Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hard Facts

October 18, 2004

I read a lot. Sometimes, I watch Bill Moyers’ NOW, or tune into Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now. But most of my world knowledge comes from books, and from news magazines in print and on-line, primarily journals at the political center or left.

It’s a truism that the Information Age has narrowed the range of ideas to which any one person is exposed. We have intimate control over our information choices, making it unlikely we’ll hear an opinion that doesn’t mesh with our own, or facts that might undermine our opinions.

Moreover, the Bush Administration has buried the concept of “fact” as a verifiably true piece of information. Under Bush’s fact-obliterating leadership, many people support him by denying all factual evidence about his damaging impact on international relations, global financial stability, the American economy, public health, the environment and the principles of law. Still, the reality of the human mess can’t remain out of consciousness forever. Deforested landscapes, sickened family members and wounded friends will someday smack even the most dedicated denialist right into the search for genuine solutions meeting the needs of even the weakest stakeholders.

In general, liberals want to hear as many different perspectives as possible, and therefore must evaluate and reconcile complex and often contradictory views. So stubborn is my liberalism, I even think there must be a nugget of truth to conservatism, despite the many conservatives who either yell or maintain a tight-lipped silence, and those who ignore not only facts but people who cite facts.

But the debate-defying twist of political philosophy is that conservatism historically espouses the “My way or the highway” stance, stifling all voices pointing to the highway or a third way. It’s a recipe for stagnation. Ingenious, it also perfectly coalesces large groups of people around simple lodestars. I can’t blame the millions of American fundamentalists – nor fundamentalists in any country – who are drawn to that illusion of security, however dangerous it is long-term. Without the real security of a world that works for everyone, illusory security is, for many, a tolerable second best

These days, much American public discourse shines through a conservative lens – executive, legislative and judicial branches, covered by a deeply conflicted media seeking to be both fulcrum of power and watchdog of liberty. Forgotten is that media power, like government power, is on loan from the People, whose rights both have sworn to protect.

It’s a strange time for the open-minded: barely tolerated, but yapping nonetheless. The personal costs are considerable. Yapping about facts, deriving moral arguments from facts, asking conservative family and friends how they conclude that the war is just, tax cuts to the rich help the poor, trade deficits are stimulating, undermining environmental controls is good, eliminating the collective power of seniors will bring us all better health care and so on – people get mad. They can’t back up those arguments, and they don’t even try. Their goal is not to convince non-believers, so they needn’t seek common ground as a starting point for persuasion. Their goal – to bolster their own convictions through repetition – requires no thought, only short-term memory. The spaces between us widen.

For now, the conservative cocoon is snug and warm. But the pupae aren’t growing, because growth requires change, change requires loss of conviction, and loss the conservative pupae cannot tolerate; they are a living dead. Out in the uncomfortable cold, where the facts gleam sharp and hard, and our skin is thin, we are bleeding, but we are also learning, growing, adapting, and struggling. And out here, there’s room for more than one.


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