Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rant Against Label-Driven Thinking

I think the quality of any discourse improves greatly if labels ("conservative", "liberal") are avoided. Labels encourage the counter-productive habit of thinking that separates people into "our side" and "the other side", and puts more emphasis on who says something (and what box we assign them to) rather than what they say. Better to talk about issues, positions, and reasons, and to be open to finding agreement with anyone sometimes. There are some positions where I agree with Patrick Buchanan, and some positions where I agree with Al Sharpton. It would be a disservice to good faith conversation to dismiss their views because of who they are and what "camp" they belong to.

This diatribe was inspired by an ongoing topic over on GayPatriot blog, where there's much disappointment and frustration that Andrew Sullivan has somehow broken faith with conservatives. Many other bloggers piled on (eliciting at least one decent rejoinder from PikeSpeak). The truth is that Andrew Sullivan is as independent-minded as he ever was. He refused to go along with LGBT group-think, and he likewise refuses to go along with conservative group-think. When there was a Democratic administration, that was the focus of much of Andrew's criticism, and the conservatives were loving him. Now that there's a Republican administration, and they logically get the brunt of criticism (since it is they who are setting the policy agenda), the conservatives are bemused by Andrew. Though the political winds have shifted, he continues to chart his own course with passion and intelligence. I admire him for that and strive to do the same.

When reading anyone, don't fall into the trap of putting them into a box according to some "with us or against us" scorecard judgment (or "Litmus test", as our President likes to say). With just about anyone, if you listen carefully, you'll find some points of agreement and some points of disagreement. Nobody is always right, and nobody is always wrong. Even if you disagree with someone, it's healthy to read intelligent opinions that differ from your own. And to take the challenge of truly considering them rather than simply dismissing the source. Focus on individuals rather than groups, and the merits of issues rather than their affiliation. Do that and the quality of discourse will greatly improve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You call this a rant? Tom...you're way too polite to rant. This is a reasoned argument. For ranting, observe Zell Miller, with or without the aid of the prophet Amos.