Last night I went out to dinner with my mother, stepfather, and some friends of theirs. Towards the end of the evening, talk turned to politics. My mother is a lifelong New England Democrat. Her husband, a newly fledged US citizen, is not. And that, my dear friends, is all I’ll say about that.
I do not discuss politics here, nor will I. This is because I loathe talk of politics altogether. Politics itself are necessary. Talk of politics in this country has become well-nigh impossible.
Why? Here’s my theory. We have no proof of comparative effectiveness for most political and economic systems. Politics and economics are like the weather, and earthquakes. We have bits of data here and there. We want that data to predict important outcomes, but we have to acknowledge that our calculation capacity just isn’t there yet. Not in any comprehensive way.
When people are faced with decisions, lacking knowledge, they tend to revert to emotion as the directive engine. I suspect that most political beliefs stem from innate feelings about how innately good people are or are not. That we take the bits and pieces of data, spawned by a study here and a study here, add them to a mosaic tricked out with anecdotes and personal experience, and construct personal Watts Towers of political opinion. Each our own. Each our own.
This does not create the best environment for rational discussion.
Now add in television and radio networks freed from the requirement to present both sides to any question. Want impassioned? You got it. Finish with a healthy dose of the Internet, where you can make highly aggressive arguments against someone without ever having to call that person on the telephone when your son wants to play with their daughter. The usual community imperatives for cooperation, gone.
Complex systems, outcomes that affect those we love, lack of comprehensive data, growing venues for irresponsible diatribes, and, and, then it’s election time. Heaven help us all.
I’ve taken to testing my political thoughts, my “Why can’t we just do this?” questions on my sister. She’s a researcher in social welfare, familiar with the ways policies play out out the ground, and with the difference between what makes sense, and what can actually be enacted. I find her voice quite helpful in focusing my positions.
I hope we always take the time to look for data, to listen and speak with respect to those who hold other views, to act with kindness. Even more important in political discussion. Should we fail, collectively, as November approaches and 2012 looms, you may find me under my table, rocking back and forth, muttering, “Does it really have to be like this?”
I am very proud of and honored by the Privilege readership. I believe I can count on all of you to continue to speak with the remarkable civility and intelligence you’ve demonstrated for the past several years. I thank you deeply in advance.