The most appetizing leftovers have been eaten, the unappetizing ones tossed, and we’ve moved on to maxing out plastic. But one leftover cannot be so easily disposed of: the tension that hovered over millions of Thanksgiving tables as palpably as the steam from a freshly baked casserole. It’s the same tension that in recent years has heated interactions at America’s water coolers, turned Twitter into a Benghazi firefight, and even sent otherwise loving couples to divorce court.
This tension exists largely because certain key attitudinal and philosophical ingredients never seem to get baked into our rules of social engagement, despite a profound cultural deficiency in such conversational nutrients.
With luck (and some honest soul-searching?) these prescriptives could help make next Thanksgiving’s family reunions, and daily life in general, more agreeable. Following, then, my wish list for improved dialog.
My hopes for us include:
- The self-discipline to keep paying attention to people even after we’ve ID’d them as belonging to a competing political phenotype. Today, of course, as soon as that identification is made, we tune out to begin devising a sarcastic riposte.
- The awareness that neither liberalism nor conservatism in its unalloyed state is apt to yield a viable, harmonious America; that balancing prosperity with equity calls for political hybridity and moderation. The free market lacks air bags; but suffocating government oversight brings its own problems.
- The recognition that truth in its pure state is not a subjective condition. Oprah notwithstanding, there’s no such thing as your truth; there is only truth. That truth may not in all cases be knowable, but it does exist, and we should not cheapen the term by implying that each of us is allowed his own facts until the real ones are revealed.
- The grudging acceptance in the media that journalists enjoy no license to impose a moral framework on the news. The news should reflect the aforementioned truth, in as streamlined a state as the journalist is able to discern it. We could use far fewer in-studio pundits and far more at-large finders of fact.
- A cultural ethos in which we are not sorted into sectarian cults of libtards and neo-Nazis, and where we don’t assume that our preferred political persuasion is an existential crusade on behalf of the soul of humanity. (If you’re reading this and thinking “but it really is!” you’re part of the problem. Ditto if you often find yourself saying “There is no other side.”)
- An awareness that today’s political system is less about governance than about power and the perpetuation of same. This demagoguery occurs on both sides of the aisle. For every right-wing politician who courts white malcontents, there’s a left-wing politician who implies that you’re not “authentically black” unless you’re a Democrat.
- The realization that if you’re going to justify your argument based on “traditional Judeo-Christian values,” you have implicitly invited, say, the devout Islamist to argue for Sharia. America has no authorized religion. Further, a place at the table must be set for the growing contingent of Americans who hold no religious values whatsoever.
- A meeting of the minds between so-called constitutional originalists (who believe that every word of the document is sacred and has been as interpreted as it ever needs to be) and those who argue for modifications based on an evolving nation. If you insist that originalism precludes compromise or alternatively that we “need to scrap the Constitution and start over,” you are, again, part of the problem.
- The realization that certain common debate-stoppers are not winning moves but, in fact, represent the white flag of surrender. “That’s whataboutism!” often translates to “You caught me in an obvious hypocrisy or logical breach for which I have no rebuttal.” An accusation of trolling may mean “You demolished my argument in 280 characters so I’ll fall back on calling you a jerk.”
Finally, I would ask everyone to consider two things. One, none of us chose to be born into this world. Two, increasing scientific evidence suggests that no matter where you come down on nature vs. nurture, free will (if it exists) unfolds within far more confined parameters than most of us would prefer to believe.
We are nudged along in our journey through life by potent forces internal and external, and it’s impossible for any of us to know what mix of nature and nurture brought other people to their present views. To apply that most perfect of lines from John Steinbeck, our neighbors, perhaps even our loved ones, “live in rooms of experience we can never enter.” It’s incumbent on us, therefore, to show humility, to be understanding of those whose journeys led them elsewhere.