joe_haldeman (joe_haldeman) wrote,

two ideas at once

Finding reasonable and reliable news is a complex business, that always has an element of self-referential selection. Every now and then I'll buy a Boston Herald or listen to Rush et al., to see what the other side is telling itself, but I do have to remind myself that my self-selected Globe and Jon Stewart and Jim Lehrer are also selling a bill of goods. It happens to be the party line that I'm sympathetic with, but that doesn't make it objectively right; it just makes it comfortable.

I'm reading as my subway book Farhad Manjoo's uncomfortable argument _True Enough_, with the scary subtitle "Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society." Part of it is about the "Big Lie" strategies of the cynical manipulators like the Swift-Boaters, but part of it is also about being careful about lying to yourself. Buying into hopeful half-truth. Applying different standards to arguments if they make you feel good. It's especially useful in this politicized season.

More than fifty million people voted for John McCain, and few of them are racists or warmongers. They're people I pass on the street -- but they aren't the people I hang out with, so in a fundamental social way they don't exist for me. They probably are aware that more than sixty million people voted for "that man," but their social connections are similarly slanted, so it isn't Joe and Dave who cast those ballots. It's some amorphous "liberal." As they are the faceless "conservative" to me. I think we all have to work our way out of this comfortable mental laziness, before we can work together to fix the things that we all agree need fixing. (The ones we don't agree on, well, that's another story, and welcome to the ballot box.)

One of the examples Manjoo describes is a simple experiment, asking college-age people "Which city is larger, San Diego or San Antonio?" They asked a bunch of Germans and they all answered correctly, San Diego. Only two thirds of American students got it right. The Germans answered with the only name they recognized, of course. The Americans tried to figure it out (some of them no doubt assuming it was a trick question).

Of course the larger problem is separating truth from truthiness, and realizing that most important social questions aren't amenable to true/false. I love Scott Fitzgerald's observation that the sign of a mature intelligence is being able to hold two competing ideas in your mind at the same time. Political maturity is being able to meet the other side part way, without either of you sacrificing ideals.

I'm not a liberal myself. In a pure sense I'm an anarchist, because I think that both government and politics are atavistic institutions that have to be replaced before they destroy us all. I don't know what will replace them, but I suspect it will be something as unexciting as "management." I don't think we'll have a name for it until we look around and realize that our presidents and prime ministers are sentimental relics, like kings and princes.


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