Assumptions are Everything

America is becoming increasingly polarized between liberal and conservative, blue states and red states.  Each side accuses the other of evil intentions.  Liberals call conservatives mean-spirited people who hate the poor.  Conservatives  accuse liberals of being unpatriotic, of hating America.

While there are clearly people at the fringe of both sides who do hate, I believe that most people on sides are basically good people.  We all want the same things.  We want peace and prosperity.  We want to reduce poverty, educate our kids, have a clean environment, and have a multitude of jobs and opportunities.  We differ, however, in what methods will achieve these goals.

The big problem with demonizing your adversary is that if your adversary is evil, you don’t have to listen to their arguments, to their logic, to their facts.  If their goal is evil, then their arguments are meaningless.  You have nothing to learn from them.  Even if you do try to listen to their arguments, they often make no sense or may even seem repellent, reinforcing your concept that the other person is either a villain or a moron.

The core problem is that people have different assumptions.  If you start a discussion with differing assumptions, there can be no progress.  If my assumption is that 2+2=5, I can prove with brilliant logic that 4+4=10.  Two Catholic priests can have a discussion on morality building their arguments on the common assumption that the teachings of Jesus as expressed in the New Testament is a definitive authority.  No matter how brilliant their arguments, however, they will have no effect on a Jew, a Muslim, or an Atheist.

What kind of assumptions do we have?  A liberal might have the assumption that the best path to peace is by being kind to everyone so they will like you and not want to hurt you.  A conservative might have the assumption that the best path to peace is by being strong enough that nobody will want to mess with you.  A liberal might assume that their is a fixed amount of wealth in the world and if a person is wealthy, they are taking the fair share from someone who is poor.  A conservative might assume that people create wealth and a person becomes wealthy by creating more wealth.

So if we read an editorial and the editor relies on assumptions we don’t share, we don’t give any weight to the arguments in the editorial.  They make no sense.  They might as well be speaking a different language.

My belief is that communication can only begin when we strip issues down to the core level where both sides agree on any underlying assumptions.  At that point we can have a meaningful debate.  We can’t really debate the size of the defense budget until we first debate whether strengthening our military leads to peace or leads to war.

And the biggest, most important assumption for any good debate is that we are both basically good but not perfect human beings who share the same overall goals and just differ in how to get there.

When I discuss politics or philosophy, my goal is to strip the arguments down to their core assumptions.  When we get there, we can talk.

Authors Who Have Greatly Influenced Me

As I am still at the stage of this blog where absolutely nobody is reading it, I am laying a foundation before I actually say anything interesting (assuming I ever say anything interesting).

There are three authors who have profoundly influenced my thinking.  In future blogs I may not adequately give them credit.  Sometimes I am not sure where their thoughts stop and my thoughts begin.

The first author is Dale Carnegie.  Dale Carnegie wrote the most insightful book ever on human relations, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  There is not a  day where my interactions with others are not affected by what I read in this book, although sometimes I will confess they are not affected enough.  Right after college when I moved to St. Louis I was pleased to drive by a Dale Carnegie Institute.  I took the base course and then I was a graduate assistant for another instance.  I had been incredibly shy.  This course brought me out of my shell and gave me the confidence to talk to people.  I will forever be grateful to Dale Carnegie.

The second author is Thomas Sowell.  Dr. Sowell is an economist and a columnist.  His book “Basic Economics” is a masterpiece in defining economics in plain text without supply and demand charts, etc., so the lay person can understand the key principles.  He then looks at different issues using these basic principles of economics to show the hidden as well as the obvious consequences of different policies.  He then uses these principles as the basis for analyzing issues in his other books.  In short, he trains you on how to think about issues.

The third author is Ayn Rand.  Rand, in both in her non-fiction books on philosophy and her fiction such as “Atlas Shrugged”, starts from the very beginning and logically builds the philosophy she calls Objectivism.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard her name trashed by people saying how horrible she is, but I have yet to ever see anybody rebut her logic.  I would actually welcome an attack on her logic, and I have searched for one, but have yet to find it.  I have always been pro-capitalist but I thought that while socialism just didn’t work in real life, it was morally superior.  Rand taught me that capitalism is morally superior as well as pragmatically superior.

Additionally, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Malcolm Gladwell.  At the suggestion of my cousin Bob Kaiser, I have just started reading his books.  Gladwell gets you to think about issues as you have never thought of them before.

My Politics

I would consider myself a libertarian Republican.  My father used to say that Democrats want the government in the boardroom and out of the bedroom and Republicans want the government out of the boardroom and in the bedroom.  I tend to want the government out of both.

That does not mean I am an anarchist.  Government does have a very important role to play.  More on this later.

Hello World!

I am a computer programmer.  Whenever you learn a new computer language, the first task is traditionally to write a program that says Hello World!

Task 1 accomplished.

My name is Ralph Koppel.  I am currently 54, married to a wonderful wife  and have two independent adult kids .  I’ll say more about me later.

I will be using this space to share some of my thoughts, primarily on philosophy and politics, but it could be on anything.

Stay tuned.