Why Can’t We Agree?

(graphic credit)

By Jeff Rutherford

Imagine this scenario:

The setting is a candy store.  A child throws a temper tantrum in the jelly bean aisle.  The parent resists at first, then gives the child the candy he’s yearning for, hoping to make the child feel more loved.  Others nearby shake their heads in dismay, believing the parent just did the worst possible thing which will only make the child feel entitled and demanding.

Here’s an opposite scenario:

The setting is a junior league soccer field.  A child loses his footing in mid-stride, goes down and gets a skinned knee.  He gets up immediately and walks towards his parent on the sidelines.  The parent instinctively starts towards the child.  Then seeing the child isn’t limping, decides to sit back down and let the coach handle the situation, hoping to make the child feel more resilient.  Others nearby shake their heads in dismay, believing the parent just did the worst possible thing which will only make the child feel isolated and unloved.

My point here is not to examine who’s right and wrong, but to illustrate how two distinct types of parents can view their role differently.  They don’t just disagree – they each feel that the other is making things worse for their respective child.

Each of us has an instinctive perspective about life and the world around us.  In our large modern society, the geographic, cultural, religious, and economic factors that form our world views are not homogenous.  There are quite different viewpoints about how to live and how to participate in local, regional, and national communities.

Meanwhile, access to mass media and ease of travel/relocation has increased the intensity of our interaction with each other.  In fact, it’s hard not to interact with each other closely, especially when major public incidents occur.  Disagreements are becoming wider and deeper.  But why?  Do you find yourself frustrated, wondering why decent Americans can’t agree?

As I’ve written about several times before, there’s an excellent 1987 book by American economist & philosopher Thomas Sowell, PhD called “A Conflict of Visions — Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.”  In it, he objectively describes two broad categories of people:

  1. Those he calls “unconstrained” thinkers who tend to be idealistic and prone to assume that society’s problems can be solved through good will, good intentions, and expending unlimited amounts of society’s resources. Their goals are unconstrained.
  1. Those he calls “constrained” thinkers who are more realistic and apt to focus on limited mitigations for problems that are usually unsolvable due to incurable aspects of human nature. They accept circumstances and outcomes that are imperfect across society as a whole, and devise ways to personally adapt to the reality as best they can. Their goals are constrained.

In the second half of the book, Sowell explains a very interesting aspect of this “conflict of visions” in modern Western societies. He asserts that it’s not just that we disagree on solutions to problems. The vigor of the conflict is much worse than that. The full problem is that the methods that “unconstrained” thinkers would use to solve a problem are viewed by “constrained” thinkers as the worst possible thing you could do. And vice-versa. They each think the other’s solution will exacerbate the problem.

For a current example, some people today think the worst thing America and its Pacific region allies could do is confront North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un with warnings of severe sanctions and other more dire consequences if he doesn’t give up his nuclear weapons program.  These “unconstrained” thinkers believe this will only provoke N. Korea to lash out, so they want to continue to talk and seek common ground and try to persuade through positive diplomacy.  In sharp contrast, there are other people who think the worst thing America and its allies could do is not confront N. Korea to force them to back down and abandon their militaristic ICBM threats to the region and conceivably even the mainland U.S.  These “constrained” thinkers believe N. Korea has been appeased for too many decades already, with no results except for N. Korea being emboldened to keep disrupting geopolitical stability because they think it enlarges their stature and regional power.

See?  Once again, each side thinks the other’s approach makes the situation worse.

There’s a lot of that kind of thing in the two sides of the current gun control debate too.  Applying Sowell’s observations about conflict of vision, here are three of the many reasons why the gun control debate will never be resolved:

  1. Citizens of mega-huge cities view the pros & cons of the issue differently than citizens of smaller towns and rural/remote areas, so their respective views about what is a “danger” are quite different.
  1. Some people are willing to delegate the caretaking of their well-being to society’s safety net run by “the authorities”, while other people feel safest when they are responsible for protecting themselves.
  1. Some people instinctively feel that giving individuals the ability to use a gun against another person is the cause of the problem of gun violence, while other people instinctively feel that ability is the solution to the problem.

The perspectives described in Sowell’s book have helped me usually avoid getting overly frustrated and impatient with American political discourse.  There will always be different types of people, along the lines of the “constrained” and the “unconstrained.”  The tug of war between them will still be occurring centuries from now.  It’s a free country.  Liberty is never easy, or boring.

(graphic credit)

About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control. https://necessaryandpropergovt.wordpress.com/
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13 Responses to Why Can’t We Agree?

  1. Bullright says:

    Great post, like that reasoning However, I wonder do if the idealistic (unconstrained) are really interested in solving any problems — or just perpetuating the eternal disagreement? Kudos.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Terry says:

    Jeff, Can I repost this on Facebook
    Terry Elwell


  3. DottieOR says:

    Does that mean we can never get along? Sadly, the answer is probably yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tricia says:

    I’m gonna post my same comment as I did on FB cuz I’m lazy.

    A couple of observations….first, thank you for bringing up Thomas Sowell. I’ve not read the referenced book (another one to add to the list, but I’ve read others which have made a huge impact on my own personal philosophies and outlook 2nd, your scenarios of the parents each having the same goal (the best outcome for their child) but having different methods of getting that are spot on. If there is one message that I wish would be drilled in to people’s heads is that we all have good intent behind the positions we take and our reasons for holding them are vast and deep and go way, way, way beyond some dumb FB meme. Well done Jeff!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. tannngl says:

    Interesting and reasoned post.
    I’d like to liken the two different groups and their thought processes as their ‘world views’. On one hand we have atheists (for example), who believe in evolution. On the other hand we have creationists who believe God created all things in 6 days. The belief system you have depends on where you stand and view the world and everything about it. Two world views.

    I am reading a book that’s taking me a while. It’s quite good and has shed a lot of light on this amazing conflict of thought. The book: “The World Turned Upside Down” by Melanie Phillips. It’s amazing! I found that even reason is being done away with by the left. Facts are no longer. Morality is a thing of the past. “Your morals are not my morals-I have my own morals.” At any rate, I’m old and wish I could remember all 400 pages! LOL but perhaps you might be interested in it.

    Nice to see you, Jeff!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Tannngl.

      You said “I found that even reason is being done away with by the left. Facts are no longer. Morality is a thing of the past. ‘Your morals are not my morals-I have my own morals.’ “

      You may remember that in early January at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, Oprah said “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have” And since she’s an icon of the left, this proves your point: Facts no longer exist in the secular religion of leftism. Speaking The Truth has been replaced by speaking Your Truth. Their ship is no longer anchored to a pier of moral truth. It’s now adrift in an ocean of relativism.

      And that’s the truth.

      – Jeff

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tannngl, I’m sure you’ve experienced the occasions when something is troubling you, and the next time you read your Bible the passage contains just the thing you needed to hear that day.

        Well (somewhat) similarly, during the last hour after I replied to your comment and then went to work out, I listed to an episode of the podcast “The Bookmonger with John J. Miller” in which he interviewed author Leon R. Kass about his new book “Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times.” As the author talked about his book, it sounded as if he’d just been eavesdropping on our exchange of comments!

        If you’re interested, here’s the podcast URL. It’s only 12 minutes long.

        – Jeff

        Liked by 1 person

        • tannngl says:

          Indeed, Jeff, God has messaged me frequently about what he wants me to understand. Usually he comes at me from 3 different sources on 3 different occasions about the same issue! About the second time my ears perk up like my horses! (Joyce Behar would probably say I’m mentally ill.)

          I listened to the podcast. This same message is being echoed across many venues I’ve come upon. My ears are up and I’m listening! It seems to me that the original relativistic, rebel who wanted to be his own god and make his own truth was an angel named Satan. Then Eve, and then Adam did the same thing. We aren’t very different and the secular world is moving very fast away from truth and morality. Things like family (respect for human life), work (responsibility for ones own self), and friends (putting others before yourself in love) are essential for our well being, let alone obedience to the only God I know. As we pull away from that place of well being we become not so well.

          Did you ever read Scott Rasmussen’s book, “Politics Has Failed, America Will Not”?
          He believes the culture changes first and government only follows culture. (I’ve chatted with him on twitter) My pastor said the same. It probably has a lot of truth to it but I also believe the cultural institutions magnify and encourage the cultural changes that begin to occur. Institutions such as the nightly news, our entertainment culture (movies, TV), academia. Things are a mess in my view. And I just don’t know what can be done. I am at a loss. I have a brother-in-law that I can’t even talk to about this, we are so direct opposites in world view. He believes there is no truth. I love the guy but sure can’t understand that kind of thinking.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Citizen Tom says:

    That graphic is neat! And so is your post.

    It occurred to me that the unconstrained are those who don’t respect the rights of the individual and that the constrained do. Paradoxically, even though the constrained think man is sinful, they think it wiser to let everyone take responsibility for their own decisions, whereas the unconstrained believe in collective responsibility and almost refuse to allow individuals to bear responsibility for their own decisions.

    What it seems to come down to is that the unconstrained trust the collective will, and the constrained fear the collective will. Why? Because what the unconstrained would have us do is render unto the collective that which we should only render unto God.

    Is there an instinctive aspect to this? I don’t know, but I do know we need to do a better job of teaching our children the Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom, I assume you haven’t read A Conflict of Visions or you would have said so. But you’ve got Sowell’s thesis essentially right on the mark.

      The instinctive aspect is that the prominent leftist philosophers of the last several centuries believe to their core that centrally-managed collectivism is the only path to a perfected human civilization, and that only the intellectually anointed elites have the ability to lead us there. All the citizens have to do is submit to the collective will and let the leaders mastermind it all. Every time that approach fails, the next wave of unconstrained dreamers believes that the only problem was the previous leaders didn’t truly have the right stuff, and the people weren’t pressed enough to sacrifice their self interest in favor of the collective cause.

      Constrained thinkers understand that human nature isn’t perfectible, and we know not to trust anybody to lead collective efforts to try, because such movements are doomed to fail tragically and murderously. Trusting idealists to mastermind and manage a collective society is like trusting a drunk to drive. Instead, constrained thinkers insist on instituting checks and balances, we try to separate power so it can’t be coalesced into unaccountable factions, and we try to assure that individuals’ liberty to answer primarily to The Creator instead of The Government is not abridged. That’s the best way for a society to enable the most individuals to live a fulfilled life.

      If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to get it.

      – Jeff

      Liked by 1 person

  7. jamesmcraig says:

    Quote Sowell and you have my undivided attention. Well said.

    Liked by 1 person

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