Finding Humility for the Sake of Positive Partisanship

by Kyle Moore

(Note: this post is MOSTLY ripped straight from my comments to one of Scott’s earlier posts)

I wanted to make I suppose an emphasis to this great post. Early on you posit that in order for good partisanship to occur, all sides have to do so respecting essentially the multiple facets of an issue, and appreciate what people outside of one’s own ideology can bring to that discussion.

I would like to emphasize a slightly different angle because I think it’s a little more important. You talk about it, but in sort of a roundabout way. Positive partisanship comes from willfully recognizing that one’s own ideology can be wrong.

This is a much more difficult step than respecting others; respecting others merely requires that you cede they not be necessarily wrong all the time. Understanding (and I don’t mean in the superficial we’re all human and make mistakes way) that our own ideas can be flawed and wrong is ultimately much more difficult.

Why? Because they’re our ideas. My ideas are, well, my ideas. I have them because I think they are right and further, I don’t think I’m an idiot. If I didn’t think my ideas were right, I would get different ideas, or at least ditch the ones that I have in favor of general neutrality. But, if I hold tight to one of my ideas, and it turns out that that idea is wrong, that ultimately means that I am flawed.

It’s a harsh judgement, especially in a hubris riddled realm such as politics, but risking that judgement I think is a necessity in creating an arena of truly beneficial partisanship.

To which, Scott had the following follow-up question:

A follow up question is how do we keep ourselves nimble around the limitations of our own perspectives?

That’s a tougher question. It’s relatively easy for me because I’m a neurotic with severe confidence problems and an aversion to responsibility. My hubris borders on narcissistic conceit right up until the ideas that serve as the foundation of that hubris are put to the test at which point it all crumbles down.

But I think there are two very important points that people should keep in mind.

1) Faith is a strong thing, but the world we live in relies more on empirical data and real world accounting than faith. That is to say that ideology is often treated with the same kind of zealous devotion as religion is. In religion and faith, belief is often enough and the dogma will carry you the rest of the way. But with policy, an unending supply of faith does not guarantee the preferred outcome.

Like the quote regarding the US occupation of Iraq; “Failure may not be an option, but it damn well may be the outcome.”

The first step to putting things in the right perspective is understanding that there are such things as right answers and wrong answers. They are usually complex, and there are multiple examples of each for any situation, but at the end of the day we have to come to the understanding that the results can prove or disprove a theory, and that a theory should not be maintained on mere faith alone.

2) We also have to understand that the world is an ever changing place, and that what may have failed in the past could work in the future and vice versa. True, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, but it’s also true that people make false analogies out of history, and fail to come to grips with the fact that just because you can draw a few parallels between what’s happening now and what happened eighty years ago doesn’t mean that the two events are exactly the same.

I say this because one of the ways in which followers of one ideology like to shut down an opposing ideology is by saying, “Well, liberalism has already failed,” or “Conservatism has already been proven wrong,” and then citing examples.

This may seem contradictory to my first point, but in reality it’s not. We can say that torture is bad, why? Because historically it doesn’t work, and there’s a lot of data to back this up, and besides it’s sort of not in keeping with the principles of this country. There are both clear moral and empirical factors to back up the assertion that torture is a failed policy.

But let’s look at the economic situation we have here. The hardest of the hard core idealogues are running each other over the coals as there is this great debate over how to pull ourselves out of the fire. Interestingly enough, both sides dismiss the other by claiming that somewhere through history each others’ ideological solutions have already failed. Some will cite the Depression, others will go as recently as the Bush Administration.

What they all fail to recognize is that this specific moment in which we inhabit is not something that is 100% reproducable throughout the rest of our history. There are significant difference, from the internet to the rules of the economic road that make this problem unique from the past.

As such, we have to take into account the fact that while some things in the past have worked, and others haven’t, it’s important to understand and apply that data, but it’s also important to understand that historical data cannot be seen as a categorical filter of ideas.

And perhaps a third and final point. Everyone in politics is so preoccupied in pushing their own agenda I wonder if anyone asks themselves the simple question, “what could go wrong?” The best way to strengthen one’s own ideas and arguments is to poke holes in them and then try to plug the leaks. So perhaps we would all be better if we treated our own approaches and solutions with the heavy skepticism that our critics apply, and if nothing else that could grant us the humility necessary to recognize that some people will have the answers we don’t.

Finally, as a closer, I wanted to address motoko_chan’s comment to Mark’s post:

“viewing ideology as a rule of construction allows us to “talk about the same thing,” and thereby to arrive at solutions that, to the extent possible, are tailored to advance one or more core principles without hurting other core principles. ”
But this is simply impossible when one side’s arguments are not based on logic and reason, but on superstitious belief and the historical right of imposing those beliefs on other citizens.

This is why, as I point out above, there are two necessities: a willingness to accept the fallibility in one’s own thinking, and a general ability to accept that in a debate sometimes compromise is not the desirable outcome but instead a thorough drubbing of one idea set by another.

I point out that there are definitive right answers and wrong answers.  In today’s political landscape, often those right answers can be found somewhere in between two polarized sides, but there are times when there really is no question that one side is undoubtedly wrong, and one side is undoubtedly right.

For the sake of this argument, I will not posit any examples because one of the difficulties of this subject is that for everyone those instances where right and wrong are perfectly clear are themselves up for debate.

Oh, all right.  I’m sorry, science class is for science, for teaching the philosophy of the scientific method, and those bits of knowledge we have gained from employing that method throughout our existence.  Creationism, Intelligent design, etc. is little more than an attempt to deligitimize science by blurring the very clear line that exists between the two.

That, in my opinion, is a point where one side is wrong and one side is right (and I do not intend this to hijack subject thread.  If you want to argue whether dinosaurs and man coexisted, and whether that should be taught in Biology, I will oblige with a fresh subject and post on the matter).

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