Thursday, December 10, 2015

Beyond One Dimension

This is the second post inspired by a quote my Dad shared on Facebook the other day:*

(I wrote in the first post more about how these types of statements function within societies and individuals. This post will be less deep and more a working out of my own sociological categorization of political positions.)

Guns, for or against, is not the issue. Sin is the issue. Jesus is the answer for all of us. He is the Prince of Peace!

"Put simply, today’s liberalism cannot deal with the reality of evil. So liberals inveigh against the instruments the evil use rather than the evil that motivates them." – WILLIAM MCGURN, The Liberal Theology of Gun Control, Guns are what you talk about to avoid having to talk about Islamist terrorism., The Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2015

This statement is certainly true and descriptive of a certain type of person. We may know people who resemble this depiction, more likely we know people who come really close. Everything is a continuum, right? There are very few instances when people embody an extreme (and when that happens we tend to make them the extreme, even if it's conceivable someone could go beyond - a la Hitler).

That being said, I do think this underlying point can be a good left end of the political spectrum. At it's core, the extreme left comes from a place where the people in power (or those who aspire to power, be it dictators or voters) assume "people are basically good and we just need to provide them with a society that allows them to make good choices." At the other end of such a spectrum, the extreme right can be roughly defined by those in power (or aspiring to power) assuming "people are basically evil and must be constrained in order to behave rightly."

"Wait,!" you say, "I don't like either of those positions."

Right you are, by their very definition extremes are repugnant. This particular articulation of extremes, though, essentially assumes protectionist control over people, either because people need protection from outside forces or because people need protection from each other. This is why talking about a one dimensional continuum is problematic.

For American politics we might add a second axis to the grid. For clarity sake we'll call it Top and Bottom (you'll see why later). The extreme top assumes everyone is basically capable of taking care of themselves and just needs to be left alone. While the extreme bottom believes people are inherently incapable of individual existence and need the larger community to ensure basic needs.

To define the corners of a grid like this is a study in absurdity, but you can generally look at it as more control to the left and right and more freedom to the top and bottom, with varying definitions of how freedom and control work themselves out in relationship to other people.

Like any good, unbiased chart maker, I see myself precisely in the middle. Ultimately, the extremes betray the same fears. Left and right are terrified of being unsafe and fall into the trap of either trying to create a world where no one would think of hurting anyone or a world in which no one is actually capable of hurting anyone. Top and bottom are each afraid of not having enough and fall into the trap of either creating a world where no one will hold us back or one where no one will let us fail.

In every scenario, the system becomes the bad guy, even if that system is to have no system (as the extreme top position holds). To me, the solution is simply to say every system is functional and dysfunctional. People are basically good and basically evil - if left to live in a vacuum, they will continue to do both awesome and tragic things. We're also all inherently capable of a lot and really, really incapable of a whole lot, too; left to live in a vacuum, we'd be both terribly responsible and terribly irresponsible.

I guess this post should've come first, because it's from here you delve into the kinds of things I said on Tuesday. But what I think is more telling is that we can't really stop with two axes either. I mean, there will be an up and down axis and a south-southwest by north-northwest axis and any other conceivable axis until we've got a sphere - which, in my corniest heart of hearts I want to stand for the world on which we all live.

It would be a great illustration for the idea that beyond any system or ideology we might profess, we have to live together, and very likely there's no "right" way to live - or if there is, there's very little chance we'll figure that out. We can only be present with the people and in the places we are present and try to do "right" by them. The one thing I think we really can't afford to do, is create categories of "other." I'm not saying we have to all be the same (that's pretty much the opposite of what I'm saying), what we have to realize, to embody is that no one is entirely different and no one is entirely alike. We have to push back against these inborn desires to categorize and define people as anything other than individuals. We're all beyond one dimension (or two, or three), so we need to stop treating each other that way.

*This should in no way imply I am accusing my father or anything other than having good taste in quotes. I've seen a lot of people use the quote to make various inferences about policy and beliefs that I'm not sure are implicit in the quoted statement above. We all sort of have to deal with our reactions to it honestly.

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