Why do intelligent, well-meaning people disagree?
I am blessed to have wonderful friends and family. They are good people. They wish for peace and prosperity for themselves, the people they care about, their country, and the world. They are very intelligent, thoughtful people who take an interest in the world and are reasonably well informed. I also think that I am a reasonably good, reasonably intelligent person. So why is it that when it comes to politics, most of my friends, my family, and I profoundly disagree?
Why do intelligent, well-meaning people disagree? I have never seen anybody else seriously address this issue. This subject fascinates me. My blog can go in many directions, from memorable movies to global warming, but the majority of my blog focuses on this key question.
I am a computer programmer. In computers, we think in terms of input, process, and output. If we share common goals, basically peace and prosperity, we desire the same output. If we are intelligent, we have reasonably good process. I believe the disagreement is primarily due to the input, the assumptions we make and how we frame the issue.
Early in life we form assumptions about how the world works. We make these assumptions based upon our observations and what we believe to be common sense. Once we make an assumption, this becomes the starting point for our thoughts on everything else. We seldom re-examine our assumptions and we tend to hold our assumptions with a religious fervor, rejecting outright any argument that violates our assumptions.
To a certain amount this makes sense. If a person starts with the assumption that 2+2=5, that person may be able to brilliantly argue that 4+4=10, but that argument is worthless as it is built on a faulty assumption. You and I have better things to do with our time than to listen to this argument.
People can only have a reasonable discussion when the discussion begins with common assumptions. Two Christians can have a fascinating debate using the text of the new testament as the basis for their arguments, but if you are a Jew, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, for example, their arguments mean absolutely nothing to you as you don’t accept their underlying assumptions.
In this blog, I try to examine our underlying assumptions, both good and bad. It is only at this level that people of differing political philosophies can have any kind of meaningful discussion. I, of course, tend to think my assumptions are good and try to justify them. I welcome others to point out any flaws in my arguments. If my assumptions are wrong, I want to re-examine them. For example, a book I read recently by Malcolm Gladwell caused me to modify an assumption I had held for over forty years.
Bad assumptions aren’t the only type of input that causes well-meaning, intelligent people to disagree. I think another problem is that we frequently don’t frame the issue properly. For example, someone might say that he or she supports government program XYZ because it is a good program that helps people. I would ask is XYZ such a good program that it is worth borrowing money from China that our children and grandchildren will have to repay. Because of this debt they will not be able to afford many other good programs. If this is true, do you still support XYZ?
I care about what causes intelligent, well-meaning people to disagree. I don’t care about analyzing the opinions of people who don’t fit this category. I don’t care about the haters, who are on both the left and the right politically. I don’t care about the opinions of clueless, people who can’t identify China on a world map and give no thought to these opinions.
I hope through this blog to find others who find this topic fascinating. While I will venture off into other areas that interest me, this is the predominant theme of the blog. I hope you find it fascinating too.