I’m having an Eeyore moment.
As someone who is deeply interested in politics and studying ideology, I have nevertheless tumbled to a cynical observation this autumn: Political debate just might be the most confounding thing ever invented by mankind. It requires so much thought and study to do well, and feels so consequential to our future. But it also usually feels utterly futile.
Suppose you encounter someone willing to engage in a political discussion. Let’s analyze how that episode might go.
It’s either someone who doesn’t really care much about politics (let’s say a 33% chance), or they do care (let’s say a 67% chance).
If they don’t care, afterwards your viewpoint isn’t likely to have a lasting impression on them, even if you “win.” Face it: It was a fluke that they even bothered to grant you some of their attention…they were just being courteous. So what did you expect?
Now let’s dissect the other 67%. If they do care about politics to one degree or another, then let’s place them in one of four categories:
1) Someone staunchly committed to the right by nature (25% chance);
2) Someone firmly committed to the left by nature (25% chance);
3) Someone committed to staying “independent and un-affiliated” (10% chance); or
4) Someone who is truly a blank sheet of paper (7% chance), eager to learn about the political arena to explore why they hold their beliefs, intending to commit to an affiliation with an established political viewpoint that “feels like home” with like-minded people.
In Cases 1 and 2, you’re either talking to a clone or a stone – either way there’s nothing really productive to be gained, except jaw exercise. I will come back to discuss these cases more in a moment.
In Case 3, you’re talking to someone who insists on taking every situation as a unique case, to be judged without regard to anyone’s “conventional wisdom” but their own. In my opinion, people with such a free-floating orientation are really “anti-traditionalists” (a synonym for leftism, in my book) who just don’t like being labeled or taken for granted.
So Case 3 is just another where there’s nothing really productive to be gained by debating. They’ll either agree or disagree with you – probably a mixture of both – but your persuasion won’t stick with them. Each night at midnight their political convictions turn into a pumpkin, and the next day is a fresh anti-traditional adventure. They are stubbornly committed to remaining uncommitted.
Only in Case 4 is there an opportunity to productively influence someone in a lasting way. By my estimate, these wonderful people comprise little more than 5% of the voting population…meaning you’re up against 20-to-1 odds against having such a pleasant, fruitful encounter. And that is assuming these encounters occur randomly. Frankly that’s not how they usually happen with bloggers.
For those of us who interact in the political blogosphere – as authors, reactors, or both – our encounters are not “random.” C’mon, admit it: We are a self-selected population of know-it-all political junkies. I submit that greater than 90% of us bouncing around this political blogosphere are deeply committed to either the left or the right – Cases 1 and 2.
I also submit that we don’t come here each evening or weekend to let ourselves be convinced that we’re wrong and someone else is right. Heck no…we come here to assert ourselves and hone our skills at “thrust and parry” political fencing, or turnbuckle wrestling.
Now here’s my key question: When we stand our ground, individually or in like-minded teams, are we being stubborn? Or principled? Are we to be admired for our firm convictions, or despised for our misguided opinions?
As practically every debate in this coliseum ends in stalemate, it occurs to me it’s essentially impossible for the gladiators to objectively tell the difference between blind entrenchment and noble advocacy. Each committed side believes they’re right and the other is wrong. Always.
And at the end of each round of the boxing match, we ALL return to the same corner where we started…just as sure as night follows day follows night follows day.
So, Eeyore closes by asking this:
Does the difference between stubborn entrenchment and righteous principle REALLY matter in the end anyway? Whether you or I post our articles and comments or not, America lumbers along like the Titanic with no effective leadership able to take the helm.