Some Afterthoughts About Getting Along
May 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
Jonathan Haidt’s book continues to evoke internal conversations with myself, even though I have read the book, thought about it, written about it and returned it to the library.
For example, I now realize that, as I read the book and wrote about it, I was engaging in a fantasy: I reacted as if the Professor was prepping me before I began negotiations with authorized representatives of the Republican Party about economic policy, equality and discrimination, labor policy and various other matters of state. He encouraged me to eschew insults and rhetorical questions designed to expose the conservative negotiators’ immorality and gross misunderstanding of historical and scientific facts. Instead, he demanded that I adapt my behavior to the goal of reaching a compromise that would benefit the common good, even if it failed to achieve the kind of result I would have crafted if left to do so alone.
This is a fantasy because there is no chance I will have anything to do with such negotiations. The realistic way for me to consider Haidt’s ideas and suggestions is to allow them to affect the extent to which I will tolerate the way liberal politicians engage in that kind of negotiation. If they make compromises in order to achieve desirable goals, should I excoriate them as feckless weaklings or should I recognize them as useful political agents?
In the past, I have not spent much time pondering this question. My elephant, to use Haidt’s metaphor, took care of that for me and I have been generally satisfied to luxuriate in the warm glow of liberal purity, on the theory that if I, and others similarly situated and motivated, pushed as hard as we could to the left, the result might move the politically negotiated result a few millimeters in that direction. Even after undergoing a few hours of counseling by Professor Haidt, I am still mightily inclined toward that mind-set. He has, however, left me with a new awareness that compromise and good faith negotiation are necessary if government is to function.
I do not understand Haidt to be advocating capitulation or agreement at any cost. His book is a statement of hope that, if the emotional atmosphere can be modified to permit civil discourse instead of rhetorical warfare, some degree of accommodation of opposing views may be attained. He is not Dr. Pangloss. He recognizes that meaningful negotiation with Tea Party types is unlikely and, as long as Republican negotiators feel bound by foolish pledges to single-issue fanatics like Grover Norquist, no sensible negotiation can occur. Reason and civility must emanate from both sides if progress is to be made.
I believe that government will become functional. What I don’t know, and what I am somewhat pessimistic about, is the degree to which economic harm must ensue before elected officials become willing to do what is necessary. I know that cutting budgets, deregulating Wall Street and denying health care to middle-class Americans, while continuing to transfer wealth to their richest neighbors will finally capsize the economy and recreate the kind of pain and tragedy that have followed similar policies when they were tried before. Like Haidt, I hope that can be avoided.