’re doing.”, and I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know the answer and I’m not sure I still do; still, those are the best questions so I’ll give it a try.

Every one of the following sentences should start with I think, or, In my opinion, so consider that included. The answer to the first question is implied in the second question, as corny as it sounds. Yes, if we did talk to each other, it would change things. But the third sentence highlights the problem; if it is only the other person who is willfully ignorant and needs to start educating themselves before we even have a conversation, then the conversation is probably not going anywhere. If we define the problem as “We are right and they are wrong and the only answer is for the other guy to change”, we have done two things that are sort of contradictory: we say your opinion is worthless, so worthless that you are not worth even listening to, and we give them all the power by saying that we can do nothing to bring change, they are the only ones that can bring change.

Our beloved country has been drifting in the wrong direction for several decades and Trump is a giant leap in that wrong direction. Still, I understand why some people voted for him; what I do not understand is why most of those people would still vote for him and the only way I am going to find out is to listen to them. I have learned a couple of things by listening. One is that different Trump voters have different reasons they voted the way they did, the Trump voter block is not monolithic. Some voted for Trump because they expect they will pay less taxes and they will probably be right. I don’t think that is a good reason, not even a moral one, but it is rational. Some voted for Trump because they think the country is such a mess of vested interests that throwing a grenade in the works is the only way to stop it from getting worse. They might be right, the country might get better under Trump but that is unlikely and there is a real possibility that Trump might make the situation much worse. I’m sure that some people voted for Trump because they are bigots – although I have never talked to anybody who has said they voted for Trump because they don’t like black people or Jews – and lots of people voted for Trump because he isn’t Hillary.

I have no data to prove that listening to the other, honoring that the other has a point of view worth considering, actually works to calm the turbulent waters of conflict, but I do have lots of anecdotal evidence that yelling or mocking the other doesn’t work.

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