Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Those People"

One last thought, for a while. This is a thought that bled over from facebook. A "friend" from there posted a link to an article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times that I thought was terribly unfair. I won't go over the whole thing, but the part that stuck in my craw was that Krugman characterized anyone who was opposed to letting the 2001 Bush tax cuts expire as someone who would rather the poor starve than the top 2% of evil rich plutocrats lose their precious tax cuts. I pointed out that most of us (yes, us) who want the cuts to stay do so because we actually think that taxes going up during a deep recession is economically very bad. Arguments can be made on both sides as to whether that economic assumption is true or not, but to have a Nobel-prize-winning economist so baldly misstate the motives of those who disagree with him seemed to me the very definition of partisan hackery.

But here's where it got interesting. There were over 700 comments on the NYT article, and in the first 3 pages (after which I gave up), about 90% of them amounted to readers cheering Krugman for speaking the plain, obvious truth. And my comment on my friend's status was greeted with similar sentiments. It took a great deal of explaining for many folks (probably not near all) who saw the thread to conclude that I was neither stupid nor evil. Meanwhile, I was bummed that so many people on the "other side" could be so "blind."

This is repeated all over--read the comments on Hot Air or other conservative blogs and you'll get the reverse. We all think we're right (well, of course we do--if we thought we were wrong, we'd change our minds). And we surround ourselves with folks who agree with us. It reminds me of the story of Pauline Kael, a NYT columnist who reacted to the 1972 election results with, "How can Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him!" (Nixon had won 49 states and a huge popular-vote landslide.)

The older and more mellow I get, the more I'm willing to at least consider the possibility that I might be wrong. (Well, I consider the possibility, and then reject it...) This isn't just true of politics, it's true of church stuff, and finance stuff, and professional stuff. One of my ongoing resolutions is to try to at least extend a presumption of good faith to those who disagree with me.


MichaelPolutta said...

Though I confess that I really struggle to understand liberal thought processes - for instance, why/how do you continue to think that they "work" in the face of zero examples where they did (and dozens/hundreds of examples where they did not)? - I do work hard to avoid any personal judgments/attacks in the process of discussing differences.

bekster said...


This is slightly off the point (and probably already obvious to anyone reading this), but it relates to people having different opinions. I was thinking in class this morning how each of the people/groups you discussed (for those who weren't there, the major players of the Reformation) had some things right (yes, even Calvin), just not everything. Each one's doctrine was based on his own understanding of God. Since no one can fully understand God (at least in our current, physical existence), it is impossible to come up with the perfect doctrine. We do the best we can, but we will always have a flaw somewhere. If we are at least partially wrong, then why do we assume that the "errors" in the beliefs of others invalidate their entire arguments? They could have something right too. There are plenty of things I used to think that now I no longer believe. At the time, though, I really thought I was right. It is very important, then, (like you said, pretty much) not to assume that others are wrong. Even if they are mostly wrong ("He's not dead... He's only mostly dead"), there could be a nugget of truth in their position somewhere. Truth is truth, and sometimes it comes out of the mouths of the most unlikely people.

That being said, there are still a lot of really stupid people out there, a good number of whom show their ignorance in the comments of political articles and blogs. (Wait a minute. Blog... Comments... Hmmm...) I can't read too much of that stuff because it just makes me angry. I don't mind so much that someone could have an opinion that doesn't make sense to me. What gets me is that "they" demonize anyone on my own "side" of things and refuse to extend the same benefit of the doubt that I give to them. What's even worse than that, though, is when those on my own "side" show their own ignorance by demonizing those on the other side. Really, it's all the same. Political groups may come down on different sides of the same issues, but they all justify their existences by putting down all of the other groups. I hate to see a Republican speak nastily to a Democrat as much as I hate to see the reverse. (Not that I affiliate myself with either. I'm a Christian; that should be enough.)