Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Thoughts

I have started reading books with which I think I will fundamentally disagree.

I've been kind of busy, so I haven't gotten very far on this project. When the library refused to get The Flipside of Feminism from Interlibrary Loan based on their rule that they do not get books published in the same year as the interlibrary loan request (note: What the hell!? Thanks a lot, Multnomah County Library! Like I'm going to have an easy time convincing Portland libraries to purchase a book subtitled What Smart Women Know and Men Can't Say on some editions and on other editions, the "Smart" is swapped out for "Conservative"), I mulled over whether or not I would want to pay money for such a book, and only got as far as reading the free sample for my Nook.

I came up with this theory awhile ago, probably a revival of something I started thinking as early as high school, that much of the disagreements about politics, economics, all that "how stuff works and how it should work and what should happen" kind of stuff, is based in semantics. For example, Group A and Group B are arguing about Topic C, and Group A is dead set on Solution A; Group B is dead set on Solution B. They all agree that Solution A and Solution B are fundamentally opposed, because one is called A and one is called B and B basically means, "Not A"! But if both groups sat down and started listing the characteristics of Solution A and Not A/Solution B, they might find that there is a lot of common ground. Or they might find that Solution A and Solution B are exactly the same thing.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit, especially now that I am in Government School (aka The Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. From now on, I will refer to it as "Government School.") (This is partially because I keep having to double check if Mr. Hatfield's name is spelled "Mark" or "Marc.")

I think that's where I'll end for today. Otherwise, this could turn into a full-blown rant. Not just Rant with a capital R, but a RANT. Because my views on this matter are not all touchy-feely we-all-are-the-same-on-the-inside we-can-all-just-get-along. One thing I feel very strongly about is that the reasons for all of this, disagreeing based on semantics--what you want to call an issue--and not on the actual issue, are in fact selfish and narrow-minded. It has to do with people's tendency to classify others as The Other, and to dislike that Other, and to be very dismissive of that Other. I started writing about this with a friend because I read this NYT piece by Nicholas Kristof. One thing the article discusses is how religious people and non-religious (potentially anti-religious) people work toward the same issues, but will not work together. Mr. Kristof sums it up better than I do, writing, "Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills."

His term for it, "mutual suspicion," is a lot nicer sounding than my choice of words like "selfish" and "narrow-minded."

My friend, CC, wrote in response to my e-mail (including the link to the Nicholas Kristof article), "A few years ago it struck me that there were many parallels between Christian-community groups rejecting consumerism and corporatism, and the very similar mindset of hardcore-punk kids. Of course, the two groups regard each other as opposite poles... up to a point where they converge."

There are cases in which Solution A and Solution B are actually exactly the same, or at least, there's a 90% overlap. I also think there are cases where Solution B really is Not Solution A, but up to a certain point, Group A and Group B can find something to agree on.

An example of the latter is people who are really really really opposed to abortion (Group A, although I suppose Group Not A would be a more appropriate abbreviation) and people who feel that abortion should never, ever be illegal (Group B). With maybe a few crazies who are the exception (like people who believe in eugenics or forced sterilizations), no one in either Group A or Group B thinks abortions are great. Most people in Group B think it must be an option, but not something you want to get to go through in your life. No one is going to get pregnant just to have an abortion. It's not on anyone's life To Do list. Ok, I think I've made my point, and I can move on.

I think it would be great if Group A and Group B could set aside their differences, could put down their signs and their graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and e-mail forwards from the point of view of an unborn child saying, "Why doesn't Mommy love me? I only wanted to live!"...whoops, I got carried away again. Anyway, I think it would be great if these two groups could get together and say, let's brainstorm some solutions we can both agree on. Like, how about, let's come up with ways that help prevent individuals from being in the situation to make that choice.

That wouldn't exactly be easy, of course. You could very quickly get into an argument about the morality of birth control. Or the effectiveness of abstinence-only education. Or that the "adoption" choice results in overpopulation. The environmental impact of overpopulation (to which I'd say, "Sorry, I think that's only a few steps removed from arguments in favor of forced sterilization and eugenics.")

Or maybe everyone would, once they started talking, stop hating each other, stop deciding they are in favor of Solution B simply because of their affiliation with Group B and that such an affiliation means Hating Group A Just Because Of Who They Are.) Maybe a few people would say, let's find something we can agree on, like some community improvement of which we all approve that indirectly relates to our purpose because it makes the community a nicer place to bring children into.

From Kittatinny Valley State Park

Here is a completely unrelated photo of Asplenium rhizophyllum to distract you from this controversial issue.

Another issue that I get all fired up about, because of this very same issue (Group B opting to be Group Not A), is global warming. Have you noticed that you pretty much never read those words on this blog, unless I am making a joke about something? That is because I am actually quite enthusiastically annoyed about the way in which people with whom I otherwise agree on environmental issues, insist on using that term and on arguing with people over the existence of global warming. And then other people are like, "blah blah blah, global warming is madeup." "Look at the data! If you think that even looking at this data, you're an idiot!" "No, you're an idiot, you stupid hippie!" Who cares what you want to call it? We can all agree on certain man-made environmental ills. Let's talk about those, and try to address those together. The term "global warming" is polarizing. There is a time and a place for it. There is also a time and a place for just agreeing to disagree about that term, and focusing instead on something like air pollution or the finite supply of nonrenewable resources. (I first read something to this effect in No Impact Man, but it was so long ago that I do not know in which post he wrote it.)

This got way off track from what I originally wanted to write about, which was comments I've been hearing about free birth control. Since it would involve looking up some quotations and citing sources, I'll save that topic for another time. We have a whole long blogging-every-day month ahead of us!

I have started reading books which with I think I will fundamentally disagree, because I am looking for the things with which I can agree. I am looking for the buried meaning hidden under all of those labels, under the semantics. At some later time, I will write about my initial thoughts on the free sample intro of The Flipside of Feminism, and if I can convince the Multnomah County Library to get it, I will read it and write my thoughts about the whole book!

Here is an unrelated picture of water lilies:

From Kittatinny Valley State Park

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