Which side are you on?

A bit of a rant here, but hopefully not too preachy.

It seems very tough these days to have any conversation without worrying that you’ll lose a friend, create an enemy, or somehow distance yourself further from people in your life. It didn’t use to be this way, and it’s feeling more and more like it’s intentionally being fueled to divide us.

It used to be we all were kind of in the middle, slogging away at life, trying to make sense of it all, but generally agreeing on the basics. Trust and Love are good things. Betrayal and Hatred are bad things.

Now, not so much, and I think I know why… maybe.

We’re all so worried about which side we’re on. The right side of history, the right side of morality, the right side of common sense, the right side of God, the right side of nationality, the right side of race, the right side of justice. But there’s a problem with that. It’s deceptively simple, and wrong. It automatically puts you on one side of some very grey areas, and other people on the other.

And these grey areas are a pain. Really. They’re not uniform and can shift depending on context very quickly. They’re not simple or easy. Most of the time, you can agree with a part of them, and then be nauseated by another in a split second. It’s like dealing with a pet grizzly bear. All fuzzy and warm and cuddly and then BOOM, you’re explaining to the E.R. nurse how you lost a limb.

You want people to have the right to bear arms and defend themselves, but not crazy people who will shoot up schools. You want health care for everyone, but not if it bankrupts the country or takes away your choices. You want technology to progress, but not if it takes coal-mining jobs away from your community. You love your teachers, but loath having the crappy ones protected. You love the police, but want to throw up when you see one beating a defenseless person. You love diversity, but are worried it will make the best parts of your culture vanish.

We’re scared and panicked. So we’re reverting to scared thinking.

It makes sense. The world is changing so quickly; quicker than it ever has in recorded history. And it’s getting faster. So fast, that we’re losing our shared sense of connection to what’s real. And before we get on a tangent about the nature of reality, let’s just call “reality” the world around us that would still be here if we all left. Our shared understanding of the world and our place in it is called culture. And that’s where it gets sticky. That word… shared.

We’re sharing alright. Every outrage and injustice and slight, no matter how justified or based on real-world events, we’re sharing. And that’s become our culture… outrage and injustice.

So, how to shift forward? Not to the injustices of the past, but rather to regain the ability to have conversations about difficult topics without immediately reverting to ‘sides’. I have an idea.

Find your line in the sand on the major topics. How? Just by asking yourself, what would each ‘side’ in the debate have to do for you to say to yourself, “that’s too far.” For example, let’s try gun control.

On the one side, you have people who think all guns should be abolished from the Earth, and that those who have ever contemplated buying, using, or admiring one should go with them.

On the other, you have people who think every man, woman, and child, regardless of mental ability or temperament should be allowed to buy, own, and use a gun however and whenever they see fit.

We’ll go out on a limb and assume you don’t fit in either of those extremes. So where is the line in the sand?

For example, guns can be seen as a tool, and dangerous, useful ones at that. Given that danger and use, a line in the sand could be that if a person can’t be held responsible for his/her own actions (children and the mentally ill), then they are out. No guns for you… at all. For everyone else, there is another danger called ‘misuse’. So, how to combat that? Well, what else is a useful, dangerous tool? How about a car? To buy a car, you don’t need training, just cash. But to drive a car, you need a license. And not just a license, but one that can be taken away if you misuse the car. Seems like a potential line in the sand.

The point, however, isn’t to exhaustively define a position on every topic. It’s simply to recognize that we all have these lines in the sand, and to notice something. The world isn’t broken up along straight lines. It never has been.

Whenever an email, tweet, post, broadcast, or message barges into our attention like an angry mob, inviting us to join the stampede, we should take a pause. Not to dissuade us from being passionate about the things that we care for, but the opposite. If we truly care about a given topic, we should know enough about it to know it’s not simple. The big topics never are, which is why we struggle with them. And if they’re not simple, we should probably not follow those that pretend, for their own gains (power, money, attention), that they are.

We don’t have all the answers yet. I know I don’t. But if we can start talking about the grey areas, instead of shouting about the fictional this side vs. fake that side, maybe we can get there.

One Reply to “Which side are you on?”

  1. Hey E,
    These methods of argument and thinking sadly seem with us to stay. Whether it’s due to muddled ways of thinking, or strategies to “win” a discussion through intentional misdirection, the desire for a perceived security or certainty of future outcomes will always be exploited by some to manipulate the behaviors of others.

    The only ways I know to lessen this vulnerability externally is true and unwavering stability of the essentials of life for all. Publicly, the broader education on this and other tools of rhetoric and the logical fallacies they rely on, would be most effective way to control its undue influence. Our nation in the past had better controls on how public political policy was discussed through things like the fairness doctrine and earnest enforcement of antitrust laws in media ownership. The Citizens United vs. FEC court decision has brought dark money into our political discourse at levels not seen since the 1920’s https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/citizens-united-explained. It’s corrupting influence on the nature and quality of our political discourse can be seen everywhere.

    Internally, I think we all have a personal responsibility to pursue clarity on what role our wants and fears have on our vulnerability to such manipulations. None of get out of this life alive, and our individual and collective strategies for disengaging from that reality are legion. Those Faustian strategies though make us more susceptible to fear mongering and the black and white, either / or thinking we see playing out in all those matters that occupy the gray areas you referred to. Easy answers for the desperately fearful of their own certain ending.

    We can all have our thoughts and feelings on that end. We know more than ever, the answers to what happens to life physically, and the many how’s that might bring it about it’s end. After that, is the stuff of pure imagination.

    We don’t and, so far, can’t know what or if anything exists beyond that change of state in our physical existence. There are theories of thought on why and how our experience of time and causality has a physical basis, but ways to test them have yet to be devised. It may be a simple construct of the frequency all matter in our universe vibrates at (we call it the background radiation). Our research on it hasn’t found a physical cause for its existence as it is. It seems arbitrary, but change it and our periodic table of matter would be entirely different.

    So the basis of time and causality may be unique to the properties of our universe vibrating at this frequency. It gives me the sense our musings about what happens after we die are all quite ludicrous in there attempts.

    Life’s vaunted will to survive may be a simple chemical reflex to keep the ongoing reactions running to their available end point. We experience it as pain, but it may be nothing more than a change in a state of matter and energy. We want there to be more to it than that to better cope with the experience. But our wants do not make a truth.

    The problem-solving principle that recommends searching for explanations constructed with the smallest possible set of elements is useful here. Take what you know, remove as many assumptions as you can and that will bring you closer to the truth.

    I’m losing my train of thought now. I just thought your questions deserved a response from a source you know won’t be offended by dismissal. Love & Hugs

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