Friday post: the value of disagreement
Anyone who’s been blogging longer than a year will tell you the best part of their blog is the comments from readers. There is a good reason for this – nothing makes for a more interesting post than “a Democrat, a Republican, and a Libertarian walk into a bar…” There are blogs where almost everyone is in full agreement but it isn’t very much fun – or much of a learning experience – watching them agree with each other and slap each other on the back.
Another reason this is true is that we sometimes get comments from people who are right in the middle of the issue or event. That turns a news item into a personal story. If you are surrounded by what’s happening, I really want to know what you think.
Another thing: The most important reason: for years, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that another person with different life experiences can look at an event or issue and see something completely different from what I see. Their opinion seems so counterintuitive to me, and mine to them. Who is right? Is there such a thing as an ideal perspective?
That is the reason why I really appreciate readers who disagree. It is why I sometimes leave your comments in place for a day or two without responding; other readers can read my post, and the comment, and leave their own comments. It is the reason I try to keep the name-calling and pigeon-holing to a minimum. What’s the point of people yelling at each other? I’d much rather give them space to explain why they think as they do.
Even if you grant we have each come upon truths we consider important, is there nothing a former-Republican Democrat like me could learn from a Libertarian? Or a Libertarian from a Green? Is there no possible benefit in trying to understand – if only for a while – why a Christian or Muslim Fundamentalist feels as he does?
If we just enjoy shouting, fine; there are any number of talk shows for that. It could be argued (and some do) that the attempt to understand and learn from others leads to paralysis of action. This may not really be a bad thing, if the action being paralyzed is a harmful one. And even if action has to go forward, wouldn’t we be better forewarned of pitfalls by insight from people who disagree with us? Because… there may not be such a thing as an ideal perspective.
I’ve been thinking about Paul’s article, Conscious thought is symbolic; no more, no less. It’s as good an explanation as any I’ve seen, and will do until a better one comes along. Here’s a taste:
… Instead of saying that normal, everyday consciousness mirrors reality, it would be far more accurate to say that it maps reality. That is, the relationship of consciousness to reality is basically the same as the relationship of a map to its terrain…
There are different kinds of maps: topographical maps, gravity maps, political maps, geological maps, treasure maps, spectral-reflectivity maps, epidemiological maps, highway maps – and different uses for each one. All are true in some respect, but none is The Truth.
And whatever its purpose, a given map has limitations of accuracy. How much ground does it cover, and at what level of detail? Are there features the cartographer simply chose to ignore? (Perhaps because they’re secret, or politically inconvenient, or painful to remember, or the information was not available. Or, for reasons they cannot really explain).
What if we could overlay all the different kinds of maps, one over the other? Studying them, finding correlations between the different variables being mapped? Can we do that politically, philosophically, interpersonally? What could we discover?
Having an open mind should not equal being adrift. There’s nothing wrong with looking at an idea, considering it, and soundly rejecting it. I work pretty hard on being “right” – some may call me opinionated – but it should be a work-in-progress. I have changed my mind on some pretty big issues over the years. In a few cases, it happened because someone I disagree with convinced me by a well-supported argument. Our opinions are a little sign on the map that says “You Are Here” – they shouldn’t be a cage from which we cannot escape. I would hate to be imprisoned within the opinions I held 30 years ago. And I hope to live a lot longer.