Curb Your Dogma
Two weeks ago I wrote a guest post for the League; it essentially had two central thrusts at its core: The first was trying to define a kind of principle-centered pragmatism. But the second thrust was a bit of a swipe at using political ideology as your primary guiding star.
That argument in a quick nutshell was that while political ideology might be a good starting point, unchecked it invariably leads to irrationality, an unnecessary Us vs. Them approach to everything, and after a time the Good Ideological Fight pushes the facts and issues needing to be dealt with out of the way in favor of focusing solely on the Good Ideological Fight. Most people who took the time to discuss this challenged me; to a man they were polite, thorough and – apropos of the site’s name and nomenclature – gentlemen. (Or ladies.) If there was one tying thread to all of those who disagreed and challenged me, it was that while political ideology certainly might lead some extreme cases to act in this fashion, those people were a small minority – and it certainly was never them. And until tonight, I think I was starting to wonder if perhaps they were right after all.
Friday afternoon news began to reach us of the atrocities that had occurred in Norway. The sheer scope of the horror was stunning, as it slowly became clear that the deadly bombing of a government building was merely a distraction to allow the wholesale slaughter of scores of young men and boys. I spent some time sharing my initial thoughts here, and then decided that the what I needed to do for me was spend the weekend connecting as best I could with my own two boys. My time with them was both cathartic and redemptive.
Looking back, it seems that there might well be lessons to be learned from this tragedy. (Some might be personal lessons that come from our own internal reactions. For example: I will confess that my first reaction to the news was thinking that it was most likely some al Qaeda-like group, while really actively hoping that it was someone else. I’m not sure that I feel a need to apologize for initially guessing, after all that has happened in Europe over the past 10 years, that Muslim extremists were a likely perpetrator. But I do have every intention of spending time trying to reflect and dig into on why I was so relieved that they weren’t.)
But other potential lessons fall into the sphere of public policy: Are the strategies we are using to foster peaceful coexistence between different religious and political groups working as well as they might, or is another strategy called for? How do we deal with public figures who, while not being directly responsible for a heinous act like this, aren’t exactly helping? To what degree are these demagogues indirectly responsible, if at all – and if they are, what messages if any can be used to counteract a worst-case scenario that does not infringe on their right to be heard? Should we revisit gun control laws – in either direction? Should we reassess how we deal with the mentally ill, or even how aggressively we try to identify them? All of these topics seem well worth coming together to discuss with the common goal of better ensuring that Friday’s events were a bizarre one-of-a-kind outlier and not the beginning of a frightening, escalating trend.
It’s Sunday evening now and my kids are getting ready for bed. As I check in with the League I confess I am saddened reading the threads from the past two days. Ideology seems to have almost universally won out over compassion, measured reason, or even a futile but affirming attempt at problem solving. Even most people who did bring up some of the potential public policy issues I mentioned above obviously did so in a way to tar an Other as the Enemy, not to have a constructive dialogue. In fact, if I had to sum up most of what I have read tonight, it is this: “You and your ideology are so much more to blame for these deaths than mine.” As if anyone that frequents or even occasionally pops into this site has anything remotely to do with the act of someone who, regardless of political affiliation, is a stark raving barker.
I wonder how many people, knee deep in the ideological battles being engaged in the four separate posts about the shootings, will go back and cringe at where their dogma lead them. Hopefully at least a few. Best I can tell from coming in late, the real culprits that led to these atrocities are: political correctness, Pamela Geller, American right wing conservatives, Muslims who forced this to happen by being all Muslim-y and shit, people just like those that target abortion clinics because they are terrorists, all terrorists except people that target abortion clinics because those doctors have blood on their hands, “true” conservatives, “true” liberals, libertarians, John Stuart Mill, white people, people who blame everything on white people, and oh my goodness I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out that’s just as to blame as Breivik himself.
The only thing that ideologues on both sides of the aisle seem to agree on at all is the inexplicably bizarre notion that the real villain in all of this is E.D. Well done.
People, what we have just indirectly witnessed is a horrible, horrible crime against humanity, perpetrated by a Norwegian man that was by definition not a mentally stable person. It is not related to your disagreement with the guy across the aisle about whether or not we should be raising the debt ceiling. Really. Please stop trying to make it into that.
Be better than that.