Politically, I never feel comfortable. I don’t feel comfortable with Republicans. I don’t feel comfortable with Democrats. I don’t feel comfortable with the traditional outliers either—anarchists, socialists, communists, green-partyists, etc. I’ve generally found the closest fit with progressive libertarians, but even there, I choose a seat close to the door.
I’m involved politically. I’m on six million political mailing lists. I belong to a few political organizations and groups. I’ve volunteered for campaigns, and I’ve been to all kinds of political events and rallies. And inevitably, no matter what group is hosting the event or what the primary issue is, something will eventually be said that makes me want to walk out.
So I’ve been thinking and thinking: what exactly bothers me so much? I can deal with people who disagree with me. Generally speaking, I even like it. I’ve got my copy of the Communist Manifesto right up there next to the U.S. Constitution and Federalist Papers. And I like some sparks here and there—it’s a reminder that we’re not dead yet.
What makes me uncomfortable is not debate. It’s the vibe I get regularly, from all quarters, that says “There is no debate. There’s only what I believe, which is right, and what those crazy/evil people believe, which is wrong.”
I have a problem with this kind of conviction. With this assumption that, uh, obviously a conclusion has been drawn/a solution is clear (where were you?), and not only that, but IT IS THE RIGHT ONE. You can argue all you want, but you’ll just be wrong. (All available evidence, past present and future, will be squished into whatever shape it needs to take in order to fit, truth be damned.)
I’m not a sophist: I am not arguing that all conclusions are equally right or true.
I’m not a nihilist: I’m not arguing that all solutions are meaningless.
And I’m not a fatalist: I believe we can definitely make a difference and effect change.
What I am is a skeptic. What I am is someone consistently willing to listen to a new argument, examine new evidence, and question myself. What I am is willing to admit that pretty much every solution is going to have drawbacks. You will never make everyone happy. You can’t solve everyone’s problems. Sometimes when you solve one issue, you create another. The life we’ve created for ourselves is too complicated for simple one-size-fits-all solutions.
If we care about truth and not just who can yell loudest, if we care about working with reality, if we care about building bridges with each other, we must try to reclaim real honesty—difficult in a world of pundits and polemics. We must try to put aside our personal hangups and histories and prejudices, and most of all we must put aside whatever it is that we want to be true. We must be open to the possibility that the conclusion we draw will sometimes be something that makes us uncomfortable or unhappy.
Truth is not easy. But it’s worth it.