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October 3rd, 2006


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05:01 pm - Disagreement vs. Loathing
In these days of utterly mad politics, one of the things I attempt to keep in mind is the difference between opinions and disagree with and ones that I think are vile and mark the supporter (from my PoV at least) as a bad person. This seems to me a crucial difference. Democracy and in fact reasoned discussion is impossible without a range of opinions that may differ significantly, but where everyone involved can and does respect each other. That respect need not equal agreement, there are many ideas that I vehemently disagree with and where I consider anyone who believes in them to be wrong, misguided, and foolish, but where I can also accept that someone can be a fundamentally good and decent person and still hold them.

I have heard a number of comments, including responses to this post, which indicated that people should do this for all opinions, no matter how different. I simply do not agree. The problem I see today is not that social and political discourse has become less polite or less inclusive (I would argue that the first statement is to some degree true, but the second statement is completely false) but that the range of social and political discourse has expanded well past the point where the people near the edges are operating on anything remotely resembling common assumptions.

This post by economics professor Brad DeLong sum up what I grew up considering the general ideological field of play:
"I am, as I said above, a reality-based center-left technocrat. I am pragmatically interested in government policies that work: that are good for America and for the world. My natural home is in the bipartisan center, arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share--world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety. The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition."
I'm considerably more on the socialist end of this spectrum, where I want significant government oversight and regulation of business practices and for the government to provide all basic human needs for free, but as a general statement I'm OK with that quote.

The problem is that clearly many people are not and social and political discourse has fragmented into a range that includes anarcho-capitalist libertarians who vehemently oppose any attempt to regulate business in any fashion and care more about money than the suffering of other as well as fundamentalists theocrats of a variety of faiths who wish to bind everyone by the rigid laws of their faith.

I reject the idea that I (or any other reasonable person) should accept the full spectrum of opinions as acceptable, I regard some ideas as so repugnant that I regard anyone who holds them as a genuinely bad person and reject and suggestions that I change that opinion or even that having such an opinion is at all wrong or problematic. In fact, having bounds beyond which one is not willing to tolerate discourse seems an excellent idea and perhaps something that were it more common, might have prevented the current horrific state of US politics. However, it is equally (and likely more) important to remember that within a given (and fairly broad) range it's perfectly possible to disagree with someone, to consider both their idea to be wrong and their reasons for supporting this idea to be misguided, while still respecting the person and seeing how someone reasonable might possibly accept this idea.

For example, I'm a very much of a far-left Green Party supporting socialist technocrat. Responsibly run socialism is my ideal for all commerce and at absolute minimum, for providing all essential services like healthcare, education or a poverty-line income. However, I know some people who honestly believe that well-regulated capitalism is the ideal system for insuring the most fair and efficient transfer of goods and services. I think this belief is incorrect, but I do not find it ludicrous or abhorrent. In contrast, I do find the idea of unregulated or largely unregulated capitalism to be both ludicrous and abhorrent and rapidly lose respect for anyone who supports it.

Similarly, I am a fairly strong proponent of "affirmative action" programs as a way to redress issues of discrimination, but I can respect someone who opposes such programs – I think they and this opposition is wrong, but that is an opinion that can be held by sensible and humane individuals. In vivid contrast, I consider people who support active discrimination, such as laws requiring segregation or the various proposed laws banning any mention of homosexuality from public schools to be vile bigots and consider their opinions completely unworthy of any respect. Similarly, I have no respect or tolerance for anyone who advocates judicial torture.

While I could be completely incorrect, it seems to me that in most of Western Europe is that while there are significant differences in many issues, in most (but certainly not all) the majority of people hold opinions that are at least close enough for everyone involved to be able to understand and respect each others' opinions, even if they do not share them. Unfortunately, I'm uncertain if this was ever true in the US, and in the past decade or two (and especially during the past 5 years) the problem has become considerably worse. Quite honestly, I do not think useful discourse is possible between progressives and either ardent neoconservatives, right-wing libertarians, or fundamentalist theocrats. Similarly, right-wing libertarians are rarely able to have any useful discourse with fundamentalist theocrats or with neoconservatives with dreams of empire.

While definitely imperfect, some understanding of the causes of such problems may be gained from this test of social political attitudes [[1]] this significantly inferior quiz. I'm guessing that anyone who is more than halfway across either axis is someone you are likely to consider highly unreasonable and unworthy of respect, and anyone who is that far from both is likely someone whose ideas you regard as deeply repellent.

My answers on the first test were (rather unsurprisingly):
Economic Left/Right: -8.62 (the max Left is -10)
(ie almost as far Left as it is possible to get)
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -6.87 (maximum Libertarian is also -10)

Answers that were halfway across the diagram from mine would be
Economic Left/Right: 1.38
Authoritarian/Libertarian: 3.13

From looking over the quadrants and what such answers would mean, I can definitely say that I would have no impulse to hold a reasonable discussion with someone who held such views.

Also, some of this may be the result of radically different ideas about facts and truth that I touched upon in this post.

In any case, I think we are seeing the results of something that I generally approve of, increasing diversity. As subcultures continue to breed and fragment, I don't see any way to avoid an increase in the range of commonly held opinions. The best answer from my PoV, is for sub-cultures, or at least related clusters of values and sub-cultures to separate themselves from one another, and to minimize the ways in which the members of one clusters of values and sub-cultures. Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation currently present in the US. Given that I fear that at least a substantial minority, perhaps as much as 30-40% of the US population actually supports the current horrors, as a long-term solution it seems unavoidable that progressives should either leave the nation, or (preferably) that the nation should be divided along fairly obvious lines so that progressives and reactionaries can all live someplace they regard as acceptable.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

(19 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:antayla
Date:October 4th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
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I loath you too, love :).

I'm totally in favor of having more options in terms of what sort of government I live under. Alot of libertarians are moving to New Hampshire for that very purpose, to create a libertarian state, and maybe someday a libertarian nation. I figure the only way to really have freedom on Terra is to have a process whereby populations can "get a divorce" without bloodshed. But first everyone has to agree that people have the right to live their lives how they want (within ecological reason, of course... and a libertarian state could very easily frame that issue in terms of property rights if progressives could just get around the terminology.) However, many people on the fundie right and the left don't want to allow that. They want to control others for "their own good and the common good of society"... even though no one can agree what the common good really is, and one's own good is a subjective experience. If you really want freedom to be a progressive, you have to give people freedom to be libertarian, or fundamentalist, or whatever they want to be... and expect them to extend that same freedom to others.

What you have to realize about business regulation is that it can be as personally oppressive as enforcing social values can be. Take for example the battle over being allowed to sell raw milk in Oregon for consumption by humans. It is flat out against the law to sell it, and there are people that are upset because they believe that pasteurized milk is unhealthy in comparison to raw milk. Should the state of Oregon force these people to buy pasteurized milk, even though it runs against their wishes and their beliefs?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 4th, 2006 02:10 am (UTC)
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As you might expect, I utterly disagree about business regulation. I don't know enough about the likely and potential dangers of raw milk to have an answer, but there are many similar questions (like trans fats in restaurants), but I'm in general strongly for government regulation to prevent disease, eliminate dangerous additives in food, preserve the environment and all manner of other "nanny state" issues and am in general of the opinion that businesses just need to suck it up. So, not a shred of sympathy from me there.

OTOH, your first point is an excellent one. I'm quite dubious about the idea of a libertarian nation because I've encountered too many libertarians who care nothing about protecting the environment, but if that issue can be dealt with, then I'd heartily support t, especially if it was located well away from where I was living :) I'd would never consider living there, but I am a strong proponent of diversity in all forms and my ideal vision of the US is of a confederation of separate and wildly divergent states that must obey fairly stringent environmental standards wrt air and water pollution, permit free travel and have basic civil rights guaranteed for all citizens (I would, for instance, not support a state that had actual slavery). Beyond that, let the socialist utopias, anarcho-capitalists states and theocratic hell-holes flourish.

Anywhere that I live, I'm going to work for the government and the laws being as I wish them because those laws affect me and my loved ones. OTOH, as long as torture, slavery, trials in absentia, and similar heinous excesses are avoided, I'm fine with people other places living how they will, as long as they can leave if they wish, as long as they don't bother me or mine. My only caveats to this are that pollutants that do or are even remotely likely to escape from someplace else and affect me are in no way acceptable, and that my feelings on wildlife protection are very strong - Regardless of where someone lives, making animals extinct is not OK [[1]]. However, with that caveat, I'm happy to let people live as they will. This is impractical in our nation as it now stands, but as sub-cultures (especially in the first world) continue to drift further apart (which I expect to continue happening), then perhaps this might eventually happen. I know some fundys have similar plans in some Southern state, and I can definitely say that I'd love for all of them to move there.

[[1]] The issue of wildlife is ultimately another serious problem I have with libertarianism and in general with the concept of property rights common in the US. I honestly loathe the idea that land can be owned for many reasons, one of the more important being that idea that the life of that land lived there first and should be considered. Animals that are abundant are one thing, but someone's right to farm, build a house or a golf course on a piece of land that they supposedly "own" is in my view vastly less important that the rights of endangered animals to live there.
[User Picture]
From:antayla
Date:October 4th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC)
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Unfortunately, the rights of animals is out there along with the rights of fetuses. It is an easy thing to say (as an adult, sentient human being) that obviously (similar) human life and rights should be protected. But beyond that, who defines human? Even further, who defines "person?" And even beyond that, how do you make persons respect the lives of nonpersons, even if these nonpersons are not accorded any rights as humans? Such are the problems that laws (or lack of laws) must deal with, and they are not easy problems. These problems end up becoming deal-breakers for law systems... which we see happening in our own (USA) law system. There can be no compromise when those beings we view as persons are being killed under the competing law systems of nearby nations; and the only resolution in these matters can be war since we will never see eye to eye. Or, if we live in the same nation, we spend all our effort fighting eachother, using resources better spent on more dangerous issues to fight wars of democracy or trying to cheat a democratic system. Is that really what we want? If not, is there any way to resolve these issues, or are we doomed to war anyhow?

All that aside.... I guess what I hope to see happening IS an ongoing process of fracturing. At least then cultures will begin to rediversify :P. I still hope for peaceful resolution, so unlikely as it seems to be.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 4th, 2006 06:14 am (UTC)
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Unfortunately, the rights of animals is out there along with the rights of fetuses.

I'm disturbed by other people abusing or inhumanely killing animals, but can certainly accept this occurring in other sub-cultural "states". However, extinction is (for me at least) a vastly different matter, making any species extinct removes all possibility of interacting with that species from everyone and is in my book a truly heinous crime right up there with mass murder.

I still hope for peaceful resolution, so unlikely as it seems to be.

As do I.
[User Picture]
From:antayla
Date:October 4th, 2006 02:34 pm (UTC)
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I wouldn't see it as "mass murder" myself, but rather as a serious and irreversible form of biological/global vandalism. On the other hand, species do go extinct on their own from time to time. There isn't any way to tell which species would have gone extinct anyhow, without help from humans.

I don't think the answer is to look at it on a species by species basis, but rather from a systemic "Earth as a body" viewpoint. Imagine the earth is a person, with lungs and a heart and a liver: find out what organs it needs to survive, and legally protect those with rules as ironclad as the rules against killing human beings and thievery... leaving the rest of the space for humans to do whatever they want provided they respect property boundaries and contain 100% of their pollution and effect. Most libertarians would take offense at this tactic but I am convinced that protecting the biosphere is part of protecting people from the harmful physical actions of other people (which is considered to be the only rightful duty of the state, in libertarian philosophy.)

The real trick here would be to get the "organs" out of the hands of the people and governments that currently own them. War is pointless and would cause more harm than good during the process; I propose we figure out a way to buy them back or petition the holders to give them back to the Terran people. You don't live off the "capital" of a planet, but rather the "interest..." we're bankrupting ourselves :P.
[User Picture]
From:antayla
Date:October 4th, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC)
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And you can't say the government protects land; the government is actually encouraging biological destruction by leasing land rather than selling it to timber and mining companies. The companies couldn't afford to actually buy the land and extract resources using current methods; by leasing it rather than selling it the government allows them to take the wealth and leave the worthless for us.
[User Picture]
From:antayla
Date:October 4th, 2006 02:40 pm (UTC)
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On a side note: at least since there is value in genes, alot of corporations are doing the job of collecting genetic data. If we ever get good at cloning, we will be able to resurrect species...
[User Picture]
From:antayla
Date:October 4th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC)
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The reason I ask these questions is because I have attempted to work on such a permissive global law system, and keep running up against these unresolvable definitions problems. Frustrating enough to make me file them away and forget about them for awhile :P.
[User Picture]
From:madmanofprague
Date:October 5th, 2006 02:52 am (UTC)
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I figure the only way to really have freedom on Terra is to have a process whereby populations can "get a divorce" without bloodshed.

I doubt you could. Governments were the first businesses, and their industry was force.
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From:jiawen
Date:October 4th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC)
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I've thought from time to time that political enclaves are a good thing, but I think ultimately, the unit of poltical beliefs has to be the person, not the locale. Specific sub-problems:
  • Some groups will simply not let well enough alone. Conservatives insist on defining marriage for everyone, rather than just themselves. Liberals, they might say, force everyone to be tolerant of GLBT people.

  • Kids will be raised in these environments, and must, I believe, have the opportunity to a) encounter people with different beliefs than their parents' and b) themselves become different people from their parents. Otherwise, you're effectively saying "It's Jane's fault she was born a lesbian in a neofascist land."

  • Similar to kids, poor people simply don't always have the freedom to move to a politically nicer place.

  • As you pointed out, smog knows no borders. If shitheads want to pour waste into their rivers upstream from a green commune, that commune's water will stink regardless of how nice their politics are.

  • Insularity is bad for the soul.
Some beliefs really are abhorrent, but political isolation doesn't really get rid of them. It just lets them fester in a corner and hurt people we can't see.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 4th, 2006 06:44 am (UTC)
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All that makes much sense. Unfortunately, the only answer I can see to some mixture of accepted, localized diversity and free travel is violent conflict where one group or at minimum some coalition of people with similar views force everyone else to obey them. In the US at least, I'm far from certain that liberals would win, and even if they did the cost would be very high indeed. I simply no longer believe political discourse between radically different groups with vastly different agendas is useful or ultimately even possible. That being the case, the only answers are separation or war.

I also am troubled by enforced belief - I am more troubled by living in a land where my views are so out of step with what is called the social and political mainstream, and so, if the progressive win, I would consider a culture war that becomes a better solution than what we currently have, but largely because what we have no is so obviously a total and complete failure. I'd far rather avoid the war while still avoiding the oppression of the various groups I belong to.
[User Picture]
From:heronheart
Date:October 5th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
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In these days of utterly mad politics, one of the things I attempt to keep in mind is the difference between opinions and disagree with and ones that I think are vile and mark the supporter (from my PoV at least) as a bad person. This seems to me a crucial difference. Democracy and in fact reasoned discussion is impossible without a range of opinions that may differ significantly, but where everyone involved can and does respect each other. That respect need not equal agreement, there are many ideas that I vehemently disagree with and where I consider anyone who believes in them to be wrong, misguided, and foolish, but where I can also accept that someone can be a fundamentally good and decent person and still hold them.

The problem I have with this is that an inability to respectfully disagree almost always leads to persistent angry minorities which leads to attempts to repress each other. I also think that "reasoned discussion" is also highly over-rated inasmuch as I know of almost no one whom has changed their mind about an important issue because of reasoned discussion. People do change their minds about important issues, but it's usually because of powerful emotional or empathetic experiences. In the last few years I've been leaning towards the idea of a 'Politics of Seduction" in which the idea is to convince/show others that a polycultural community is just a hell of a lot more fun then a community centered around certainty of identity.

I really doubt that geographical seperation is at all feasible. Even a state like Oregon went 47% for Bush. In theory you could try and turn someplace like Portland and it's foodshed into an independent City-State, but even then the suburbs were split pretty evenly between Bush and Kerry.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 5th, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)
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The problem I have with this is that an inability to respectfully disagree almost always leads to persistent angry minorities which leads to attempts to repress each other.

When you have PoVs that allow no common ground (a trivial example being GLBT people's loves and relationships are as valid as any other and who they love and marry is a purely private matter, vs. GLBT people are evil or deluded sinners who commit heinous acts and are filled with foul and unnatural desires). When you have that sort of situation, respect is pretty much impossible and I don't think it is useful or desirable, since no useful compromise is possible, any amount victory for one side is automatically an equal loss for the other side.

In issues where opinions are not so antithetical, mutual partial victories are possible and so compromise, agreement, and mutual satisfaction are all also possible. When such things become impossible, the whole social contract begins to break down. Welcome to the modern US.

I also think that "reasoned discussion" is also highly over-rated inasmuch as I know of almost no one whom has changed their mind about an important issue because of reasoned discussion.

From my PoV, it's not about (or particularly useful for) convincing people to change their minds. Instead, reasoned discussion is at the heart of the process whereby people with different but not antithetical ideas can work out a compromise on some issue that works equally well for all of them. As I mention in the first part of this response, sometimes that's impossible, and then the situation breaks down. We are sadly at that point now.
[User Picture]
From:heronheart
Date:October 6th, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC)
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To me the consequences of the internecine warfare which you seem to regard as inevitable would be far more destructive to civil society than the discourse which you (and I) find so troubling.

As one of the advocates of the UN put it, "Talk, talk, talk is far preferable to war, war, war."
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 7th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
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As I see it, civil discourse when the sides are this are apart is at best a zero-sum game. I'm becoming increasingly certain that the only way to avoid physical war is ideological war, where the goal is to utterly exterminate the other side's ideas. The fundys are hard at work on this, and I think it's time we did the same. This need have nothing to do with any sort of anti-Christian message - the Universalist Unitarians and the more liberal branch of the Episcopalian church are perfect examples of progressive Christianity.
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:October 5th, 2006 02:44 am (UTC)
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I view disagreement as not only natural but inevitible and useful. Without reservation, I feel the human race will always have the capacity for faction, and wherever scarcity exists, for war. Taken to the end of their logic, any ideology or policy leads to some harm to someone, somewhere, in an unjust manner.

I have no problem labeling beliefs such as Nazism or environmental rapine as not only stupid but also evil... I have no reservations about flattening any other ideology if it competes with my own, so I do not even offer polite pretenses to the most worthless (to me) opinions. However, I am happy to discuss the practical and philosophical dimenions of a wide variety of opinions with a wide variety of people.

I view society as existing in continual warfare. Any end, defined by whatever dimension as good, is accomplished by imposition on those who do not wish it.

Pracgmatically, politically, ethically speaking, I like democratic forms of government with strong checks and balances, weak federalism, a lack of will to "shape society" for the better, and a fairly accomodating nature to give the people what they want (food, shelter, health care, intelligent programming on TV). In short, my political utopia resembles a vast anarchism bubbling in a big, democratic-socialist pot with sprigs of capitalism.

However, my ideal form of government would be a complete autocracy with me in power. Obviously, I think my opinions are best, or I would choose better opinions. The problem of such governance, of course, is that I am not the only person in the world, or the smartest and most powerful, or a living deity. Further, the day to day agony of rulership would ultimately result in my abdication once I was fairly share I had prevented any possible "War on ___" during my lifetime, excepting the case where ___ is "a military enemy."

[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 5th, 2006 05:38 am (UTC)
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I view society as existing in continual warfare. Any end, defined by whatever dimension as good, is accomplished by imposition on those who do not wish it.

That's pretty much where we are now in the US, but as I mentioned in my response to heronheart, in a more ideal (and until fairly recently, considerably more common) sate of affairs, ideological and political conflicts need not be zero sum games and well-made compromises can result in mutual gain. However, when we have a culture war such as the US has been facing, to some degree for the past 25 years, and to a vast degree for the past 6 or 7, all that falls apart and is replaced by head-to-head conflict where compromise automatically equals mutual loss.
[User Picture]
From:heronheart
Date:October 6th, 2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
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I reject the idea that I (or any other reasonable person) should accept the full spectrum of opinions as acceptable, I regard some ideas as so repugnant that I regard anyone who holds them as a genuinely bad person and reject and suggestions that I change that opinion or even that having such an opinion is at all wrong or problematic. In fact, having bounds beyond which one is not willing to tolerate discourse seems an excellent idea and perhaps something that were it more common, might have prevented the current horrific state of US politics.

So would you regard these people as violating some absolute standard of morality or as simply being so wildly divergent from your own opinions as to be bad people and so deserving of repression?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:October 7th, 2006 12:50 am (UTC)
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I loathe and despise their policies and ways of life, but I also wouldn't care if they did not try to inflict it upon others who do not share their opinions or beliefs. So, I suppose it's a mixture of the two, with the emphasis being not on the message itself, but on the unwillingness to allow other ways of life to exist, at least not in the US.

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