Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Certain Point of View

Stanley Fish had an article over the weekend that offers me the opportunity to talk about something I've been meaning to say for a while now. Fish's article is on his dislike for self-proclaimed independent voters, whom he apparently sees as a feckless demographic of Americans without conviction or substance.

I'm not here to defend independent voters, especially since it's never been clear to me what that term means exactly. I will say, however, that I've often felt the opposite of what Fish described. For myself, I dislike and disrespect (or, at best, am suspicious of) people with strong political convictions--those who identify themselves as "very liberal" or "very conservative." My thinking goes something like this:

1. If you describe yourself as "very liberal" or "very conservative," you probably hearken to your liberalism or conservatism to such an extent that you have a hard time thinking in an opposite (ie, conservative or liberal, respectively) mindset.

2. If you can't think in a conservative or liberal mindset, you probably don't understand those viewpoints.

3. If you don't understand the opposing viewpoints, you can't properly understand your own viewpoint.

In his article Fish says, "To be political is to believe something, and to believe something is to believe that those who believe something else are wrong." I don't agree with that, and for a guy who spends 800 words ranting about how unsophisticated a large demographic of people is, he comes off pretty unsophisticated himself. Belief doesn't require one to be blind to the validity of other beliefs; it's not a singular phenomenon; one thought does not ipso facto exclude the remainder. Example: I can believe there is a constitutional right to abortion while at the same time recognize there's no constitutional support for such a right. Maybe it's the lawyer in me, or possibly the contrarian, but I find myself suspicious of people who are so one-sided that they completely (and perhaps consciously) reject such a large spectrum of opposing points of view as invalid.

Toby Zeigler says: "The ability to see two sides of an argument is not the hallmark of an inferior intellect."

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