I have a habit of debating and discussing. I have always had this habit.
At times, it is exasperating to me and to those around me. They find me exhausting. I find many of them enormously frustrating. And exhausting.
Recently I was spending time with friends. Long time friends—going back to childhood. This one fella is by all appearances bright; by which I mean he has the ability to learn. He presents an appearance of ability for rationale discourse. To discern fact from fiction. Reality from fantasy. But, when it comes to politics, he displays either a willful ignorance in order to protect a specific ideology, or an ignorance that suggests he is incapable in a way that I had not perceived.
In the clearest of cases; instances where empirical evidence is readily available, he simply chooses to ignore the facts and evidence, or, when pressed, just changes the topic. He is not alone of course. Somewhere around 30% – 40% of our US population appears to be the same. People who when asked about specific policy provisions of a politician go completely blank and cannot name a single provision. Or maybe one, but no more and even that one there is no underlying foundation to support their position. People tell me ‘Hillary is a criminal’ who when asked what crime she has been convicted of, realize all of a sudden that she is in fact, by definition, not a criminal—nevertheless, they continue in their belief even though they were just called out for simply repeating popular rhetoric. These are people who claim to care about others, but who vote for politicians who noisily and sanctimoniously announce they will deport immigrants, cut off food stamps for the needy, reduce health care support for the poor, reduce taxes on the wealthy while taking all kinds of steps to reduce support for those most in need. These are politicians whose shell game rhetoric is as obvious as a garish prostitute on a street corner, and people somehow rationalize voting these politicians in while simultaneously convincing themselves they are somehow benevolent and caring for their fellow man. Seemingly capable people support these types of politicians by repeating the nonsensical ideas that somehow punishing the poor is good for them. They must also then rationalize voting against politicians who just as loudly proclaim their support for the disenfranchised, the impoverished, the downtrodden, the unfortunate. In these cases, our friends must convince themselves these people are freeloaders or taking advantage of the system.
My frustration comes primarily because of their inability to defend their position, but even when called out, refusal to consider that they are taking a stand in an indefensible position based on all available evidence. They rely on thinly veiled faux facts taken out of context or even deliberate falsehoods. Or more likely, they simply refuse to engage in discussion at all. In my most recent example, my friend simply refused to debate when I asked for a single point of evidence—instead claiming he did not want to ‘fight’. So he walked away. Once I exposed him, he literally refused to talk to me and walked away. I was the one being unreasonable.
What is our responsibility in a democracy? Is it simply to cast our vote and call it a day? Knowing that my vote will be rendered neutral by this friend, who will vote on every issue the exact opposite of me. Should we try to engage in robust debate? Should we try to illuminate one another when it is so clearly difficult for so many of us to remain open minded? I go to somewhat long lengths to try to educate myself. I try to read a balance of papers and periodicals. I try to surround myself with thoughtful people and to have open discussions about varying topics. But I am exasperated by how many people form granite-like opinions on no evidence at all. And when confronted with facts that are contrary to their current views, simply refuse to accept those facts, walk away, or just claim to be right in spite of all the facts lined up against their views.
I am acutely aware that my liberal positions put me at odds with a large percentage of the population. I believe we are here to help one another and I default to the assumption that people who apply for help are in actual need and not ‘gaming the system’. I am sure there is some abuse, but there is little evidence it is widespread. In fact, some of the worst abuse appears to be by people who are not using the system, but abusing it from the other side. There have been multiple examples of doctors implementing scams to overcharge medicare or medicaid through elaborate systems. I prefer that we spend the majority of our revenue to help others rather than building up a massive military that tends to do more harm than good in the recent past. I do not understand the greed associated with people who vote to minimize government, apparently to save taxes, to the point where we are not able to maintain basic infrastructure, provide health care for those most vulnerable, maintain an education system worthy of a global super power, and generally support those in need. So my positions tend to come from that viewpoint. But, I do try to make sure my debates are well informed and my facts support my position.
I am passionate about this topic and aware of it. I am also confident and these two distinctions make me appear to others as self-righteous. It is not my intent.
I am currently reading a book by Elizabeth Kolbert called ‘The Sixth Extinction’. This book suggests that humans are busy enabling the 6th mass extinction, and the first one to be caused by a species rather than some external event.
So what’s the point of getting upset with friends over politics when we are doomed anyway?