I have no obvious credentials to justify my writing about politics. I have zero experience in the field—with the exception of a devastating near miss in my 5th grade student council election.
I have an interest in politics and I talk to people about their views. A good start, sure, but I don’t blame you for thinking I have absolutely nothing insightful to say.
But I think what does give me tremendous insight into politics is that I am a completely irrational die-hard sports fan.
Yes, I’m the guy that yells at the TV when my team makes the wrong decision. I’m the guy who loves them no matter what (even when they don’t deserve it) and hates the other team as a matter of principle. I live and die with each win and loss. I see the world through a frighteningly subjective lens and my rational faculties are completely shut off from the entire exercise. Sound familiar?
This is precisely how most of us act when thinking and talking about politics. We pick teams. We set our allegiances. Our side is wholly right and the other is wholly wrong. Always and forever.
And it’s this mentality that shrouds how we speak to each other. We don’t so much debate as accuse. We often assume the worst about the opposition. The other side is always crazy, evil, immoral and has the worst of intentions.
No meeting of the minds occurs in our discussions. On the contrary, arguments made by the opposition only further entrench us in our views. We can always tell ourselves “I’ve heard that argument before and I know the rebuttal” or even worse we can think “What a crazy idiot.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are correct and incorrect positions to take on the issues. Public policy does not just boil down to a matter of opinion. We are not all equally justified in our opinions.
But how in the world do you tell if you’re being rational or not? How do you know if you’re actually correct or just feeling correct?
I think I have a solution. It’s easy to state but difficult to implement.
It’s called “doubt.” Always maintain a healthy amount of doubt in your position. Never be fully convinced. Realize that your understanding is always partial, imperfect, incomplete.
When you are not so wholly entrenched, you’ll be more open to hearing the opposition and more inclined to objectively ask yourself “How could someone come to see the world this way?” without immediately answering “Because they’re stupid/evil/immoral.”
It will take a lot of work and you will likely still find opposing arguments to be full of mistakes and fallacies. But you also might learn something—and this will be incredibly useful.
After all, there is so much you haven’t learned yet.
Evan McGoff is an overly devoted New York Knicks fan and is therefore a foolish masochist. This is not likely to change…