20 Jan 2010

More Understanding, Less Tribalism

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In 1972, reacting to the landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern, film critic Pauline Kael renownedly protested: “How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!”

Megan McArdle offers some timely advice to dumbfounded members of the community of fashion on how to deal with defeat.

In 2004, the day after George Bush was re-elected, New York was a sullen place. At lunch, I sat next to one of my favorite New York liberals in brooding silence for a while, and then her sadness and rage suddenly erupted.

“I just didn’t realize,” she said, “that America hated me.”

What do you say to that? America didn’t hate her; America didn’t know her. America mostly wasn’t thinking about her. Yes, I’ve no doubt that the more tribal political partisans were cackling at the thought of grieving New York liberals (and in 2006, their liberal counterparts were prowling the internet for pleasurable nuggets of schadenfreude–no, don’t deny it, I physically watched them do it.) But most people hadn’t been thinking about my companion when they voted. They’d been thinking about themselves. They’d been trying to do, in their own hamfisted and probably ignorant way, the best thing for themselves and their country.

I’ve got a fine sense of deja vu after reading this on Andrew’s page:

    I simply cannot grasp what motivates these people, what compels them to thwart even the smallest attempts to clean up the enormous destruction they wrought under Bush and Cheney. Irresponsible, hateful, mendacious, sleazy, destructive – these words do not even begin to describe them.

Saying that you “cannot grasp” what motivates others is supposed to indicate their utter moral turpitude, I suppose. And in the case of say, people who rape children, yes, it’s true: I cannot grasp it. Can’t imagine. Don’t want to.

But when you’re using it as a dodge to avoid grappling with the opinion of well over half your fellow countrymen, this won’t do. Being unable to imagine what the majority of Americans might be thinking doesn’t indicate a problem with them. It suggests you kind of need to get out more. Ask around. If there’s one thing any American is always happy to share, it’s his opinion.

But for the shut-ins, and those who are too busy with their needlepoint, I have a useful little shortcut that you can use to try and understand why this vast, pulsating blob of undifferentiated evildoers might be opposing the Democrats’ health care agenda: they think it’s a bad idea.

That’s not so hard to imagine, is it? You have had ideas, and you have opposed the bad ideas of others. You have experience in the domain, so to speak. Think of it as sort of a visualization device.

The next time you are trying to imagine why the people who disagree with you are actively promoting the destruction of all that is good in the universe, grab a soothing cup of mint tea, put your feet up on a comfy pillow, and then close your eyes and imagine what those people would look like campaigning against something that is a very bad idea. 99 times out of a hundred, you’ll find that they look . . . well, exactly like they look when they’re campaigning against your idea. And suddenly the whole thing is no longer so inexplicable, isn’t it?

I mean, we all know that that’s ridiculous, because you have never in your life been wrong about any major question, or had a bad idea of your own, which is why you are so fabulously wealthy and married to the first person you ever dated, who is even now smiling at you in blissful perfection from the arms of your four flawless children. But they don’t know that, you see. As I think I’ve mentioned, they haven’t met you. They won’t know anything about you until you finally accept that Nobel Peace Prize. So you’ll have to content yourself with understanding that while you, personally, may never be in error, other well meaning people sometimes are. And then still other well-meaning people have to get up off the sofa and point this out, lest they lead the entire nation astray.

This does not require arguing that the people who oppose you are right. Obviously, if you thought that, they wouldn’t be opposing you. It just requires a little more empathy, a little less tribalism.

3 Feedbacks on "More Understanding, Less Tribalism"

Don Argus jr

“They think it’s a bad idea.” Perhaps, but if so, why can’t they just say so? Why can’t we have that discussion in a rational and productive manner?

Instead we have to fend off paranoid fabrications about birth certificates, death panels, crypto-Islam, social security benefits for illegal aliens, and the nefarious intent of non-existent ACORN census takers. That’s the reason this progressive has trouble understanding the objections of the right to the Democrats’ health care agenda: not at all because I think I am never wrong, but rather that the objections make no sense – and, they seem designed to change the subject while fomenting fear and paranoia.

I’m glad I found your blog and look forward to a reasoned and substantial debate about how best to achieve universal and affordable health care for all Americans. While I find your characterization of liberals as clueless and out of touch to be mildly condescending, I’ll overlook that so we can get down to business.

So what makes universal health care such a bad idea?
1. I think it’s a Gospel imperative myself, to heal the sick, clothe the naked, and house the homeless.
2. What is more, as a pragmatic matter, i think it’s gonna be better for business and cheaper. Freeing American businesses, particularly small businesses, from the burden of finding and paying for health insurance for themselves and their employees will better allow them to start up and grow, and profit.
3. Universal health care will give us a healthier populace, which is cheaper than subsidizing emergency room visits by the uninsured.

Don Argus jr

Whoops, maybe I am clueless – just noticed that I’m arguing with Megan McArdle, not with you.


Feel free to argue with me, too.


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