Bipartisanship means nothing left to lose…

If you take some time to consider the TED talk I linked to yesterday (link to talk, not my post)], it should be pretty obvious that no group or way of thought has a monopoly on being correct. It might just be that people are socialized differently, it might be biological. In a very real sense, it doesn’t matter: All of the major socio-political systems from the modern era – capitalism and socialism, as well as the USA’s modern derivatives of the two, conservativism and liberalism – are flawed. There are people and groups that are exceptions to every rule. Those exceptions are large enough to doom the entire structure. This is especially pointed out in the example of the common pot from Mr. Haidt’s talk.

If you still haven’t watched it, it basically goes like this: Everyone puts money into a common pot. Everyone gets a share (with, essentially, interest) from that common pot – whether or not they put money in. Very quickly, people stopped contributing because a few people – bad apples, perhaps – realized they didn’t have to participate to gain the rewards. It wasn’t until a correction mechanism was put in place – a way to punish freeloaders – that people started contributing again. But the economists out there shouldn’t be too smug – time and time again people act in ways that aren’t in their obvious economic self-interest. That tends to undermine systems based on pure economic though.

Both systems cannot sustainably exist in their pure forms.

Some *like* to believe that everyone will take care of their bit of the world for the good of everyone else. Obviously not so. The converse would like to believe that people need to bear the cost of their actions to change behavior, which implies that altruism isn’t real; again something that manifestly isn’t so.

These systems and ideologies are models to understand and make sense of the world. They are tools to effect changes in the world. Ideology is NOT our morality. Ideology is NOT our values. Ideology happens when we turn our morality and values into static rules.

It’s tempting to think that their survival as systems is due to their usefulness. And they are useful systems. So is a hammer. And trying to unscrew something with a hammer doesn’t work well. Trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver doesn’t work well either.

It’s this realization – that our ideologies are rules of thumb that stand in for our values – that make moral dilemmas so fascinating. Any codified and static rule is inherently inflexible. It’s all or nothing, all the time, which inevitably leads to conflict. An old friend of mine once, within the course of an evening, waxed eloquently about the culture of life… and then expressed his desire to nuke Iraq.

Once we realize that our ideologies are not our values themselves, we can harness the good things about each of them. We can get the change we need without losing the values and ideals that brought us here. We can maintain our society without stagnating or perpetuating oppression.

To do all this, we have to think.

Just identifying yourself as a Democrat, Republican, Ron Paul supporter, Constitution Party member, Socialist, or whatever means that you’ve stopped thinking about the values that led to that choice.

We have to think about – and separate out – the needs and values that lead to our ideologies. We have to listen to our opponents, and try to understand why they support such crazy and wacky things.

We may not be able to reconcile all of them. Some – on all sides – might seriously require large amounts of therapy. But instead of divisive ideological culture wars, we can address the real needs and values of everyone while working towards the common goals of helping each of us, and helping all of us.