Today’s Courier Herald Column:
I was a little bored yesterday evening and I decided to weigh in on a Georgia legislator’s Facebook page regarding traffic congestion in suburban Atlanta. I should know better, but I also know better than to slow down and look at car accidents on the side of the road as I pass them too. Sometimes you just can’t help yourself, despite the fact that you know you’re going to see things you probably wish you hadn’t.
The topic quickly centered on the new toll HOT lanes, where an existing lane that was previously used for cars with 2 or more passengers now requires a “Peach Pass” transponder and either 3 or more occupants of the vehicle or a toll. There were surprisingly more people accepting of the setup than I would have imagined, giving in to the idea that “something has to be done.” Others, not surprisingly, were adamantly against the idea. The thread ended, last I checked, with a claim that HOT lanes were immoral. That’s right, immoral.
And that’s really how all arguments should end. It in no way means the person who invokes morality is on his side is right. Instead, it indicates you are wasting your time. You are arguing with someone who has shut down. You are arguing with someone that cannot defend their premise with facts. Thus, they will cloak their argument with self-rightousness to indicate that they are on the side of the divine, and any opposition is blasphemy or heresy.
A Barton Hinkle has an excellent essay first published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and available online at Reason.com titled “The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win.” In it, he satirizes the same logic that too many of us have adopted regarding our partisan allegiances. An example:
“I will admit the candidates for My Side do make occasional blunders. These usually happen at the end of exhausting 19-hour days and are perfectly understandable. Our leaders are only human, after all. Nevertheless, the Other Side inevitably makes a big fat deal out of these trivial gaffes, while completely ignoring its own candidates’ incredibly thoughtless and stupid remarks – remarks that reveal the Other Side’s true nature, which is genuinely frightening.”
Hinkle explores common refrains that we hear during campaigns where we, as loyal supports, provide a crutch to our candidates that make mistakes or produce intellectually empty arguments, and cry victimization when our candidates are attacked. Reason, a Libertarian organization, enjoys watching the two major parties use the same arguments for or against candidates, each side knowing that it’s OK because they and their candidates are on the side of righteousness, fighting those on the other side who are evil.
There clearly is right and wrong, good and bad, just and evil embedded in today’s politics. It is also true that you can find examples of each on any side of virtually any argument.
As our politics has become more divided, more and more are retreating to the political argument that our side is good, their side is bad, and our side must triumph for reasons of moral, spiritual, or ethical justice. While sometimes this may be true, it is not an effective way to persuade others to your side, nor to find common ground.
Instead, it is merely a way to shut down discussion, unnecessarily offend the other side, and ensure that progress will not be made.
Politics is the art of what is possible. It involves some level of exchange of ideas and some attempt to find a common ground of mutual understanding.
Today’s process, however, involves primaries where each party’s base are subjected to loyalty and purity tests. Candidates are held to strict allegiance to ideology, and must be able to articulate why our ideology is good, the others is evil, and that we will fight them to our last breath.
And thus, we elect members of our side. They fight the other side. And it is, for all of us, a great show.
Meanwhile, government goes on about its business; Unfettered, unchanged, and oblivious to our certainties that our philosophies have divine preference over those who oppose us.