Wednesday, Feb 05 2014 06:00 AM

The Human Scene: An equal opportunity irritation

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I don't want to live in a world governed by liberals (or Progressives, if you prefer.) Now that I have irritated some and made some smile and nod your heads, here's more. I don't want to live in a world governed by conservatives. That leaves only a small group that is not irritated. So here goes. I don't want to live in a world governed by moderates.

Now, if anybody is still reading, let me explain.

We live in a world of irreducible complexity where perception and reality are always in conflict. Nobody ever sees the whole picture. This is true for the right, the left, and everything in between. Every perspective has its blind spots. In this kind of world, it seems impossible that any given perspective would be able even to adequately describe, let alone offer workable and durable answers to the big questions. If one perspective dominates, there is increased probability of harm. Moderates are a bit safer, but they are hard to find these days, not to mention dull.

I used to think that since the "reasons" I gave for what I think were convincing to me, they should be convincing to other people. But that's not the case. If you are inclined to believe what I think, because it fits your own ideas, it takes just a tiny bit of "evidence" to get you on board. However, if my ideas don't fit with your ideas, then a whole truckload of evidence will probably not convince you. It will take only a tiny piece of contrary evidence to convince you I'm wrong. This is one reason conspiracy theories and closed ideologies are so durable.

Our first reaction is intuitional. Then our mind kicks in to justify the conclusion we have come to on the basis of intuition. It's a bit like the "green eggs and ham" story from Dr. Suess. He sees a guy pushing green eggs and ham, his intuition says "eewww," and his mind creates a reason to support his reaction. He's not going to eat them because he "doesn't like them." That rationalized intuition is the most basic way we approach questions of politics, religion, social norms, values, etc. It is the first way we approach moral judgments about good or bad, right or wrong, safe or unsafe, fair or unfair, moral or immoral, American or Un-American. It feels right or wrong, so we look for reasons why it is right or wrong. We tell ourselves the feelings arise from the reasons, but it's really the other way around.

Sometimes instantaneous intuitional judgments are helpful, such as when a soldier must decide whether an approaching soldier is friend or foe, or which way to turn to avoid an oncoming car, or whether to stand still or flee in the face of a threat from a dog. A tenth of a second can be the difference between life and death.

But political issues, social problems, religious conflict, all the big questions which have such great impact on our community life and our national life, need something more than intuitional thinking. They need to be seen from a broader perspective and checked against observable reality. The rationalizations and perceptions of each perspective must be examined in the light of the perspectives of other thinkers. The process allows us to examine not only the perceptions of the "other side" but also our own. That's the bottom line; the capacity to question and examine our own ideas and intuitions. Then we can get the best contributions from the rich moral and intellectual heritage of all our varied groupings in our diverse nation, to build a society in which access and opportunity are available to all our people.


JIM DINSMORE lives in Tehachapi. His column, "The Human Scene," appears regularly in the Tehachapi News.

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