Understanding the Other Side

I'm always on the lookout for figures in the media who eschew the common horse-race, zero-sum paradigms that dominate the public sphere these days in favor of more nuanced explanations of the events that dominate our society. I've stumbled across a couple media figures over the years who have been able to sustain that level of sophistication (e.g. Jeff Greenfield, David Broder, Cathy Young) but they are sadly few and far between.

The challenge is the one articulate by Martin Buber in his seminal work I and Thou. Buber claims that human reality is relational. In "Elements of the Interhuman" he stated, "[The] meaning of the conversations is to be found neither in one of the two partners nor in both together, but only in their dialogue itself, in this 'between' which they live together."

I agree with this -- human truth resides between us, and as a result, the place to look for insight is in thinking that explores that space. I'm always on the lookout for blog posts and articles that I think live up to this goal. I've seen a few in the past couple days that I thought were worthy of sharing. Mark Schmidt wrote recently in TPMCafe post:

"The White House didn't so much deceive itself or deceive others as close its eyes to the very possibility that there were any questions at issue, regarding not only WMD but also post-invasion planning. They did so in the name of preserving their freedom to act when and how they wished, and as a result got us trapped in a situation in which we no longer have any freedom of action."

This is interesting to me because it removes the ascribed malevolence of many of the posts from the political left about the Bush administration. It appears to be an attempt to look at the situation from their eyes, and instead of making them a characature bent on evil goals it recasts the situation as noble goals gone awry. In my experience this orientation is usually the best assumption to begin with. There are situations where it is not accurate, but in my experience it is accurate far more often than it is not.

Stephen Waldman puts it perfectly:

"On both sides, discourse now moves swiftly from disagreement into demonizing, from contrast to caricature. The worst motives are always assumed. Both camps have polemicists who win popularity, ratings, and book sales by devising ever more clever ways of ripping the eyelids off their opponents. We all know the visceral satisfactions of hanging out with our home-team blogs and watching the TV or radio stations that fit our worldview. Our politicians and pundits happily supply us with the voodoo dolls and the pins. But we'd be smarter not to use them.

I’m not saying the conflicting values aren’t profound and important. But I am saying that if we choose to find the legitimate underpinnings of our ideological opponents' arguments, we can. It may not be as much fun, but it is more patriotic."

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