I try to avoid talking about politics for the most part, because virtually nobody is open to changing their minds about anything. In times like these, though, these conversations seem unavoidable. Of those conversations, I've found approximately two people who I feel are reasonable when they talk about politics. I agree mostly with one of them and with the other I agree on some things but disagree on many big ones (we favored different candidates in 2016).
I think that our country is doing great (and has been for a long time), but that doesn't mean that it's without its problems. One of the problems that concerns me most is that politics have become a team sport, with fervent allegiance to one's party being more important than the policies it enacts. Worse, neither side will concede anything to the other. The other side is evil and does everything wrong, we do everything right.
If we could talk more reasonably with each other, perhaps we could find compromises, respect people who hold different beliefs, and understand that most people are trying to do what is best for themselves, their families, their friends, and the country.
The first thing that needs to change is that both sides need to admit that their solutions have downsides, and that the other view is generally based on logic and good intentions.
For example, I personally believe that any woman should be able to have an abortion for any reason, at least through the first or second trimester.
However, I don't think that there's a clear point at which we can say a baby is an individual. I'd argue that it's not at conception, but I've seen illustrations of fetus development in the third trimester and I think I'd personally have a problem encouraging an abortion of a fetus that looked that much like a baby.
Republicans don't hate women, and Democrats aren't wanton murderers. They just disagree on when a fetus becomes a baby, and possibly the rights of that organism versus the rights of the host. Although I'd be comfortable with many abortions that the average Republican wouldn't be, I should also be able to understand why they wouldn't be comfortable with them and respect that.
So if I were to discuss abortion with someone who was against them in all cases, I would admit the cons of my stance and the pros of theirs, while arguing that the pros and cons of my stance made it better for the country. If they're calling me a baby killer while I'm calling them a religious zealot who hates women, we aren't being reasonable.
Another example would be Obamacare. I personally don't like Obamacare and would like to see it repealed. However, I don't have the right to advocate for that stance unless I admit that if it were repealed, some people would die. Likewise, if you're in favor of Obamacare, you must admit that many people are paying far more money for insurance before, and that it is affecting their lives in serious ways.
Now we can talk about the cost vs benefit, as well as alternatives. I personally loved the old system (although it had serious problems, of course), but would also be open to fully socialized medicine. In my mind the cost vs benefit for both of those is better than what we have now.
It's also important to admit when you don't really know, rather than agree full force with whatever your party believes.
For example, I don't have a strong opinion on the so-called Muslim ban. On one hand, terrorism doesn't seem to be a huge problem here (when you look at the total number of deaths compared to almost any other way Americans die), so it doesn't seem like letting in refugees and other travelers would cause any problems.
On the other hand, I have zero classified intelligence, the president has all of it, and all recent presidents have thought that terrorism is a huge problem. So temporarily blocking immigrants from countries which intelligence says are more likely to be sending terrorists seems like a reasonable approach if we agree with the premise that terrorism is a big problem.
If you are arguing this point and are unwilling to concede that banning immigrants from these countries is not going to mostly be banning innocent people who could contribute meaningfully to our country, I think you're not being reasonable. At the same time, if you think the ban is derived from racism rather than classified intelligence, I also think you're not being reasonable.
If you want to discuss politics and your goal is not to get into a shouting match where you can feel self-righteous and superior to your idiot friend (who you, curiously, respect in every other field), maybe your primary goal should be to be reasonable. Accept that your friend's motivations are probably benevolent, that there is a trade-off in every decision, and that reasonable people could believe that different sides of that equation carry more weight.
Is it worth providing women with easy access to abortions, which will certainly improve their health and economic well-being on average, if the cost is that we are killing organisms that many people believe are humans? I think so, but I see the other side.
Is it worth providing healthcare to every American at a high cost through a confusing process? I don't think so, but I see the other side.
Is it worth temporarily banning immigrants and travelers from certain countries our government thinks are high risk? I have a weak opinion that it's probably not, but am mostly sure that I don't have a well-informed opinion and that no other civilians really do either.
In all of these cases, as well as so many more, it's important that we acknowledge the benefits as well as drawbacks of each plan and discuss those rationally. I think that's how we help narrow the divide between the parties and elect politicians that are palatable to both sides. Is that possible? I'm not sure.
Photo is a cool salami slicer in the middle of the restaurant at Laci Konyha in Budapest. Go for lunch when it's way cheaper than dinner. Amazing food and experience.
"I personally don't like Obamacare and would like to see it repealed. However, I don't have the right to advocate for that stance unless I admit that if it were repealed, some people would die."
You are not acknowledging the point of view of the other side. You are only admitting that "some people" might face one consequence - death. What about personal bankruptcy? What about lifelong health issues? How many people is "some people"? 10, 10 thousands or 10 millions?
It seems to me that the sentence "some people would die" conveniently minimizes the "cons" of your political opinion.
My point is not to argue over health insurance. I live in Europe and don't really care. My point is that you are not as reasonable as you think you are. All your pros and cons are very heavily biased. Unfortunately, you do not really understand the other side.
Yes, political opinions are based on good intentions and (more rarely) logic. But most often, the stronger factors are ignorance and preconceptions (from religion, social background, etc.).
You have to be wary of creating false equivalencies... Any solution will have pros and cons, but you have to be specific (and reality-based) about the nature of the pros and cons.
On Healthcare, for instance, there are two troubling issues: 1) You don't acknowledge (or perhaps even know about) the reality of the increases in insurance rates under Obama as compared with what happened before. And 2) You seem to place more value on the wealthy's money than on people's lives.
Point one is that, under Bush, 'the way it was before' that you liked so well, premiums increased by 99 percent. Under Obama, with Obamacare, they increased by 59 percent. Comparing increases under Obama to a flat line ain't good reasonin'. It should be compared to reality, and, compared to what came before, it did a better job of managing price.
Point two is more philosophical, but when the cons on one side are dead people, and the cons on the other side are the supposed-increases in costs to the well-off... That's displaying a value system that some would consider troubling. Fortunately for you, you don't have to worry about it anymore, since you should now realize that your assumption that prices increased more under Obamacare than under the previous system was wrong, so the 'con' isn't even really valid.
Of course, Obamacare with a public option would be better than Obamacare without... Single Payer would probably be better than that as well. But one party (and Independent Joe Lieberman... darn you Joe!...he's why there's no public option in Obamacare) dragged us to the worse options. Obamacare's better than what came before, since it covers more people with better price management. The only REAL con relative to whatcamebefore is the complexities for some of a transition in the system. If folks think avoiding That is more important than people's lives and better overall price management... Those priorities seem really out of whack.
I love reading your posts but when you live in a country in which the top 0.1 % own as much as the bottom 90% how can you say that your country is "doing great" ?
I know you're asking Tynan, but I'm chiming in with my opinion. I think that even though your statistic may be true or close to true, the amount of the wealth owned by percentage doesn't always quantify to quantity or quality of life. I personally think the wealth distribution as far as percentage distributed and amount distributed to certain fields of work (basketball players, movie stars, CEO's) is wrong in many ways. At the same time, I make almost 100K per year in an expensive city (top 5 as far as cost of living goes), and I think I deserve to get paid more for my work, but at the same time I budget consciously and although I can't afford a house here, I live a great lifestyle, work 3 days a week, go on a lot of vacations and I'm still in the bottom 90%.
Start writing your reply here...
I couldn't agree more. Many people—including of course many intelligent people—seem to be so committed to their political "side" that they've almost lost the ability to process political information in other terms. On issues like abortion or the travel ban, people are generally willing to tolerate much sloppier and more hyperbolic reasoning than they would be willing to tolerate in apolitical contexts, when it comes from their own side, and demand much more exact and nuanced reasoning than they would demand in apolitical contexts when it comes from the other side... People spend all their time reading news outlets that offer loads of that sloppy/hyperbolic reasoning that they already agree with, and sit back and laugh at everyone else for their own pundits' (and politicians') similar imperfections.
One fix, that people keep trying, is to set up a politics/news website that's neutral and objective and above the fray (like Vox, which claims to "explain the news"). But of course eventually that site becomes associated with a "side" (the left, in Vox's case), and then everything they publish is attacked by outlets on the other side, and the readers segregate, and we're back to square one.
Not to be spammy, but I recently made a site I'm calling Banter, which takes the opposite approach. It's a wiki for politics that presents issues as the trees of partisan arguments they really are, so that the user is sort of forced to look at arguments from both sides at once. I don't know whether it'll work yet, but what do you guys think of something like that?
I found the comments a little disturbing here and in exact evidence of what Tynan is trying to note isn't helping.
The argument seems to be that being reasonable means seeing each side has pros and cons, and recognizing the trade offs. Being reasonable seems to mean that each side has noble intentions but simply disagrees about the specifics.
The irony is the partisan responses in the comments do not address these two aspects of being reasonable and instead focus on arguing about abortion and health care.
These topics are fiery, clearly. But if folks had read the blog post, I think the comments might try to emulate the suggested tone and rhetoric that Tynan wrote about.
Weird, frustrating, and a perfect example of why things aren't really working.
Tynan, I almost see your argument as a plea for some sort of Bayesian analysis of the topics. Pretty hard to achieve.
One thing that has served me really well in life is to simply not have a strong opinion about something I haven't invested time and energy into researching, both from a protagonizing (not a word) and antagonizing perspective. In my mind, having an opinion on something you don't know about is the definition of stupidity.
This might frustrate people who are really rooting for one team vs the other, but I find this attitude really resonates with people who are smart, open minded, and interested in the truth above all else. It's also a great business attitude.
Valuable post Tynan. Wish more people got it.
I absolutely love this post, Tynan. I encountered the same problem that I have trouble finding almost anybody who I can have a reasonable discussion about politics with. And I have never been able to fully subscribe to any political party, because none of them comes even close to being reasonable in every situation, they all have their ideologies in certain subjects that they just cannot seem to move away from even in the light of contradicting information.
Hope to meet you here in Europe one day, so we can talk politics ;)
We don't really get a definition of what it means to be 'reasonable' - so I'm not really sure what is meant.
Tynan, this post may be my favorite of all you've written. Your wise, gentle words should be required reading for all children and adults. I despair of our wretchedly virulent political atmosphere.
Well you are a sophisticated world traveller so you must know how most other progressive countries have universal healthcare (and higher taxes).... All that tolerant rationalizing and intellectualizing is very idealistic. But what is the point of it? Is civility an end in itself....Nobody thinks that reasonable, polite discussions did, or would have done, much to stop Hitler, Mussolini etc. In some situations politeness is useless if not inappropriate....surely?
Great post Tynan. I also only know one 'reasonable' person when it comes to politics. We supported different candidates, but when we talk about politics we calmly and respectfully discuss individual issues, rather than shouting each other down and feeling self-righteous.
I'm very surprised that you only have one or two such friends, however. I assumed that of all people YOU would have reasonable friends. I assumed that there is like a secret inner group of reasonable people that you might know. If there's not, well...that's depressing.
Just for fun, here are all of my political views. I'm not super into politics at all - in fact before Bush started screwing everything up, I had zero interest in them. I definitely haven't done enough research to have definitive stances on most of these things, so take them with a grain of salt.
This is the one I care about the most. Our tax system is extremely screwed up. Did you know that we're one of only TWO countries in the world who tax their citizens if they don't live in the country or make money in the country? If I spend a year traveling the world, making money online, I STILL have to pay taxes in the US (there's a partial exemption that it's possible to qualify for).
I've got to be honest with you - I don't really like politics anyways. Governance, I like governance. I believe in good governance. But I don't believe in good politics - in fact, I don't even think there is such a thing as good politics. Politics can certainly be bad or stupid or destructive, but almost never good. Diplomacy can be good. Governance can be good. Politics can at best strive not to be bad, stupid, and destructive; it can't ever be good.
Yet, sometimes I'll see a discussion on some outpost of the internet that I visit, and then I might be tempted to jump in. From now on, new policy - no trying to persuade anyone of my politics. Instead, I'll look to share some historical background or references I've read or learned about that I find valuable, and let people mostly draw their own conclusions. Maybe I'll share my own views if I've already given a number of relevant examples.
But no more just trying to convince someone their politics are mistaken - it doesn't work, and besides, I don't like politics anyways. I should talk governance with people with historical examples, not politics. Governance is good. That's something I can get behind, good governance. Politics, not so much.