What do you think is the most important problem facing the U.S. today?
Is it the national debt? Is it racism? Illegal immigration? The “war on women”? Same sex marriage? Global warming/climate change? The size and scope of government?
My view is that it is none of these things. Furthermore, I believe that each of these problems have solutions, but only if one other problem is solved first. However, if this other problem is not solved first, none of the problems above will ever be solved.
What is this problem that has to be solved first?
Very simply, it is having each of us consider the arguments and proposals of others, completely separately from who is offering the argument or proposal.
You can try this out for yourself right now. How did you view what I just wrote? Did you completely consider what I wrote, without any regard whatsoever to trying to figure out what side of the political spectrum I’m on? Furthermore, would you agree more or less with what I wrote if you found out that I was a progressive? Would you agree more or less with what I wrote if you found out I was a member of the Tea Party?
What difference does that make?
Whether what I wrote is true or not true should exist completely independently of my political philosophy.
Consider what happens if we have the major part of an entire country's population that cannot even consider half of the proposed solutions to the country’s problems, because those proposals came from someone with the wrong label. That’s what I believe is happening now in the U.S.
I’ll give you an example.
A few months ago, President Obama was forced to admit that his claims were not true that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” and “if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan”.
That the president had repeatedly said things that were not true was in no way at all a surprise to me. Of course you wouldn’t be able to keep your doctor and of course you wouldn’t be able to keep your health plan. What was the surprise? Yet, one after another, I watched seemingly shell-shocked Democrat politicians in all sincerity come on TV and say that they were surprised. Given the looks on their faces, I believed them; they were indeed surprised.
How in the world could they be surprised!?!! In my view, being able to keep one’s doctor and health plan (in addition to having the cost go down while the services go up), in any system run by a government is preposterous. Additionally, conservatives, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party members (together, perhaps making up more than half the country) had been warning that all this was impossible and they’ve been doing it ad nauseam for 4 years.
How in the world is it that these seemingly intelligent, sincere Democrats of good will had completely missed the warnings? How could they so completely tune out what half the country was saying?
Simple. They believed that they didn’t have to consider the viewpoints of the opposition because anyone who had contrary views would have to be evil, racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-progress, anti-science, or a combination of all these things. Their positions could therefore not be worthy of consideration.
Do you have a better theory?
Another example: I was on the phone yesterday with an extremely bright healthcare executive. He told me his belief that one of the biggest problems in the U.S. is that we’re over-regulated and that the Affordable Care Act will never work because centrally planning something as complex as healthcare would be impossible. Then, in the very next sentence, he told me (without any sense of contradiction or irony) that the reason the Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act is because they “won’t follow a black president”.
Given my two examples, you have almost certainly figured out my political views. I hope that after doing so, if you oppose my political views, you are still reading this. I’m quite certain that those of you on the left can come up with many examples of conservatives not listening to your arguments. Please, after choosing some such examples, come up with a way to convince people on the other side, like me, to listen to your arguments. It’s very important for each side to consider the others’ positions -- completely independently from the political philosophy of who is making them.
As an example of how to do this, taken from the perspective of a conservative, here's my proposal:
First, let’s begin by stating what doesn’t work: what we’ve been doing up until now. If it did work, I wouldn’t have seen those puzzled and surprised Democrats on TV that I mentioned earlier . They would have considered what the other side had been telling them for years. Instead, they simply elected not to hear it. The same holds for my friend on the telephone. He would either have come up with a different conclusion as to why Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act or he would have simply agreed with the Republicans (which, actually, he did, on the merits, although he didn’t see it).
What also most certainly won’t work: doing what we’ve been doing in the past, only louder. In the view of people who disagree with us, we will still be perceived as racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., only loud racists, homophobes, etc.
A third possibility: Do we try to convince them that we’re not the racist homophobes they perceive us to be? Almost certainly, that won’t work, either. They’re already 100% convinced that we are what they think we are. It’s very difficult to prove a negative, and arguing about this just gets us bogged down in unproductive discussions.
What then, should we do?
In my view, we have to engage those who disagree with us in a way that skirts the issue of what to them is our unworthiness, and rather goes directly to their proposals and forces them to think through what they are proposing, as opposed to what we’re proposing.
We have to get them to consider the argument, without regard to who is making the argument. To do that, we should start with their argument. No, not to attack it, but to get them to convince us of its merits.
- Engage those with whom you disagree with kindness. Don't be defensive.
- Tell them that you accept that they want to do good in the world. This should be easy. Most of them do want to do good in the world and see their views as the best way to accomplish it.
- Ask them for their policy for doing good (which will most certainly include a larger, more powerful and intrusive government).
- Ask them if it is a good idea before doing something, to have some good reason to believe that it will work. (If they say “no”, there’s not much point in continuing; the person you’re speaking with is not open to reason.)
- If they say “yes”, ask them for some evidence from experience where their proposal for larger government has worked.
- Ask them again. (And again, if necessary, always politely and with kindness, because they won’t/can’t give you a direct answer. Why not? There is close to zero evidence of any government program working anywhere.)
- If their evidence is less than compelling (which it will be), ask if, consistent with their objective of doing good, they would be willing to consider something other than their posited policy to accomplish their objective.
- If they are not, once again, it is a lost cause, so don’t try further. If they say they are, describe how those societies with the smallest government and the most individual freedom accomplish the objectives of the person you’re speaking with better than their proposed policy. Give plenty of evidence, examples, etc.
- You’ve accomplished as much as you can. Stop talking and hope that you’ve at least given someone something to think about.
If you’re not a conservative, now that you’ve read my proposal for conservatives, it would be great if you would come up with a proposal for how those who think like you should interact with the rest of us. After all, the point of all of this is to get us to talk to each other and to be open and respectful of each other. If you’ve got other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. We’ve got to solve this Us vs. Them problem… for the good of all of us.
In closing, here’s a question for those people who do believe that conservatives are evil, etc. Let’s say, for sake of argument, that you’re right. (I don’t believe that you are, but let’s follow the logic here.) Even if you were right about how evil, sexist, homophobic, etc., your opposition is (and how morally superior you are), what difference would that make to their argument? Shouldn’t the argument of conservatives either pass or fail based on the argument alone, irrespective of who makes it?
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Chuck Bolotin has founded four companies on his own and brought to market the products of about a dozen others. His most recent venture is Best Places In The World To Retire, where he is the Vice President of Business Development.