Democrats & Liberals Archives

Conflict and Politics

All too often, we present controversies in this nation as a matter of Good versus Evil and the thing we’re opposing as a dragon to be slain. Bush and others are masters of this game, but they’re only following the examples of others in this.

It seems the easy way to fight for what’s right. Find your villain, oppose that villain. But does that really characterize the roots of positive change in this country? Or is it an illusion that wastes our efforts on easy victories, and easier stalemates?

The reason politicians love to use Good vs. Evil arguments is precisely so they can invalidate the opponent's approach, and leave themselves as the people actually doing some good, while their opponent is keeping the problems as they are or making them worse. A fine argument to make if it is true, but only then. Otherwise, such arguments will only lead us away from the good choices, not present them to us.

True conflict is almost never between a good thing and a bad thing, because by definition, there's no hesitancy for a reasonable, sane person, who will pick the good. No, true conflict is about picking between good things, or choosing between two bad things.

Do we feed the poor, or improve the economy? Do we continue to maintain a massive defense department, or do we try and cut the costs to avoid bad consequences? Do we lower the deficit, or explore the brilliant futures of the space program?

Do we allow a dictator to remain in power, or do we choose to destabilize the region? Do we give up safety, or do we give up freedom? Do we commit racism by singling out all people from an ethnic group that includes terrorists who have attacked us in the past, or do we commit negligence by not following such leads?

Taken as whole, no persistent issue is based on simple good vs. evil dynamics. They are almost always a product of competing goods or alternative evils.

Solutions are possible. Not every percieved conflict is an actual one. If there are better and more precise means than racial profiling to track down terrorists, then it no longer is a choice between racism and negligence. We should look at the evidence, and try to build our understanding of the effectiveness of such means as much as possible, because a mistaken belief proudly held is still mistaken, and mistakes, like all actions, have consequences. What characterizes a mistake is not POV, but negative consequences.

When conflicts are true, and aren't just the product of ignorance or misunderstandings, we should work on making our compromises, or finding the points at which small changes will settle the conflict. If we can screen Arab immigrants and achieve better results than mass profiling, then there is the way out of the conflict, or at least the way to ease the tensions.

But always, the emphasis has to be that we respond to our mistakes, and that we remain observant of the results of things. Difficult in a large, complex country like ours, but nobody said than anybody had to do it by themselves. If we are truly to deal with the conficts at hand, we have to be realistic about it, while not pessimistic. Each person can do some good, but we can't rely on them alone, or consider the cause lost.

I reiterate: we must be conscientious about the inevitable errors in our thoughts, both as we speak out and as we disagree with those we respond to, for it will be difficult to discern true conflicts from false and to find the appropriate routes of compromise and resolution if we fail to discover our own errors.

In the end, we can have unproductive battles of egos, or we can have a fruitful working out of differences. The choices is ours, to make and to live with.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at February 25, 2004 11:07 PM