Problem solving skills

By Harrison Searles

The heated nature of contemporary politics has brought out legions of commentators lamenting the lack of a civil discourse in America, that zealous “wackos” have hijacked the political discourse for their own agenda. However, this belief is mistaken, as is the entire concept that political disagreement can be resolved by meeting the opposing side at a table and having a civil discussion that yields a concrete plan is little more than a castle in the sky.

While it is certainly true that American politics tend to be aimed at a moderate, centrist path; individuals have different ideas and theories about how the world works and these underlying differences cannot be mollified through civil discussion. The emphasis on civil discussion in politics has been placed more on “civil” than on the “discussion” – it is expected that everyone be moderate and willing to compromise at the end of the day, but what this results in is not so much discussion but in a race to the political ideology that most appeals to the majority without any attention on the content of the ideology.

 Compromise cannot occur between individuals whose paradigms and traditions are irreconcilable – the best that can happen is a debate regarding which tradition best solves the problems that are facing society. Whenever political commentators from whatever political perspective disparage a faction because they are not participating in the civil dialogue of American politics, a false accusation is made because they fail to consider the paradigmatic differences between different ideologies.

The ideas that we entertain have consequences in the perspective by which we view the world and understand the unfolding of events based on the paradigms our theories shape. For instance, take the comment often heard in economic policy discussions: “We can’t do nothing.” To a Keynesian progressive, this assertion makes complete sense, but to an Austrian or Neoclassical conservative or libertarian it does not translate – such a statement is not intelligible according to their understanding of the world. At the same time, when the latter speaks of the benefits of a laissez-faire economic policy, it similarly does not translate into an intelligible concept for the former. While all may be speaking the same semantics, the ideas that are being expressed are often so diametrically opposed that the level of true communication going on is on the same par as a monolingual English-speaker conversing with a monolingual German-speaker.

 The problem of civil discourse is also acerbated by the fact that it is so often limited to concerns involving practical policy rather than the theoretical perspectives of each ideology. Whenever the media discusses a problem like the current recession, the topic of discussion is not the events that caused it, but rather what can be done by the government in order to mollify its effects. Ergo, two professional experts can be brought onto a television program like “Meet the Press,” discuss their opposing opinions about policy concerns, but, despite the best intentions of the host, not even touch the ideas that truly create their opposition.

What this leads to is not true dialogue as understood as a means of debating the solutions to problems facing society and as a means of philosophical exposition for ideas, but rather as a means of finding a centrist position that waters down perspectives to make them palatable to enough individuals to gain support for them. The entire notion of dialogue becomes hijacked by those in the mainstream as a mechanism for ensuring that certain political paradigms remain categorized as “wacko” and that only a certain spectrum is kosher for mass consumption. Of course, this is not a phenomenon with only negative consequences, no rational individual desires to hear the opinions of a Nazi so a certain amount of discrimination on the part of the media is positive, but it is when the spectrum expands to allow only a couple mainstream paradigms into the fold that such actions have severe consequences.

Much like the two-party system, this results in a race to the center that leaves the interior consistence and truth of the so-called solutions found via civil discourse on the back-burners in favor of finding something that can get 51 percent of the vote. But the true importance of dialogue is that it serves as a means of discerning which paradigm is best suited to providing a solution to the question at hand.

For this to occur American politics needs is radicalism as understood in context of its Latin root: radix; root; foundation; base; paradigms that are both logically consistent with their own principles and refuse to dilute themselves in order to become popular.  

 In the end, the entire concept of “civil discussion” in contemporary politics has become little more than a synonym for compromising one’s beliefs in order to create a set of beliefs that is more acceptable to the majority. It has become a means for hammering one’s opposition into submission by taking away their platform and leaving them with no foundation to stand on. Without a doubt, it is unfruitful and unrealistic to expect that individuals of different political paradigms informed by differing theories of the chain of events will be able to resolve their differences and agree on a substantial policy.

Dialogue in politics must be focused on accepting the fact that sometimes we cannot agree and rather than debating concrete policies that focus their energy on discovering which paradigm is best suited to solve the problem.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]