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Friday, January 2, 2015

Part 6: Thinking politically

Cousin Vinnie has helped me understand that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who think that there are two kinds of people in the world and those who do not.

He likes to put people on the sides of some sort of Apocalyptic football game: good guys and bad guys, winners and losers, the righteous and progressives, his people and my people. It's natural to use categories to think. In fact, we've seen that it is downright necessary. The problem occurs when we get stuck in our categories.

Scientists use models which are sophisticated categories and analogies to understand the universe. When those categories stop being useful to further explanation or to resolve inconsistencies among formerly useful models, scientists seek to fashion other more inclusive models. Some of these models may have implications that seem to violate common sense, like the earth going around the sun or waves being particles. But we eventually incorporate these models into our common worldview. That is the fruit of education--remaking our models.

It is also the fruit of politics--free assemblies of folk entertaining other world views, those that stress tradition and those that push innovation, those that are more aggressive and those that are more cautionary, those that protect individual choice and those that promote common good, those that see the state as a necessary evil that must be controlled by "the best" (or the richest) and those that see the state as an instrument of an unfettered, uncontrolled people. And so on and so on in various combinations. Politics is an ongoing examining and refashioning of models for living, working, and thinking together.

A condition for politics, or at least democratic or republican styles of politics, is a desacralizing of political ideas (and I would argue all ideas). That practically, if not theoretically, denies a metaphysical realism that makes some of us right and some of us wrong because we have achieved, whether by enlightened education or religious revelation or national exceptionalism, the real truth as it really is if we just look at it in an unbiased, trans-perspective way. Politics requires that we all have biases and perspectives and that ideas are human constructs, tools by which we try to adapt to each other in our environment.

There is no politics if we get stuck in our categories in a winner take all game with absolute, unchanging rules. There is no politics when we dismiss thought by naming someone as evil, or communist, or alien. There is no politics when we let professional pundits and politicians and parties determine policy. There is no politics when we blame them thus shifting responsibility outside ourselves. There is no politics when we are not open to analyzing how things got this way, how our categories keep us stuck in old problems, and how new models might solve them.

Thanks, Cousin Vinnie, for helping me see that.

Would that you and the people on your side could! (Oops, just kidding!)