Wednesday, October 02, 2013


"And never the twain shall meet"

There have, since before history was written, been two opposing basic worldviews in play.  The first is the belief that humanity is basically decent and can be perfected by the proper implementation of policy and ideas.  The second is that humanity is basically flawed and can be at best directed profitably through policy and ideas.
These two concepts continually butt heads and most recently they have developed into "progressivism" and "conservatism."   These two movements see the world in such different basic ways that they are challenged to even communicate.
You see, a worldview is a collection of assumptions - presuppositions, if you will - about the world which are not questioned or examined by most people.  They are what are called "postulates" in Geometry; statements without proof that theorems are built on.  You start out with your worldview and construct everything that you think about and understand about life.  Its like the eyes your brain sees the world and all it thinks about with.
Because so few question or are even aware they have a worldview it is very difficult for them to stretch and understand someone else who disagrees.  For them, a different worldview is almost incomprehensible, and they strive to find reasons to explain why someone would be so different; almost always these reasons are quite negative and insulting.
Here's an example of this clash of worldviews.  There are people who are in bad shape financially in the world.  They have little or no money to pay for shelter, food, and clothing.  This can be for any number of reasons from oppression to bad luck, addiction, poor choices, or economic collapse and more.
"Progressives*" believe that welfare programs help people out, that there are folks in such dire straits that they need the government to save them from their situation.  The idea is that if we just give these people money they won't face this hardship and can get on with their lives.  Further, they believe that if we do enough of this, we can end these problems and create a society where they no longer exist.  That these programs are there to end need and poverty.  The fact that they haven't worked so far is the fault of evil corrupt corporations and political enemies who are interfering with this noble goal.
Conservatives believe that welfare programs actually hinder people getting better through weakening the economy by taxation and redistribution of wealth, and further create a dependency in people where they increasingly begin to rely on assistance instead of their own efforts to break free.  In this worldview people in need do require assistance, but not from the government, and only as a means of pushing them out of their situation.
Now, when the two view each other, that's when the troubles so often start.  The "progressive" thinks that conservatives don't want to help the needy, and since they cannot comprehend the alternate worldview further decides that this must be due to cruel hate and bitterness, or just greed.  After all those taxes help people, if you don't want to pay them it must be something horrible about you.  
And conservatives think that "progressives" are just interested in more power for themselves and in controlling society.  They believe that the reason behind the redistribution isn't so much to help people as to be in charge of the money and increase the power of government.
Now, there's some merit in both viewpoints.  There are some on the right who are greedy and heartless.  And there are some on the left not so much interested in helping people as gaining sufficient power to control everything.  But these stereotypes are almost never the actual case with the man on the street.
In the past, there was some chance of meeting up and discussing matters because over all these was a presumption of being on the same side, a pride of national identity and a generally shared concept of civility and proper public behavior.  Sometimes it would flare into violence or warfare, but for the most part people were able to discuss matters and get along.  The glue that held us together was a shared idea of how the world fit together that reached between both worldviews, a sort of meta-worldview.
Not so much any longer.  Now there's almost no ground whatsoever for discussion and compromise.  That shared view of the world has been severed.  Now when a "progressive" and a conservative talk, even when it is on the surface civil, its like two trains running on parallel tracks: they can run all night and never, ever will meet up.  They can use the same language and run at the same speed but they'll always be separated.
Why is this so?  Well there are several major shifts in culture that brought it about, as I see it.
The first is the loss of a basic understanding of reality.  Even if you were on opposite sides of the fence on most issues, almost everyone in America for example had a basic shared judeo-Christian background.  Non Christians still were essentially informed by the principles of a God who was the source of all truth and righteousness, a basic duty to do good and right, and the idea that there was absolute objective reality that we were all directed by.
In other words, everyone understood that there was a final authority outside ourselves which we were subject to, even if we disagreed exactly how that played out.  When that concept was ripped down in the 20th century by men such as Freud, Darwin, and Dewey, then that connection was lost.  Without that basic agreed upon idea of the world, the last thing that brought these two worldviews together was torn apart.
Now, with relativism the reining philosophy and spiritual principle of America (and elsewhere in the west), the very meaning of words and truth is in question.  Two people can speak the same language and mean very different things by what they say.  And since truth is a matter of personal subjective belief, then what you say doesn't even have to be true to the other person.
Which makes communication, already a challenge in a fallen world, even more difficult if not impossible in some cases.  What you mean isn't necessarily what the other person means, and what is true might not be seen as true by them.  Further, if you believe truth is subject to your personal narrative and needs, then you can say things which are utterly false as long as they advance your political goals.
Another problem is the  rise of social media.  In its self, there's nothing wrong and a right good about sites such as Facebook and Twitter - they help us reach out to people we cannot ordinarily and bring distant family members together again.
However, social media also makes people feel more exposed and easily mocked.  With the internet, we've begun to be able to communicate easily and quickly in a manner that does not expose us to personal interaction.  That means nobody can punch you in the nose for what you say, but it also means there's little to no consequence for being awful.
Some call this the "bravery of being out of range" where you are bolder knowing that some can't really harm you.  Its the child yelling at someone who can't reach them, or the dog barking at you when you're on the other side of the street, then hiding under the house when you get closer.  On the internet, you can be the worst sort of horrible jerk to someone with the presumption of anonymity and distance to protect you.
And so people are.  All those ugly secret thoughts that flash through your head but you don't say because it would be rude and mean?  People fire those off on the internet without hesitation.  And the positive reinforcement people get for being complete jerks helps encourage this.  Yeah, you go girl!  Let them have it!  Retweet that, you really burned them!  Like.  Upvote.  Quote.  I gotta follow that guy, he really tore into my ideological foe.  Suggest we should be nicer and people call you names and mock you, or point out how mean the other side is and cry "we're just giving them back what they gave us!"
The result of this is that people are pretty much shouting at each other at full volume even if they don't TYPE IN ALL CAPS to indicate it.  And that has two effects.  First, it makes people yell at each other instead of discuss matters, because they get frustrated and pats on the back for doing it.
And second, it tends to shape people's reactions so they avoid the attacks.  Few people (Andrew Breitbart being an exception) relish being attacked and diving into the fray.  Most people prefer to be liked and not hated.  It hurts when we're satirically savaged by people, especially folks you don't even know.
So either people stop talking and only the loud ones get a voice... or they yell louder to cover up their fear and silence opposition.  Some people are like that in real life, their insecurity is so great that they compensate for it by being very blustery, loud, and absolute.  The idea is that if they sound bold and confident enough, then maybe nobody will question them.
So online it becomes this clash of the loudest and rudest shouting voices, sometimes even backed up by lawsuits and digging up real identities of people to intimidate them.  And none of this does a thing except breed resentment and frustration.
The very nature of social media is so limited in scope - by design - that thoughtful, extended dialog is impossible.  You cannot develop a point at 140 characters a shot.  And since people are becoming increasingly conditioned to only read short bursts of text, the very ability to communicate meaningfully is being damaged.
This isn't a necessary fault of social media, but a poorly-educated people trained since youth by popular culture to only care about themselves, their comfort, having sex, and being healthy is inevitably going to move in that direction when given an easy opportunity to do so.
And, there's a certain degree of arrogance and dismissal in place in modern America as well.  In the political arena, Democrats and leftists believed that they finally had triumphed over conservatism in 1992 when Bill Clinton won election over George Bush the elder.
Bush the younger was a horrible setback, but then in 2006 and 2008 elections, the left declared conservatism totally dead.  Now they could do whatever they wanted without any opposition.  They were free to finally create a society that would be "a beacon of order with the purity of an ant colony and the beauty of a flawless pearl." to quote Raymond Cockteau from Demolition Man.
So you have President Obama telling Republicans to just shut up and go along because "I won" and the fury of leftists at how conservatives keep disagreeing and won't just go away like they were told they should.
All this adds up to a situation where these two worldviews cannot communicate and will never, ever reach out and find common ground.  And the sad part is that in the end, the losers are everyone.

*I put scare quotes around progressive because I do not see any actual progress in their ideas or efforts.  It is one of those names that the left loves to pick up because of its presumed meaning rather than actual meaning so that they can  manipulate public opinion of their actions.

1 comment:

mushroom said...

So Strother Martin was right: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Another reason for the political discord relates to the concept of "enemy" as an organizing principle. Before the USSR disintegrated, the focus of the Democrat/Republican divide was often how to deal with the threat of "international communism". Sometimes the parties found common ground, sometimes disagreement, but the nature of the enemy was usually objective and external.

Much the same thing would likely have happened following 9/11. It did initially. Everybody was as anti-Muslim as we were anti-Communist fifteen or twenty years before. But somehow the focus was lost -- I think it was Bush's failure. That's a whole essay.

In any case, the enemy is now the other party. People are being organized not as Americans but as troops for the Democrats or for the GOP-e or for the Tea Party.