AN INTERESTING EXPERIMENT

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. Last month we asked the following questions: What are the right’s cultural constructs? What are the left’s cultural constructs? What are the a priori premises upon which they each build these constructs? To sidestep motivated reasoning and avoid intellectual and social gridlock, it is useful for Progressives to know these things. Of course, different studies use different words to describe different concepts in different ways. In other words, this line of inquiry is a can of worms., but perseverance does yield actionable results. The core of the onion appears to be a combination of first, one’s attitude about how dangerous the world is, and second, one’s pessimism or optimism about human nature.

If you believe (likely at a subconscious level) that the world is, essentially, a dangerous place, and that humans are naturally prone to evil, then you will tend to be authoritarian, dogmatic, and comfortable with social/political/economic rank. After all, simple, straightforward, unambiguous beliefs, rules and regulations, leadership by the “most capable” among us, and authority-sanctioned punishment keep evil human tendencies boxed up, and the dangerous world at bay. According to an article by Jonathan Haidt at Edge.org entitled “What Makes People Vote Republican,” the patron saint of this moral system is sociologist Emile Durkheim. Haidt writes, “A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures. A Durhheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one’s groups over concerns for outgroups…The basic social unit is the…hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions.”

What a bunch of reactionary narrow-mindedness! But…wait a minute. “Self-control,” “duty,” “loyalty,” and “family” actually don’t sound so bad…

If, on the other hand, you find the world more interesting than terrifying and you believe that humans are naturally prone to good, then you will tend to be individualistic, comfortable with ambiguity, and concerned, above all, about fairness and reciprocity. According to Haidt, your patron saint is John Stuart Mill, and a Millian society at its best would be “a peaceful, open and creative place where diverse individuals respect each other’s rights and band together voluntarily…to help those in need or to change the laws for the common good.”

Now that’s what I’m talkin about! But…wait a minute. Individualism can devolve into excessive self-focus and comfort with ambiguity can lead to formlessness and world’s gone wild. I mean, how many more choices (flavors, colors, apps, sizes, models) will we be deluged with before we all drown?

As it turns out, nobody has the monopoly on morality or truth, and either side could destroy the world if left unchecked. Go figure. It just so happens that the far right appears to be way closer to accomplishing this right now than the far-left. Progressives need to step in and help save the world alright, but first they need to understand that trying to mercilessly and publicly crush patently absurd arguments with crystalline logic will, because of motivated reasoning on both sides, probably accomplish little. Instead, the secret may be to deploy logic in a more mindful and self-restrained manner, to put oneself in the other’s shoes and couch one’s appeals in language the other side can relate to.

So, instead of “Big oil and gas are destroying our planet and endangering billions because of greed and you’re too stupid to understand that!” we might try, “You know in Job we read ‘But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. (12.7-10)’” And Isaiah must have been pretty upset when he said, “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (24.5).” What covenant you ask? To be good stewards of creation for one thing.

The Bible a little too much to handle? Okay, try the Gipper. According to The Malthusian Moment: Global Population Growth and the Birth of American Environmentalism, by Thomas Robertson, Ronald Reagan, in a 1970 business magazine, wrote, “Americans at last are beginning to realize man can no longer ignore his own damaging impact on his overall environment…We have permitted air and water pollution to become a national disgrace – a peril that threatens permanently to alter the delicate balance of ecology that preserves a livable natural environment.” Reagan was so right, and saw this coming so long ago!

Reagan make you queasy? Consider a little bit of commentary on world events: “Those crazy Chinese, with their pollution so bad they had to shut down over 800 factories for two weeks in order to get clean air for three days for the 2014 APEC summit in Beijing! Just another example of how communism is a self-serving sham perpetrated by an out-of-touch, greedy elite. Thank goodness America is more self-aware and sensible than that!”

These are perhaps not the best crafted examples – this is undiscovered country for many of us – but none of them contradict Progressive beliefs or values. And there is no shortage of raw material to use or conservatives to practice on. Logically speaking, what is the goal here? To continue to talk past one another while Rome burns, or to fix things? To save the world or to feel morally and intellectually superior while tearing out head hair in frustration?

Besides, if anyone can pull this off, Progressives can, because we are intelligent and logical and open-minded, and right about so many things. And humble…I forgot humble. What do we have to lose? It would be, if nothing else, an interesting experiment.

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