Zero Political Shades of Gray

The meta-debate about same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court prompted a side conversation with a friend that highlighted my frustration with people whose opinions on any given subject constitute little more than a rationalization of the inverse argument offered by an ideological opponent.

Conservatives don’t care much for progressives. Progressives don’t care much for conservatives. Yet too many people from each camp content themselves to find an explanation — any explanation, no matter how flimsy — to justify their oppositional defiance to a caricature of the position of the other side.

Put differently: Not only do we lack 50 shades of political gray, we lack any shades of gray. Positions distill to paired binaries; you’re pro or con without any hope of a middle ground or an alternative position. Deviate from the black-and-white model, and you’re either a traitor to the cause or a wacko kook outside the mainstream.

Almost every political question being tossed about in the mainstream press — entitlement reform, gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, defense spending — distills into a straw man. Policy issues with several distinct facets are ground into a single surface that reflects back a mere bumper-sticker slogan.

Consider just two questions: Same-sex marriage and gun control. On SSM, you’re either for “marriage equality” or for “traditional marriage.” Very little serious attention is paid to the best, ideologically hybrid solutions, like splitting religious and civil marriage or treating marriage like a personal contract like any other. On gun control, you’re either in favor or against tougher laws; not many have bothered to adjust their solution set in light of a copious stream of data that suggests that some regulations are useful and others aren’t.

America’s problems have solutions. Social discord has an exit strategy. But as long as we insist on treating every policy question like a zero-sum game with only one valid answer per ideology, we all lose.

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  1. I see the problem as slightly different. I don’t think Americans in general feel so zero sum on most issues, but our media treats all issues as yes or no and then try to compartmentalize most people into separate camps. I remember having a conversation about this issue a few years back with a pretty savvy political scientist who answered the “which side of the debate are you on” with “why is government involved in marriage in the first place?”
    The problem are media has is that it doesn’t speak for everyone, but purports to do just that. Instead of its original purpose of going out and finding what people think and then reporting on it, they’re now seeing everyone as a focus group and then engaging them in that capacity. In my opinion, what the real problem is is something the media will never face: The media has become so irrelevant to the bigger picture that people have turned them off and treat television news as a night light, radio as background noise in the car, and newspapers as something to…well, no one reads newspapers these days, so who knows what they’ve relegated newspapers to these days.
    Basically, we have a government of Edmund Burkes, convinced they understand government better than the people they’re representing, so they stopped querying the population to figure out how they might feel about things. I’d say this would end once people realize this, but I don’t think that any more because people are so dispassionate about politics that they generally don’t care unless we end up in some war we don’t want, everyone’s out of a job, or there’s a miscount on American Idol.

    1. Wha … ? You mean we can actually get a rigged vote on American Idol??? STOP THE PRESSES! 🙂

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