It strikes me that every wrongheaded sentiment in society ultimately derives from the culture of inherent, unconditional rightness. As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does. Whenever I meet someone who openly identifies themselves as a Republican of a Democrat, my immediate thought is always, Well, this person might be interesting, but they’ll never say anything about politics that’s remotely useful to me. I refuse to discuss abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice; I refuse to discuss affirmative action with any unemployed white guy or any unemployed black guy. All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or atheists. If you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn’t have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have. This is because certainty only comes from dogma
The comment thread is enraged. The line about atheists got various people hacked off, which is to be expected I suppose. The thing is, if you just read the passage, Chuck and Chad are pretty much making sense. Dogmatism is bad, and anyone who denies that atheists can be dogmatic just isn’t paying attention.
The other canard of the comment thread is the idea that moderation is somehow an abdication of choice.
But Kevin Drum offers us an example today of how moderation and a rejection of dogma can be valuable. Responding to a frivolous Op-Ed by Sebastian Mallaby, Drum explains:
When every single moderate Dem starts attacking Wal-Mart, maybe nobody’s betraying any principles at all. Instead, maybe they’ve figured out something that Mallaby hasn’t: it’s not the 80s anymore and things have changed.
What Klosterman is arguing for is not an abdication of responsibility to choose right from wrong, but a refusal to take sides for solely dogmatic reasons. A few decades ago WalMart’s merits and dangers were more clearly balanced, and a nuanced thinker had an excuse to let market forces have their way. That option has evaporated with the continued pattern of evidence: WalMart’s abuse of workers, their atrocious pay, they way they destroy local businesses and local economies, their parasitic reliance on public assistance to maintain low prices and low wages.
Confronted with new empirical evidence, people changed their minds. And that’s what ought to happen. Arguing with a dogmatic opponent of abortion, or a dogmatic opponent of theism, won’t get you any new insights.
One of the points I tried to make in my article the other day about rainforests and my posts about drought is that one doesn’t have to establish absolute contrasts between development and the environment. There are dogmatists on each side who will tell you otherwise, but looking for a way to use market forces to induce good behavior is probably the best way to save the world. And you can’t find those sorts of solutions by staying in one corner.
Yes, I’m progressive, liberal, and Democratic. I’m proudly pro-choice. But that’s not how I introduce myself to new people. I introduce myself by saying what I think and why I think that. They’ll figure out who I voted for when the time comes, but meanwhile we’ll both learn a little about how other people see complex issues, and maybe both find some benefit in that.