NPR recently published an article titled One’s Antifa. One’s In A Militia. How An Ancestry Match Led To An Unlikely Bond which talks about two people who are ostensibly on extreme opposite ends of the political spectrum but started talking and realized that they had a lot more common ground than they thought. They obviously have their differences still, but the common ground that they do have is significant in both the amount of topics that it covers, but also the core motivations behind their opinions even when their opinions differ.
I sent this article to Ashe’s mom as she had just come from a pro-gun rights rally and was talking about how alienating it was to her and Ashe’s father even though they would generally consider themselves pro-gun rights conservatives. We then got to talking about the differences between the perceptions and realities of different extremist groups like the 3%ers who were represented heavily at the gun rights meeting and distributed activist groups like Antifa. It was a lovely and interesting conversation largely in part because we were also able to find quite a bit of common ground in our views and talk about the differences.
I look forward to having more conversations in a similar vein when the pandemic has cooled down a bit more so that we can talk face to face and maybe over a meal because I honestly think that is the best way to discuss politics – in a friendly and comfortable setting with food in small groups where everyone is coming to the table willingly literally and metaphorically.
It’s amazing how we’ve been convinced to fight one another over these huge artificial divides. The media and culture that informs it really wants us to believe that we’re part of two extremely large parties that all think the same and that there are a couple of extremist groups who believe more violent versions of the same thing, but the truth is that we aren’t living on a two dimensional political spectrum of beliefs. When it comes down to it, what we care about are particular issues and where we fall on each of those issues might be very different compared to what we’re told we’re supposed to believe according to our party. Even when we’re holding opposite political opinions, there’s often overlap in our core motivations and the major difference is in how to handle those motivations.
I think we need to start talking a lot more about individual issues so that we can figure out how to throw off the shackles of the two-party system an elect people on issues that actually matter to us. For instance, 70%+ of Americans surveyed support universal health care of one form or another. Why are our political parties telling us that it’s an even split and therefore can’t be done? Why aren’t we forcing our political parties to evolve an represent the will of the people?
Even issues that are more contentious deserve to be talked about. We need to discuss things that we may never agree on because we need to deeply understand the motivations of the other side of the debate if we’re going to make any forward progress together. There might be compromises or misunderstandings that we just don’t know about it because instead of talking about these issues, we argue and fight about them which leaves us exhausted and going nowhere. So talk to your family and your community about difficult issues. Talk about religion, abortion, gun rights, gender, sexuality, race. Get really into the weeds and commit to being vulnerable enough to open up about what you believe and why but also vulnerable enough to really listen and ask questions when you don’t understand instead of shutting down. The only way that we can stop being manipulated by powers that would use and abuse us is if we commit wholly to developing the relationships around us and that means doing the hard, messy work.
Our ancestors left us with a lot of messy work to do because they didn’t fully deal with the shit that they created. We need to pick up the task and dig in.