Often I have a hard time explaining my politics to people. Or more factually, I’d rather avoid explaining my politics to people because I often find some point where I disagree with them. Or more exactly, I often find that my ideas fall apart and fail to conform with reality. Or, perhaps because I am an old fart now, I am beginning to understand why some views that I disagree with, at least initially, continue to persist.
You see, I’ve come to understand that opposing sides often have a large amount of truth. How else can it be that the right and left, after endless centuries of prosyletizing and explanation, continued to be baffled that the other side remains unconvinced. It irritates me that intellectuals on both sides of the fence think they’ve got all the answers. I guess the only thing I can really say is that Noam Chomsky oversimplifcations irritate me slightly less than George Will’s oversimplifications. I guess that makes me a Democrat. In truth what really makes me a Democrat is that I’ve been voting that way and have been attending party meetings for about 2 decades now.
Anyway, I find myself disagreeing, but often saying nothing except what I hope to be leading questions, with my friends about a lot things. I have friends who are more of a libertarian, annoyed, politically-incorrect, white (mostly they are white.) male stripe (I believe the trendy term for people of this ilk is “South Park Republicans.”) and I have friends who are more of the “anything corporations or the US foreign policy agencies, especially the military, does is unforgivably evil” stripe. I tend to fall silent or voice vague agreements when a friend of one stripe or the other begins to froth at the mouth. I force myself to remember that all of these people are intelligent and didn’t arrive at there positions without a lot of thought and experience. I know that when they froth, they are mostly right. I really can’t shoot down their positions entirely.
Yes, it is true that liberalized global trade sucks if you happen to be a worker in China or Nigeria; it pits workers in the post-industrial world against workers in the developing world. Yes, it is true that global trade is a fact and can, eventually, raise the living standards of these very same workers. See what I mean? These are both mostly true yet they are odds with one another. So I am stuck. So the controversy remains. If the answers were as simple as some make it out to be, there would be no controversy.
So I sit on the fence on a lot of these issues and take positions that would probably get me in trouble with some on one end or the other. For example, I am in favor of abortion and in favor of the death penalty. I am favor of appropriate technology and nuclear power. I am in favor of a person’s right to own a gun and in favor of regulation of gun ownership. On some issues, I am pretty clear on. I believe there should be much stronger separation of church and state than there is. Sorry but prayers in Congress and political figures saying, “god bless [fill in the blank]…” is endorsement of religion. But nearly everything else is a muddle of contradictory truths for me.
The Republicans are using the tired, old “Look! He waffles!” argument against Kerry. But, if anything, that makes me sympathize even more with Kerry. If you are really honest about the issues, you are forced to change your mind more than once. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not really paying attention and is dangerously arrogant. Yes, it is true that there are moments where things are devestatingly clear and in those moments we need leaders who are firm and unshakeable in their positions. But, on the flipside, it’s always hard to tell when fanaticism is appropriate or not.
I guess I am a political taoist. The truth is only catchable in little pieces and it’s always changing. Taoism argues that there are times for firm, unyielding hardness and order (Fanatics have their necessary place.) and there are times for vague, protean, pragmatic wafflers (Technocrats have their necessary place too.).
With that I’ve arrived precisely nowhere and everywhere. Sigh. Well, that’s where the world really is–paradox.