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the harrison review

thinking inside the box

July 26, 2020

Andrew Harrison


~~~my preferred labels are…...~~~

        As an introductory aside, please forgive (to the extent that you find distasteful) the use of the handy labels of conservative and liberal, ‘right’ and ‘left’.  I truly know of no reasonable alternative for summarily gesturing in one direction or the other of the political/social/religious spectrum.  And for what it’s worth, I do actually condone the use of these broad labels.  I think they serve a useful purpose, but I’ll have to defend that opinion at another place and time.

~~~breaking right~~~

        I lean right.  Sometimes I lean so far right that I nearly fall over.  And like nearly everyone else, I suppose, I inherited my lean from my family and my various subcultures.  My Facebook feed reflects a lifetime of these connections, and they of course lean right too.  So, on George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, I see a mix of posts in support of law enforcement alongside posts that decry racism; on COVID, for the most part there’s deferment to expert opinion, but also a smattering of ‘expert skepticism’ and mask-hating and election-year-conspiracy suspicion.  And of course the Trump faithful are in full force, ready for election season.

But I don’t lean right for the sake of leaning right; those beliefs that I hold today, though initially absorbed from my surroundings by way of induction, have since then either continued on, or been modified, based on a fresh reexamination of the issues.  Ultimately, I’d surely rather aim at *being* right than being *on* the ‘right’.  When being on the ‘right’ is wrong, it’s time to leave.  I don’t do dogma.  But still, here I find myself, enjoying George Will more often than E.J. Dionne.

~~~let’s try it again, but with less screaming~~~
        As someone trying to contribute in a meaningful way to the social conversation, a fundamental goal of mine is to really engage with those on ‘the other side’, whatever the domain: social issues, politics, religion, and whether Casino Royale is the best Bond movie (hint: it is).  I don’t want to say what ‘most people’ do, but I’m inclined to think that a default behavior for a large chunk of the population (see, I didn’t say ‘most people’) is for those of like mind to rally around each other, perpetually reinforcing their existing beliefs, whether by promoting their side or by vilifying the other side in some inflammatory way.  More or less, basically what we are accustomed to seeing in American politics.  It’s all black and white, very little subtlety, all heroes and villains. And 90% of this requires little more than hitting ‘Share’ on social media; no need to develop your own homegrown stuff (on an unrelated note, please do continue to share The Harrison Review).
To be clear, I am not discouraging all waving of your side’s flag or any criticism of the other side.  I’m not even saying that much of our social and political activity shouldn’t involve genuine ‘opposition’.  But even in a context of opposition, we can achieve a social discourse that is constructive, fair, and civil.  If you see a villain on the other side, by all means vilify him.  But if you find yourself with any level of frequency comparing those on the other side of the aisle to Hitler, that might be worth a second look.  We are so quick to attribute hidden motives and deception to our adversaries, without considering even the possibility that their convictions, whether right or wrong, may be honestly held.

And to our disadvantage, many if not most of our political leaders, with the media following suit (both mainstream and sidestream) set the tone for our mode of interaction: tossing grenades over the wall at the other side, rather than working toward any meaningful engagement.  For many years now, social commentators have decried the polarization of our politics and our culture, but I wonder if the damage from this polarization lies not as much in the *substance* of our differences, as in the accompanying *behavior* when responding to those differences.  (Please do take that as the comparative claim that it is, though, and not as a diminishing of the impact of the views themselves.)

~~~liberals are people too~~~

(for left-leaning readers, substitute ‘conservatives’)

I want engagement with those who hold an opposing viewpoint to mine.  I want left-leaning readers because I want left-leaning criticism.  I’m not just looking to evangelize and convert.  As a pluralistic, intentionally messy society, we are in desperately short supply of bi-directional listening and sharing and criticism.  Conservatives are better conservatives to the extent that they listen and honestly consider the liberal point of view, and vice versa.  Religious adherents of whatever stripe do well to commune, if not worship, with those of different faiths.  One helpful approach is not to let the only thing that you know about the other side be *your side's* representation of the other side.  If a Christian wants to understand an Islamic point of view, it helps to actually hear from a Muslim at some point!

~~~i hear singing~~~
        The slogan here is not "Can't we all just get along?”  The end game does not look like everyone sitting around a campfire holding hands, drowning out our differences in a mass chorus of “Kumbaya.”  That seems potentially even more irresponsible than the open warfare we see so much of today.  But it also doesn't look like a fight that just broke out in the high school cafeteria.  So, if we’re not going to hold hands, we might instead start with a handshake.  Our differences are sharp, but they are too important to settle either by ignoring or by a punch in the face.  Neither of those accomplishes anything, so we find a modus vivendi that marries the disparate activities of opposition and partnership.  Maybe it's high time we start thinking outside the box.  And I’m sure that the views represented on this site will unsettle right-leaning thinkers too on occasion.  That’s okay.  With a little luck, I’ll avoid ending up the only person left in the room.

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