Gongol.com Archives: September 2022

Brian Gongol

September 29, 2022

The United States of America We just don't agree...yet

The way some people talk about their political rivals, one might get the impression that the United States was being overrun by evildoers bent on a level of plunder and destruction not seen since Genghis Khan. It isn't hard to find outlets sensationalizing that narrative on television, radio, websites, and social media. But it hardly comports with the lived reality of anyone who really pays attention. ■ People can be wrong about a lot of things. Good people. Even ourselves. But the leap from "Good person with whom I disagree" to "Evil person out to destroy everything I hold dear" is too easily and too often taken by the people clamoring to get famous, rich, or powerful by fanning the flames of existential angst. ■ There is no other individual with whom any thinking person agrees on every subject. Not a spouse. Not a parent. Not a best friend. Nobody should even agree completely with themselves, at least not over the course of time. Benjamin Franklin's advice to "Let every new year find you a better man" should be a reminder to shed old ideas when new evidence, better arguments, or the accumulation of wisdom compel us. ■ But just as a conscientious person ought to be tough on his or her old self, so too ought they to be forgiving of others who haven't come to the same conclusions. Sometimes, it's only a matter of "not yet" -- who doesn't hold a few cockamamie ideas as a young person? (And it's even more important now to be forgiving of past indiscretions, now that 13-year-olds can share their dumbest opinions on Facebook or become "influencers" before they can write cursive.) ■ Sometimes those differences will soften or even disappear with time. Sometimes they will persist. But aside from the extreme cases of the truly psychopathic and anti-social, most people are neither as different from one another as they might seem, nor as inclined to cause harm as the agitation propagandists would have us believe. ■ When the propagandists make claims like "They hate you" or "They're trying to destroy the country", it's imperative to ask: Who are "they", and where precisely are all of these supposedly terrible people hiding? In the workplace? At church? Around the neighborhood? In the bowling league? ■ If even one out of every hundred people at your place of worship seemed like a real evildoer, wouldn't their presence stand out? If every ten people with whom you did business included at least one real crook, wouldn't that raise serious alarm? If every residential block or floor of an apartment building were home to someone you could legitimately fear were out to destroy the Constitution itself, could that escape your attention? ■ A self-governing society can contain a whole lot of differences, even very large ones, as long as the people inside it are capable of distinguishing between a bad idea and a bad person. The mindset of "You just don't agree with me...yet" works a lot of magic to bring differences into their proper perspective. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were able to reconcile after a bitter rivalry. Stephen A. Douglas rallied support for Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause. Harry Truman enlisted Herbert Hoover to help reorganize the Executive Branch. ■ There's nothing wrong with spirited arguments -- those are a feature of the system, rather than a bug. Robust debate is a basic ingredient to successful decision-making among self-governing people. But there is something awfully wrong about assuming levels of bad faith (or worse) that have no basis in evidence. If anyone were surrounded by the same ratio of actual evil in real life that the agitators would have us believe, then perpetual crisis really would be at hand. Sensible people keep their wits about them by realizing there is no such tidal wave of malfeasance.

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