He meant it as a compliment, but I think it was an excuse.
“Well, Steve, you just think at a different level than the rest of us.”
He was referring to the discussion we were having – one where I had just related the work of Kant to a management technique. “It’s not a bad way of thinking,” he continued, “it is just different from the way most of us think.”
And that, perhaps, is the problem.
Later that day, I ran into anti-abortion protesters on the sidewalk. I normally don’t bother talking to protesters on either side of that debate – too few people actually bother to think about it on either side. The man I approached, however, had doctor’s names on his placard – and that was something that I had to question.
“They supported an abortion provider publicly,” he told me.
“Yes, and you’re opposing it publicly. Why isn’t your name on a poster? If you’re not afraid that some wacko will go hunt them down, why aren’t you putting your name on here to take your own chance?”
He actually paused to think. The principle of the thing actually made him stop, and think. As we continued talking – only once interrupted by the police officer making sure we were just discussing instead of fighting – we got into really arcane and philosophical topics. What is life? What is personhood? Shouldn’t the measures for the beginning of life be mirrored for the end of life? Why is an unintended miscarriage by the pill make it an “abortafacient”, but an unintended miscarriage because of exercise or a glass of wine an “accident”?
These – like some of the other things I talk about here – are often considered to be overanalyzed philosophical minutae. But in this case – as with many others – these philosophical bits underlie the point of policy. By drilling down to the guiding moral principles – and ensuring their rigor – we can then begin to craft an effective policy.
Most of the “trigger” issues fall into this category. What is a family? What makes you related to someone else? Is an abusive biological parent more of a “real” parent than a supporting and caring adoptive one? Look at our concern about religion – isn’t part of the fear that someone else will tell us that we’re wrong? The persistent myth that kids can’t pray in school would seem to indicate so – combined with the strong Christian reaction to any attempt to address Muslim or Atheist traditions. What does that really say about our faith?
Perhaps politics and religion are impolite conversation. But now, more than ever, they are necessary conversations. We must find our collective goals, and only then can we work on ways to address them.
And damnit, it means that we all have to think.