the only real divide

by Hugh

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking lately about conservatives and progressives, and the problems of our current climate of political debate, heightened exponentially by cable news pundits in the USA. I have a trip to Saskatoon coming up, and I was thinking of contacting a few Sask bloggers, and Small Dead Animals comes pretty high in the search. It’s well-known right-leaning mostly-political blog from a woman in Saskatchewan, and a couple of the posts I read were … well they really turned me off. They seemed so pointlessly hostile to the “left.” And I landed on a couple of other Sask blogs, and had the same reaction (later I found some more comfortably lefty-like Sask blogs).

And yet much of the stuff on the lefty blogs is the same sort of thing (here too, probably): juvenile name-calling etc. But it steams us when we disagree; when we agree, it’s usually pretty funny stuff.

And further, I betcha if I met Kate of SDA, we’d probably get along fine, even if I don’t like her politics, and she doesn’t like mine, she’d probably not an idiot* (see below), and we’d probably have a fine discussion about healthcare or terrorism without wanting to punch each other.

We have some friends, Bruce and Michelle. Bruce is about as far at the other end of the spectrum of my political beliefs as you can get – and every time I read his political blog posts, I get all red-eared. Yet when we meet, and even when we talk about politics, I realize how close we are about our various frustrations with the state of the universe. We just have different explanations, often, for why things are messed up (I blame evil corporations; he blames corrupt governments; I blame the Conservatives, he blames the Liberals … we’re both right and we’re both wrong).

And I’ll bet you that most of us, lefties and righties – the non-idiots, at least – want more or less the same thing: a healthy country/planet, where we can leave things better for our kids, and where everyone gets a fair shot at having a decent life, where the rivers run clean and everyone’s got a job that lets them get the stuff they need; where the chances of getting killed by SARS or cancer or car crashes or corrupt police or terrorists or nuclear explosions are minimized.

On just about any issue (health care, security, environment etc), most non-idiot lefties and righties want the same sorts of outcomes.

And the real problem is not so much that we all want different things for the planet, but rather that we have some fundamental disagreements about how to get there, and what sort of impacts the different decisions about our course of action will have. Which are, sort of, testable differences: that is, some of them work and some of them don’t, and over time reasonable people should be able to look at policies, and outcomes, and decide based on the outcomes (rather than the philosophies behind them) whether they’re good or not.

Oh, one other thing I find strange about the political left-right split is that a belief about one subject is often directly correlated to a belief about another totally unrelated subject, eg. War on Terrorism, and Climate Change … and the other strange thing about those two threats in particular is that both sides use the same logic to argue one, and discount the other: climate change is a significant risk, therefore we must do extraordinary things to protect ourselves; terrorism is a significant risk, therefore we must do extraordinary things to protect ourselves. Yet no one on the right *wants* climate disaster, they just don’t believe we can or ought to do what’s being proposed; and no one on the left *wants* the “terrorists to win,” they just don’t believe what we are doing is the right strategy to deal with the threat.

Anyway, I think there are a couple of big problems: righties and lefties don’t talk much together about what they do want for the world, and the reasons they think actions A are better than actions B to get there. And further, the discussion between left and right is mediated – more in the US than here, but here too – by people who *are* idiots, and are paid to be idiots, because that makes people mad, and that sells advertising.

*All this brought to you by a quote from Marjane Satrapi (via Matt):

‘The only real divide in this world is between the idiots and non-idiots.’

Amen.