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.