Thursday, December 06, 2012

It's Difficult to Avoid Being Cynical

When I approach the issues as covered by the media and leading media figures, alas, it's difficult to take a positive approach to the debate. Very few "opinion leaders" in our present media and political culture are interested in trying to advance a sincere debate and policy discussion. I can accept that many of these people are much more honest about their goals and intentions when speaking behind closed doors, but if they're not willing to do the same thing in public, and if nobody from those close door meetings is willing to call them out, that does us little good.

I am skeptical of political conversions, of people who claim to have held strong political beliefs, but who claim to have had an epiphany and to suddenly - and just as adamantly - support the opposite end of the political spectrum. Usually when you look more closely you'll see that the impetus for the change of heart is a single issue and not much else has changed, that the person had no appreciable grasp of the issues prior to (and perhaps also subsequent to) their change of heart, or that they aren't sincere. When a fading celebrity suddenly announces a change of political stripe, then starts seeking paid gigs as a cheerleader for the other team, odds are they're following the money.

At the same time, if you spend any appreciable time thinking about the issues your positions are bound to shift over time. Unless you choose to close out the world, you'll inevitably discover new facts and information and be exposed to ideas different from your own. You can be consistent in your principles while acknowledging the flaws of proposed solutions - and in some contexts will discover that there are problems that are insoluble without a compromise of principle. The status quo causes one type of harm, the solution another.

Some amount of compromise can be necessary in order to achieve progress. Alas, there's a material difference between people of integrity compromising various competing principles in order to achieve the best possible outcome under the circumstances, and people without integrity manipulating the system in order to expand their personal wealth and power base. If a political leader believes himself to be a man of integrity, but he puts on a different face in public in order to appeal to his constituents, and never publicly supports the views he privately believes to be the most plausible solution to a significant problem, what good is his integrity? Integrity is not a jacket you get to check at the door - you either have it or you don't.

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