Take off that suit — it doesn’t fit you.

May 27th, 2009


One of the grand problems of political discourse in the United States is that we are often expected to put on an entire suit of clothes at once — to buy into an entire ideology, with all its interlocking parts. This leads to false dichotomies, shoddy thinking, and the erosion of our Republic. I hope you’ll reject that way of thinking.

I have a friend who frames this in terms of the death penalty. He’s a political freethinker, but he’s found that if he learns a person’s stance on capital punishment, he can often extrapolate many of their other political views. In many cases, the first “suit of clothes” looks like this:

  • pro-capital punishment
  • pro-gun rights
  • pro-life
  • pro-Iraq invasion
  • pro-Bush
  • anti-Obama
  • anti-tax
  • anti-regulation
  • “conservative”
  • etc.

The other suit of clothes is the negative image of the first:

  • anti-capital punishment
  • pro-gun control
  • pro-choice
  • anti-Iraq invasion
  • anti-Bush
  • pro-Obama
  • pro-tax (or tolerant of higher taxes, especially on the rich)
  • pro-regulation
  • “liberal”
  • etc.

Here’s the big problem: if you wear one of these suits of clothes without thinking it through, you end up holding ridiculous positions. For now, just one example:

  • Most climatologists in the world, regardless of nationality or politics, are convinced on the basis of strong evidence that global warming is a real, current problem that requires strong human intervention. If they’re right — or even likely right — how will it benefit us to resist them on ideological grounds?

We have big problems ahead of us: climate, economy, foreign policy, et cetera. And too many of our approaches to these problems have been driven by ideology, not independent thought.

Please buck that trend.


(Photo by John Keogh, used under a CC-NC license.)

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