Extremist Nation

President Obama has not demonstrated that he is a despot and I think it is very important to say so.

Yesterday, I was reviewing my son’s logic lesson with him and we got going on the difference between statements that are contrary and those that are contradictory. My father used to tell me all the time that I was being contrary, so this is a particularly meaningful lesson for me. If he was wrong, and I was really being contradictory, I’m going to make sure he finds out!

So I was paying attention while I went over this with my son.

Here’s the difference: If two statements are both universal, they are contrary. In other words, if I say, “Every time you go to the store, you buy a radio,” and then you say, “I never buy a radio when I go to the store,” our statements are contrary.

It is very possible, indeed it is probable, that we are both wrong. Why? Because we are taking such extreme positions. This is the way we fight on a normal day. “You always…” “You never…”

And we talk past each other because of the extreme language we are using. Odds are very high that we are both wrong.

Contradictory statements are different. If I say, “Every time you go to the store, you waste my money,” and you say, “Sometimes when I go to the store, I don’t waste money,” now we have contradicted each other. This time, I have taken the extreme position, but you have taken a more moderate position. I’ve made a universal statement, but you have made what is technically a particular statement.

In this case, one of us must be right and the other must be wrong if we are talking about the same thing.

The media thrive on contraries. They love pushing people into extreme camps. Clever politicians shrewdly move their opponents into contradictory positions. They make the opponent appear extreme, while placing themselves in the ever shifting middle.

The dynamic created by these motives is not pretty. Each party presents the oppponent as an extremist and the media loves it. But now the media have been driven into extremes themselves. Fox news redresses the rather leftist leanings of the so-called mainstream media, but to highlight the differences they continually present extreme cases of any difference they can find. Then they go to extremes themselves.

Meanwhile the old media of the networks, CNN, and the major dailies holds to a basic Progressivism moderated by sales. Conservatives were made gullible to a Rush Limbaugh or a Fox News network by the absence or minimization of people who represented their views in the established media. They’ve always felt a bit hunted because the snear of the established media isn’t well-hidden.

That snear is reciprocated and multiplied by the right-wing media, with the Limbaughs and the Becks and others who abandon the essence of conservatism (reverence) to score points against the “enemy.” And of course, the hunted rednecks who vote for a Sarah Palin and want to shoot people who burn the flag (but don’t) hear the screeds of their own pent up frustration and feel, finally, at last, like they aren’t alone. So they forgive the extremism of their spokespeople (and sometimes adore them excessively – a sin both sides are prone to), and don’t recognize that the soul of their argument has been sucked out of it by the tone of its presentation.

A simple lesson in logic would have helped all of us. So would a lesson in rhetoric. And so would a paragraph in Aristotle.

In logic, we need to learn to stop arguing extremes.

From Aristotle’s politics we need to remember that we know almost nothing with certainty in the political realm. That, in fact, is why I am a conservative of the old school.  Politics is the art of decision making in community. When I make a decision alone I do so based on utter uncertainty about the future. How much more when a city, or a state, or a nation makes decisions.

So I want the upper levels of government to provide a stable structure for the lower, more local levels to make the best decisions they can with the knowledge that the state and federal government won’t arbitrarily alter reality based on who is owed favors.

We need to learn to rest in the reality that politics is difficult, that you survive in a polis, that a polis survives, when its members argue and debate instead of shooting each other, but that those arguments, as heated as they might become, lead to decisions that are never irrevocable.

We need to stop expecting so much from politics. People are always going to die, they are always going to fight, and cheat, and steal, and manipulate. Loving our neighbors can help minimize that within a few square feet of where we live and a just government can help lessen the extent of the fighting and cheating. But the hope for a new world in which people become good and fair because the state regulates them into goodness is a bit mad.

To demand too much justice too fast is to increase the likelihood of tyranny. Until the second coming, we have to do everything in our power to be just and accept that we won’t be repaid in kind.

But with those moderated expectations, we must do everything in our power to be just.

The third lesson is from rhetoric. Classical rhetoric includes a very hand element in a speech called the Division. This is where you identify exactly and precisely what the disagreement is by pushing the agreement as far as possible.

The great concern I have about the debate over “Obamacare” is the increasingly widespread claim that opponents to this law are, almost de facto, racists.

From the evidence I have seen there are some racists among the opponents and even among the tea partiers. But there aren’t as many and it doesn’t seem to me to be as strong as some Progressives want us to believe. For example, I’ve tried to find evidence for the 15 uses of the N-word or of a senator being spit on when they walked up to the capital. So far as I can tell, the second did happen, but not in the sense that we usually think of being spat on. Somebody was yelling at the senator (Lewis?) pretty aggressively and very impolitely, to the extent that he was letting fly with the saliva as people do when they are yelling out of control.

So here’s how that would appear in a “division.”

We agree that somebody in the crowd spat upon Senator Lewis. Some people present this spitting as though somebody consciously and intentionally spat on the senator as an act of contempt. Others argue that the spitting was an effect of his yelling, and not a deliberate and intentional act of spitting.

Or we could say something like ” We all agree that the person who spat on Senator Lewis was wrong to do so. Some people argue that it was wrong because it was an act of racism. Others argue that it was an act of out of control anger.”

By defining the difference more carefully, we aren’t delivered from the discussion, but we are now able to think about it more carefully and with less accusation.

Racism as a concrete reality has done untold damage to our country. Racism turned into an abstract idea probably can’t do as much damage, but it is being used to harm us as a people as well.

So when the tea partiers, for example, are portrayed as necessarily racist, I know that more careful thought needs to be applied.

We all agree that the tea partiers are angry. Some believe that they are angry because President Obama is black. Some argue that they are angry because they feel threatened by his policies.

America is undergoing some significant changes right now. Is it too much to ask that the discussion take place without the self-righteous short cut of jumping straight to the extremes? President Obama is not a despot. And the tea partiers don’t fear him because he is black.

They fear him because he went to Harvard. And as we all know, every problem this country has ever had has come from Harvard.

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One Response

  1. Hee hee. You ended with an extreme statement.

    Thanks for writing this.

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