In matters of art, love, or ideas I think that programs and announcements are of little use. So far as ideas are concerned, meditation on any theme, if positive and honest, inevitably separates him who does the meditating from the opinion prevailing around him, from that which, for reasons more serious than you might now suppose, can be called "public" or "popular" opinion. Every intellectual effort sets us apart from the commonplace, and leads us by hidden and difficult paths to secluded spots where we find ourselves amid unaccustomed thoughts. These are the results of our meditation.--Jose Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy?, trans. Mildred Adams
I've been thinking about this quote with regard to politics. We tend not to engage with our ideological opposition, instead choosing to argue against straw men, paper tigers, and other inflammable objects. I find myself surprised, when politics is discussed, how few people hold the opinions attributed to them. Not every supporter of the Iraq War did so out of a thirst for a blood and oil martini with an Abu Ghraib twist; ANSWER and the North Korean secret police did not ferry in every opponent from Canada. Few of us hold our opinions out of psychological needs, and no one admits it in argument. To insist upon it, seems to me the nadir of rudeness.
It is a worn, irritating saying, that reasonable people may still disagree. Unfortunately, it is no falser for its wear and tear. When even the facts at our disposal are being debated, to accuse a faction--or even a member of a faction--of ill faith is an appalling shortcut around genuine thought.
I find myself more and more convinced that I lack the ability to make a truly informed decision. This lack doesn't stop me from making them, but it does give me pause before I call someone a jack-booted fascist. And this lack is met in different ways by different people. It leads me to a Coolidge-esque hands-off policy in most (but certainly not all!) areas. Others rely on an innate sense of justice and compassion to insist that something must be done, now.
I would claim that my way is better, but I'm willing to admit that I might be wrong. And that my opponents are arguing out from a reasonable standpoint. We have almost all thought through our claims, rather than inheriting them from parents or pundits. Very few of us are remotely controlled by Dr. Dobson or Michael Moore.
If the stakes were only lower, I would feel much more comfortable with this sense of ignorance. As it stands, a willingness to examine not just our own positions (at which I think most people are excellent), but those opposed to ours, seems incumbent on any thoughtful person.
And I don't mean that damn' quasi-Socratic pointed questions method, either. That's just dumb.