From racism to global warming, I hear people who are sure that they are absolutely right and that others are totally wrong. In their minds, there is no doubt or margin of error. Some of them know that racism is real and insidiously harming our society and world order, while global warming is a real and present danger to our very existence. Others are equally sure that racism is little more than a liberal construct that is artificially thrust on society in order to support the liberal agenda directed toward reframing the American way, while global warming is similarly used as a fear tactic intended to undermine capitalism and free enterprise.
They mostly agree that there are two sides to every argument from abortion to marijuana, so long as everyone understands that means their side and the wrong side. There is no room for debate or civil discussion, no room for varying interpretations or reasoned differences.
Since a proportion of these types of non-agreements go far beyond anything that could be confused with chance seem to split along political or Party lines, There seems to be little likelihood that the absence of agreement is more than a continuation of politics as usual, although the stakes seem to be much higher than in the past. And that’s going some, given the race riots and Vietnam protests in the 60’s and 70’s. Of course, there was the Civil War, but we can hope it never gets that divisive again.
Here’s the thing. Whether the intellectual schism focuses on voting or pipelines, health care or local zoning, there is one constant. Both sides are sure that the facts support their position. And therein lies the impasse.
Here’s what I think. I am henceforth setting a precondition before I will get into a discussion with anyone about what may be a controversial issue. If I cannot think of at least one “fact” that supports my position and one that discredits my position, I will decline to discuss the issue. I will always listen, but I do not have anything to add to the discussion. Even when I do have a pro fact and a con fact, I will try to remember that it only makes my position probably true, probably valid.
Here’s the key, If my intellectual antagonist cannot offer one fact pro and one fact con for his or her position, I will suggest that he or she might research the issue more before we discuss it.
I cannot accept something as probably true unless I also understand why people who disagree hold their position. I learn that by actively listening, by digging out the facts that they use to support their position. Only then can I know that my position is probably true. That is for me but table stakes for joining the discussion.