“They just dont get it.
We said this kind of thing a lot during the election. It marked the moment when we despaired at the sheer wrong-headedness of the opposition.
“They just dont get it was sometimes followed by grand declarations:
“Im moving to Canada.
“Im moving to a gated suburb.
Moving to Canada? Dude! Youre that alienated? Moving to a suburb? You must be joking. This is how bad you think it is?
This is separatism. This is exit. This is what happens when we feel theres no hope of getting our point across. Republicans are from Mars. Democrats from Venus. Lets call the whole thing off.
But what if this is a symptom of a larger problem: the new reality of culture and politics?
We are more multiple than we used to be. The ideological spectrum has stretched in both directions. The Right is further right. The Left is further left. And both camps are more heterogeneous. The absolute ideological space has expanded extensively and intensively.
We have a systematic problem on our hands. If there is more ideological space, it is inevitable that we should find ourselves dealing with people “who just dont get it. How could it be otherwise? They live on one coast. We live on the other. What are the chances were going to share assumptions? This is the nature of the new political beast.
It is time to rewrite the rules of discourage. As it stands, we make our arguments with the blithe assurance that they will carry the day by their own their own inherent plausibility. If we engage the opposition, it is to snipe and cavil. (I have done my share of this, as readers have noted.)
It is better to know the enemy, master their assumptions, and address these assumptions explicitly. In the case of the argument for Gay marriage, this means saying things like, “I understand that this proposition threatens your idea of the family. Heres why [in a very detailed way] I believe Gay marriage would not put the idea or the reality of the family in jeopardy. On the Right this means saying things like, “I understand that you believe the marketplace stands at odds with social justice. Heres hwy [in a very detailed way] I believe the marketplace actually serves the goals of social justice.
Clearly, some differences are non negotiable. Some on the Right will say “but the Bible says. Some on the Left will say, “only a perfectly equal distribution of resources is acceptable. Fine, we have got to rock bottom differences. But sometimes some people on the Right and Left are going to say, “Oh, thats interesting. Let me think on that.
And certainly, they are going to think, “I still believe you are deeply mistaken, but thanks for making the effort. If nothing else, a detailed engagement with the opponents terms does them the courtesy of saying, “I get that you are sincere. I get that you have an idea. And I have done by best to respect this idea in my response.
The problem is that we are now responding to the great gaps between us by shouting our positions across the chasm. And all this does is create the impression that there is no middle ground when there might be a little.
And a little is a lot. It begins to rebuild the center. It begins to resupply our now almost exhausted stocks of mutual respect. This is the right thing to do, the Millian thing to do.
But it is also the strategic thing to do. This is the way to split the monolith. A few people on the other side will say, “Oh, interesting. And that begins the process of separating the lunatics from the party of thoughtfulness, the doctrinaire from those who are truly interested in “building bridges.
In sum, there is a way to rebuild the center but it depends upon a new mutual interest, a kind of anthropological investigation (forgive me if I see this in parochial terms) of who the other is. It could be that we will come away from this with the grim understanding that mutuality is impossible. But if we continue in our present fashion, we may be quite certain that we will make this so.
Ennis. 2004. Several posts on this blog (for forcing me to think about the real challenges of “discourse)
Another way to begin to close the ideological gap is to see if we cant fashion a peace treaty for the culture wars. “They just dont get it comes in part from the fact that we are unacquainted with the founding ideas and documents of the other party. The problem is not so much that they just dont get it, as that we dont get them.
One way to do this is to propose the 20 cultural documents that one side should master in order to “get what the other side is saying.
A first candidate for those on the Right who would understand the Left is DVD just released by Universal that contains 5 Marx brothers movies: Duck Soup, The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, and Horse Feathers.
This will seems an odd choice, but consider this quote from Duck Soup:
A minister of cabinet of Freedonia: I give all my time and energy to my duties and what do I get?
Groucho: Well, you get awfully tiresome after a while.
The Marx Brothers were one of the founts of my transformation as an adolescent. It was one of the documents that encouraged me to scorn authority. They were in fact architects of the 1960s and its anti-establishment point of few. Some people on the Right believe that this is the time to restore our respect for authority, and they will find this films not the least bit funny. But others will begin to see that even a deeply conservative soul can take pleasure in ludic play. While we are building bridges, this is one place to start.
I’m open to all suggestions for other seminal documents, a kind of briefing compendium for the Left and the Right.