We live in a polarized political world, both locally here in Salem and nationally. This is extremely bothersome.
There's no way a city or a country can thrive when roughly half the population is viewed by the other half as worthy of disdain, because they hold views opposed to a supposedly Obviously Clearly Correct position.
Today I finished reading Stuart Firestein's book, "Failure: Why Science is So Successful." In a concluding chapter Firestein praises pluralism. Specifically value pluralism, a notion promulgated by philosopher Isaiah Berlin. He writes:
Berlin's value pluralism was at once far more radical and more constrained than either relativism or subjectivism. It was not "anything goes" but "many things go" --or better, "many chosen things go." Berlin claimed that there were values that were both good and incomparable, or, to use his better word, incommensurable.
That is, two or more things could be valuable or good, and not be measurable against each other, nor could one decide between them on a purely rational basis. Worse, they may even be in conflict. Liberty and privacy might be an example we struggle with today.
...Berlin essentially denies that there is a single correct way to do or see any human activity and asserts that sometimes the multiplicity will create rational or logical inconsistencies. Live with it. Live well with it.
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This ancient Greek aphorism, preserved in a fragment from the poet Archilochus, describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Leo Tolstoy and the philosophy of history, the subject of the epilogue to War and Peace. Although there have been many interpretations of the adage, Berlin uses it to mark a fundamental distinction between human beings who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system.
We need more foxes and fewer hedgehogs. Firestein is focused on science in his book, but he briefly talks about the problem of Hedgehogs Gone Wild in our modern politics. I totally agree with this passage.
Although Isaiah Berlin makes a compelling and impassioned case for pluralism in government and culture, I personally see little of it in modern discourse. Politics has certainly become a winner-take-all game.
The original ideas of pluralism associated with liberal democracies and legislative deliberations have all but vanished in favor of the fervor of one true path. Voters have become believers, not choosers, and alternatives are dispatched with smug righteousness.
There are still sides, and one can choose to be this or that (I would have said conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, but these terms have lost their meaning and are labels only for belonging to a particular party line that believes completely in its supremacy).
These days joining a side merely means spouting their slogans. There is no good failure, no failure with value, in politics or governing. Thus the mess.
The obvious current example of this is the effort to repeal (and maybe replace) the Affordable Care Act by the Republican Congress.
Even though "Obamacare" was approved on a party-line vote, there were many months of hearings on the Affordable Care Act, lots of back-and-forth debate, and Republicans were able to have well over a hundred amendments to the bill made part of the legislation. This isn't happening with the attempt to repeal Obamacare.
Plus, the Affordable Care Act was based on "Romneycare," the conservative approach to health care reform that was implemented successfully in Massachusetts.
So, yeah, the Affordable Care Act was a fox'y piece of legislation.
It blended disparate ideas into an attempt to improve our health care system that wasn't perfect, but sure was a heck of a lot better than the status quo. Now, it needs to be improved. But instead of doing this, Republicans basically are fixated on a "hedgehog" replacement that slashes Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars so tax breaks can be given to the wealthiest Americans.
As Firestein put it, the GOP is acting like believers, not choosers. Republican leaders are trying to legislate on the basis of ideology, not informed choices about the most workable policies.
Likewise, here in Salem the Salem River Crossing (or Third Bridge) is a highly contentious issue.
Supporters of the bridge, such as the Salem Bridge Solutions group, are focused on a simplistic "Build It Now!" cry. I readily admit that the No 3rd Bridge opponents of the Salem River Crossing are equally adamant about their position, but here's the difference:
Opponents of the Third Bridge incorporate ideas of the bridge supporters. They are much more fox-like. They recognize that rush-hour congestion on the two current bridges is a problem. They offer ways to reduce that congestion for a much lower cost than a billion-dollar (including financing costs) new bridge,
As you can surmise, I feel that liberals are, by and large, more pluralistic and fox'y than conservatives -- who tend to be more rigid and committed to a strict right-wing ideology.
The way to bridge political divides is open, honest, in-depth dialogue. Hearings. Debates. Forums. Fact-based presentations that support certain values.
When I hear people calling for more discussion with citizens, and more discussion between opposing political sides, before arriving at an important policy decision, this strikes me as a sign that a Hedgehog mentality is on a decline and the Foxes are ascending.
May we have more of this in Salem. And the nation.