Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

I’ll never look behind me; My troubles will be few… On @JeffreyASach’s Missing Quadrant

Jeffrey Sachs — the legal academic, not the economist — posed the question of the missing quadrant:

X-axis is the degree to which a person disagrees with you politically.

Y-axis is the degree to which a person seems fundamentally decent and good.

What’s the twitter handle of the person in the upper-right quadrant?

Or, perhaps more easily, who is the person that you think is fundamentally decent and good with whom you also disagree politically.

The underlying assumption — which I think is correct — is that most of us are not on friendly terms with people with whom we politically disagree.

As I’m conservative and overwhelmingly have liberal, progressive, and radical friends, I think this is an issue that needs to be explored in detail as I think it is a consequence of a media environment that is completely incapable of presenting rational, informative, constructive disagreements between people.

Let’s start with the basic problem: in what sense could a person who is fundamentally decent and good also disagree with you politically?  You have strong political views.  People should be treated fairly.  The democratic franchise should be extended as widely as possible.  Feminism is good.  Homophobia is bad.  People should feel safe to express whatever gender identity they want.

And so to disagree with somebody politically would be to negate all the above sentences of values that you hold.  But no fundamentally decent and good person could possibly negate those sentences, therefore no fundamentally decent and good person could also disagree with you politically.

This ends up being the framework through which we see ‘political’ debates in the media.  If you’re discussing race, you need to balance it out with a racist.  If you’re discussing science, you need to balance it out with somebody who rejects the science.  If you’re discussing some kind of equality, you need a monster who is going to argue against equality.

It is for this reason that a lot of people never get exposed to serious conservative arguments, and why progressives see conservatives as a freak show parade of people who would argue up is down in order to ‘own the libs’.

During the Black Lives Matter protests, rather than have anything resembling a serious conservative view point (of which there are many) the New York Times ran a piece by a right wing senator who wanted to send in the troops to stop the protests.  Of course, you could argue that the views of a senator are inherently worth broadcasting for the purposes of democratic debate.  My point is that the selection again reinforces the belief that there’s nothing but monsters on my ‘side’ of the political fence.

Or, to make this as clear as possible, when a progressive reveals that they have absolutely horrific views on a subject, the diversity of progressive opinion in mainstream media dilutes the problem.  There are pockets of crazy on the left, but you can safely ignore those pockets. Rightwing representation in the mainstream media is so narrow that you can’t swing a cat without hitting somebody who probably thinks that you should swing the cat harder, if only to remind other cats of their place in the social hierarchy.

So back to the problem.  Consider two people who affirm the statement ‘The State should recognise marriage between two people of the same gender’.  They might — especially if one of the people in this scenario is me — think this is a true statement for radically different reasons.  For the progressive, they might think about individual rights, sexual privacy, and the celebration of homosexual relationships.  For the conservative, they might think about the centrality of the family unit to society, the role of marriage in stabilising social norms, and emphasising social cohesion.  Two radically different ways of looking at the problem but with the same result: the State should recognise marriage between two people of the same gender.

There are some propositions where I simply do not need to hear the rationale.  No matter what their reasoning, I’m never going to believe that the Holocaust was a good idea.  I’m never going to believe that Muslim Australians should be deported en masse. I’m never going to believe that Indigenous Australian culture and society is inherently inferior to Anglo culture and society.  In fact, I don’t think a rational, fundamentally decent person could advocate for such things.

In a healthy political environment, we would have people curating the garden of ideas so that we hear the ideas worth hearing, and understand the differences of opinion on real matters of public debate.  It’s in this environment that people have a better opportunity to form, develop, and articulate their own views on key issues that face our society.

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