A conversation I had with a friend this morning

It’s the kind of exchange I think is valuable, so here it is…

You know what? The embed codes are messing up and overlapping each other. I’ll just give you plain text for the rest…

Steve: You’re right that a binary needs 2 to tango but also I’m not willing to bothsides this because there’s a peculiar madness on one side that is more responsible for our polarization than any other factor. I’m so devoted to that point of view that I wrote a book abt it.

Me: The right has gone stark, raving mad. But tragically, the left is weakened by its own embrace of some of the symptoms. Neither side is an appetizing “team” to join. And media have trained everyone to think in binary terms, by covering politics like sports. So we’re lost…

Me again: That probably seemed incoherent. Too many related thoughts, not enough room for the transitions…

Steve: It makes sense. But my conclusion is that madness supersedes weakenedness. The Right no longer is doing politics recognizably at all, they’ve gone so far there aren’t 2 sides anymore for anyone serious abt politics and that’s why we have to overcome the binary framing.

Me: You know that book I keep telling you I want to write, but (unlike you) never do? If I ever write it, I have an idea for another. It’s about politics, and my tentative title is “Consensus.” It’s what we desperately need to work toward, at all times….

Steve: A longtime struggler toward consensus, though, I have to say that you can’t achieve consensus or engage in dialogue with people who don’t accept that consensus and dialogue are legitimate. Our more fundamental problem is that too many people don’t believe in politics at all.

Me: Absolutely. That’s what I meant by “we’re lost.” And one of many reasons is that people don’t understand basic things about our system, which is intended to be deliberative. They think it’s about winning 50%+1, and cramming their will down the throats of the “bad people”…

Both of us could have gone on, but had things to do — especially Steve, who as I mentioned in passing, actually writes books instead of just talking about it, and has busy day jobs as well. He’s a  professor of public theology and director of The Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

You see what I did there? Under the guise of finally posting something on the blog (without having to write it from scratch) I snuck in another “ones and zeroes” post. Fair warning: I’m likely to do it again at any time.

The part of the exchange that deals with consensus is another step down the same train of thought that led to this post awhile back

The system they came up with would work if we would accept that it’s designed to be deliberative, and not just about shouting at each other.

18 thoughts on “A conversation I had with a friend this morning

  1. Barry

    Some thoughts:

    1) Like others, Bob Good could not win election unless a district was created for a Republican like him to win.

    2) Bob Good is way wrong. But he doesn’t know it and that’s a good thing. Hopefully, more people on his side of the issue keep pushing for more strict measures so they keep losing.

    3) For many (probably most) politicians, this issue is simply a hammer to win elections. It’s not something 98% of them ever give a thought to. There are Democrats that are publicly pro-choice that would never choose an abortion. There are Republicans that are publicly pro-life that have chosen to have abortions.

    4) I learned a bit about this when I worked at the state house years and years ago. I was a true believer Conservative at the time- in a “family values” sort of way. What started a process of me leaving that cult was seeing people at the state house – including elected politicians- on “my side” of that argument in real life behind the scenes – seeing people that I knew were committing adultery on their wives, seeing how they talked about “family values” when they weren’t talking to a newspaper reporter or in front of a tv camera and seeing them act in inappropriate ways in their officers or in the hallways around the state house.

    I even once (this is years and years ago) heard a political consultant who worked directly for a right wing Congressman describe their view of people that disagreed with them in a way that would make a Navy man blush. I heard him say this to someone standing in a church. (I’ve always said if I was ever in that situation again, I’d verbally rip someone like that to pieces given they were talking like that about other people. I hope I get the opportunity). I learned that day that many of these people working for these folks are scum-bags that in no way live the lives they proclaim to live.

    5) This issue isn’t going away. In fact, it’s a bigger deal in our elections now than it was even 5-7 years ago. The extremes are only going to get more extreme because it’s a full on war and ball-game now where you can’t give your opponent an inch.

  2. Ken

    Define “consensus” in the political realm. What constitutes consensus exactly? Because a lot depends on how broad terms like that are defined. Also, describe how consensus can change or be changed and use examples from American political life in doing so. Describe what can and should be done when no clear consensus exists (which will, of course, be highly dependent on how it’s defined). If a problem is pressing and no obvious consensus exists, does that mean the best course is to do nothing until consensus can be reached? Relatedly, what should occur if there is consensus that a problem exists, but not on how to address it? Also, how can and should the potential consequences of a supposed consensus on those directly affected by policies built on such consensus be taken into consideration?

    These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I know. That’s why it will require a book. What I’m saying is extremely counterintuitive to a lot of people. I brought it up in that context because I knew Steve would get it — for theological reasons.

      I’ll point you to another book that I’ve mentioned here often. It doesn’t take a religious perspective, because that’s not how Yuval Noah Harari rolls. Yes, I’m speaking — again — of Sapiens.

      I don’t remember him using the term consensus, but one of the central concepts in the book is the unique ways our species manages to cooperate in building huge societal structures — cities, kingdoms, empires, democracies consisting of millions, major religions, complex economies, and so forth. Other animals can’t do this. Nor did previous human species, such as the Neanderthals — they couldn’t manage groups larger than 50 or so.

      Building and maintaining these larger structures requires that large numbers of people who aren’t connected in any other ways manage to agree broadly on certain ideas, myths, or systems of thought. With kingdoms, it was the divine right of kings. With the United States, it’s belief in liberalism, particularly in the concepts that underlie the Constitution. With the global economy, you have the very strong belief that money has value (which inherently, it does not), which arises from knowing that OTHER people believe it is valuable.

      This is all strongly related to (and easier to explain than) what I’m saying about consensus. When I speak of ones and zeroes, I’m speaking of the inability of people who have different views to sit down together and agree on what needs to be done in the operation of a representative democracy. People will ALWAYS have different views, and they should. Our system is built on that assumption. But when the fundamental idea that you can and must WORK WITH these other people in good faith and determination to arrive at conclusions people can LIVE WITH even if they don’t agree to the letter (and that is one simple way to explain what consensus is) — if you have reached the point where you believe that is not only impossible, but WRONG… well, a society such as ours is simply going to fail, and fly apart.

      Putting us in the situation of the Neanderthals…

      1. Ken

        Yes, I read Mr. Harari’s book. But found it rather too breezy and tendentious.

        One example: “cities, kingdoms, empires, democracies consisting of millions, major religions, complex economies” were constructed through cooperation. That too neatly ignores the role that dissent, conflict (the American Civil War, to take just one nearby example), violence, protest and unresolved disagreement were among many other non-cooperative activities made direct and important contributions in the development of those same institutions. New social/political/religious/economic organizing principles aren’t necessarily settled through people sitting down and talking through their differences. Were that it was so. But that’s not human history. Much of history is the history of dealing with ambiguity – and learning to navigate in it, to live with it.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          For my part, I’m reading the book again at the moment. I had lent my copy to my daughter, who took it with her to Dominica, and I started reading it again when we visited her there earlier this year. I got so into it I had to buy myself a Kindle copy…

          Harari is a guy who looks at the world differently from the way I do. But he does so pretty brilliantly, and he’s very engaging…

      2. Ken

        And speaking of ambiguity – while also circling back to the topic that sparked this conversation: abortion – we might do well to consider a Quaker view of the matter. (Particularly given the important role that Quakers played in 19th century in such “hot” issues as abolition, women’s rights, prison reform and other concerns.) Here’s a model in how to apply moral reasoning – offered by a gynecologist/obstetrician and practicing Quaker:


  3. bud

    You’re right the two parties are EXACTLY the same.

    Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy elbows fellow congressman in the back
    Senator Mullen stands up and challenges hearing witness to a brawl on the Senate floor. Later defends this embarrassment by citing pre civil war caning incident.
    Committee chair Comer calls fellow Congressman a Smurf when he challenged Comers Biden nonsense.
    House speaker Johnson, a self described devout Christian, endorses Trump for GOP primary AFTER the former president called his rivals vermin – a Nazi claim.

    Brad you really need to get on the right side of history. The false equivalency warriors will be viewed as enablers once Democracy and freedom are destroyed in this country.

      1. bud

        The great irony is that Brad is actively dissing those who disagree with him by suggesting those who don’t buy this ones and zeros nonsense. If you don’t buy this worldview then you’re ripping the very fabric of the nation apart. Well I just don’t subscribe to the notion that liberals are intolerant in the same way as conservatives. That argument is absurd. Does that make Brad an awful person? Of course not. I’m sure Brads opinion makes sense to him. But I find it utterly lacking in intellectual merit. The GOP has its collective mind. They are a dangerous outfit that has become an existential threat to core American values. I wish we had a Conservative Party that liberals like me could debate issues and try to persuade through reason. Damn I wish that were the case. But we’ve come to a very critical fork in the road and we need to take the correct course of action to save our country. Let’s forget about health care, crime, the military, global warming, inflation and yes abortion for the next year and focus only on saving our nation from the MAGA threat. Trump and the rest of his extremist cult must be defeated once and for all. If that smacks of one’s and zeros thinking so be it. There is only one relevant issue. Let’s not get lost in the weeds by ideological purity. Simply put, we must elect Democrats.

  4. Ken

    To take a different tack, it may be that rather than one and zeroism, algorythms, identity politics or any of that, our problem lies instead mainly in the merging of politics and entertainment. As one essayist recently put it (in show-barker language):

    “Behold, in our swirling virtual age, with what sickening speed the unprecedented becomes the commonplace. See, for the first time, a president’s second impeachment! See an ex-president’s first-ever indictment! See his second, third, and fourth! See him judged a sexual abuser! See his golden businesses declared frauds! Pull up a chair and watch: here is the final melding of politics and popular culture foretold in the visage of JFK. We are living in the Age of Trump.”

    Maybe Neil Postman got it more right than even he realized back in 1985, when he pointed out America’s addiction to amusement, a society in which more than anything else the never-satisfied search for the novel and boredom with the conventional subverts the rational and encourages a kind of superficiality and glibness that obstructs purposeful advancement.

      1. Robert Amundson

        The Rock would Govern better than the Atwater/Nancy driven Ronnie Reagan. My love is Filipina and Polynesian, and I will consider his candidacy with open eyes, trying not to judge.

  5. Robert Amundson

    The concept of factions, as deliberated in the Federalist Papers, has undergone a profound transformation in the modern era, intensifying with media polarization. The nuanced consideration envisioned by the framers has morphed into extreme polarization, deviating significantly from the mean. This heightened environment is further complicated by the swift transition from the analog to the digital age, where traditional practical learning by the seat of one’s pants encounters new challenges.

    In the analog world, practical learning was the compass navigating our endeavors. However, the rapid shift into the fast-paced digital landscape has accentuated the complexities discussed earlier. The media’s role in amplifying divisions becomes entwined with the evolving communication methods. This transition has not only complicated our engagement with factions but has also created a landscape of heightened extremes, challenging the principles of rational discourse.

    This blog serves as a modern attempt to address these multifaceted issues. By utilizing innovative communication approaches, it aims to bridge the gap between the analog and digital worlds, offering a nuanced understanding of our complex societal dynamics. In navigating this intricate intersection of historical ideologies and contemporary challenges, the blog seeks to contribute to a more balanced and informed discourse.

    Innovation and agility – we are in a VUCA’d (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, and hopefully in the Anthropocene Era, we humans will “figure it out. The Captain understands and he raised “a Good Kid!”

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