The Great Divide

3 02 2017

political-brainsWhat is the source of the great conflicts that divide us? Is there a way to find common ground? The answer might be no, and the reasons could be biological.

Whether nature or nurture, genetics or environment, there is a distinct difference in the way people think, in their values, in what they judge important. It may be the way our brains are wired. (Scientific American: “Unconscious reactions separate Liberals and Conservatives”)

Our gut (our subconscious, our deeper, non-rational instincts) tells us what is important. What makes sense. We build our moral values from there. I expect, as with many binary characteristics we observe in human beings (feminine vs. masculine, extrovert vs. introvert, etc.) there is more of a grey scale than black and white. But that might just be the way my mind works.

Because there are those who insist on black and white. They value absolutes. Certainties. There is a right way to do things. Immutable laws that God has handed down. This group tends to identify who are the good people and who are the bad people. The good people are those who agree about what is right. One takes care of and supports the good people. Unquestioning devotion to duty; party loyalty and national pride; my tribe, right or wrong. The world is a dangerous place filled with bad people. One must always be suspicious, cautious, defensive. Bad people are always trying to get away with something and they must be hunted down.

Sticking to principals is an admirable virtue. Compromise is a weakness, because why would one compromise is one is right? There is no point in trying to see the other’s point of view, because they are at best misguided, and at worst an evil which must be stopped. Good people must constantly be vigilant and battle evil whenever it arrises, and nothing short of complete victory and domination is acceptable. Superior power is the only way to ensure that good will triumph over evil. Weapons are power; wealth is power; the more the better. Only through power is there safety.

It is very important to make sure the bad are punished. If a few innocents are caught and suffer, that is unfortunate, but that is the price one pays to make sure the law is upheld and evil is crushed. Truly good people, smart people, do not allow themselves to get into bad situations. If they do, they suffer the consequences.

Nature is red in tooth and claw. Competition is a fact of life. It brings out the best in us and assures the steady progress of the species/race/nation/tribe. This is true in economics as well. A free, unregulated market is the best way to weed out the lazy and inefficient and reward hard work and cleverness. If one falls behind, it is one’s own fault. Or possibly bad luck, but there’s really nothing anyone can do about bad luck. In order for there to be winners there have to be losers. Poverty is inevitable. Jesus said the poor will be with us always.

The worldview I have just described is what makes sense to some people. They believe it, and there is much in the way the world works that supports their view. There is much in history and philosophy that they can point to. This is why no amount of argument can change their minds. Arguments that contradict their worldview make no sense to them. The same is true for those at the other end of the scale.

These people see the world as filled with uncertainty, in constant flux, and one must constantly adapt and grow. We are meant to be happy and life can be filled with joy. People are basically good, or a mix of bad and good, and one can’t make blanket judgements. Laws and rules which allow no room for exceptions are unjust, because every case is unique. Each must be judged reasonably and compassionately. Laws which are unfair or which prove to be useless should be abandoned. It is better to risk a guilty person going free that to punish someone who is innocent.

Nothing is immutable; everything is complicated. All opinions have a right to be heard. One must constantly be ready to change one’s mind. Wisdom is found in unexpected places.

We must all work to alleviate the hardship in the world. Jesus told us to help the sick and the poor. Suffering is the enemy. No one is beyond help (with certain untreatable, unreachable exceptions). Knowledge and understanding are the real sources of power. Weapons and money should not to be pursued or amassed any more than necessary.

One’s principles, leaders, all authority, must be called into question if more harm is being done than good. Compromise is not weakness; it is the way people work together to achieve common goals. Empathy is of critical importance. Compassion should know no borders, no nationality, no religion. One must risk trusting others. The potential for good outweighs the dangers.

Capitalism and a free market are good up to a point, but regulations are needed to prevent abuses. Socialism is a useful way for people to cooperatively pool their resources and make sure things get done that benefit everyone. No one should be left behind. The government should have a strong role in protecting and helping those who are in need and addressing social injustices.

Cooperation and compromise vs. competition and ambition.

Responsibility for all beings vs. take care of me and mine first.

Tolerance and flexibility vs. absolute right and wrong.

Trust vs. suspicion

Each side is quite certain that their way is the best way. Each side is baffled that the other side does not agree. Hardwired inside of us, this fundamental difference governs how we perceive reality. Like how cilantro tastes to us, or whether a particular color makes us happy or sad.

If this is so, I am at a loss. In this climate of high passions and violent rhetoric, how do we keep these differences from destroying us?




3 responses

4 02 2017

I think the first step is to realize that there are (at least) two side to everything. In the end we need to find compromise. And that compromise needs to be respected. It sounds so simple.

4 02 2017

That is the problem. Those who believe in absolutes do not acknowledge that there are two sides. They insist there is only right and wrong. How does one address that?

4 02 2017

Well, I guess, one can only present the options. Everybody needs to decide for themselves.

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