Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Column 2: Who Exactly Are the Fuzzy Thinkers?

Who Exactly Are the Fuzzy Thinkers?
By Ed Gurowitz

After my first column last week, a lot of kind folks were very complimentary, and even some that I know don’t agree with me politically acknowledged the virtues of having a balanced political presentation in the Bonanza. What surprised me, though, was the number of people who thanked me for speaking out “for them.” This got me wondering – what is it in the political climate that has people who consider their views liberal so reluctant to speak out?

I think the answer lies in the nature of the discourse. Political discussions are often presented as if they were based on facts when they really aren’t. “Same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage,” versus “Everyone has a right to marry whomever they choose.” Or “Abortion is murder” versus “The right to choose is absolute.” Usually the conservative argument is presented as based on absolute truth, and the liberal argument is based on absolute rights. Neither, in my opinion, is correct. I spend a lot of time in my consulting work getting people to look at the difference between facts and what I’ll call interpretations [or opinions, conclusions, explanations, points of view] and the possibility that what really makes the difference is not the facts but how we relate to or interpret the facts.

The point is that arguing about facts has different implications than arguing about interpretations. Arguing about facts is pointless – a fact is a fact or it isn’t, end of story. Arguing about interpretations is equally pointless if the argument is about which interpretation is right or better. An argument about interpretation is an argument about values, and everyone is entitled to determine their own values. To argue about whose values are “right” leads to fundamentalism and fanaticism – that is what is at the heart of terrorism. You and I can disagree about values, even fundamental values, and that doesn’t make either of us a bad person. In a democracy, the founding values of the country are overriding, and then, ideally, the values of the majority determine policy and the values of the minority are protected and respected. Political discourse serves to explicate and promote differing sets of values in the hope of changing minds.

Conservatives seem to present their values as if they were facts and to characterize disagreement as wrong-headed, ignorant, or malicious. Demonization of opposing views has moved from the fringe of political conversation to the mainstream, and is used as a weapon by both sides, though it remains with the fringe or extreme elements of the left, while on the right it has become a weapon of choice. Beginning with the red-baiting and blacklisting of the 1950’s, the right seems to have found it easier to name-call, smear, and attempt to destroy those who disagree with them than to engage with them. As an example, the campaign to discredit Senator Kerry’s war service in the face of overwhelming evidence, President Bush’s acknowledgement, and the Navy Department’s validation that his service was honorable and his medals deserved. Those on the right seem to take an attitude that “the end justifies the means,” which excuses them from any responsibility to be truthful if they can demonize their opponent enough to justify knocking him out of the race, thereby saving the world from the scourge of liberalism.

As a liberal who is a trained scientist and places a high value on facts and clear thinking, I don’t think I am particularly “fuzzy-headed,” and neither are the liberal thinkers and writers that I have read. Yes, each side has its lunatic fringe, but the tendency to lie and smear seems for the most part to have found a home on the right, at the cost of intelligent discussion of the merits or the arguments.

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