In the very dim halls of my high school memories, I remember a Jesuit giving us a lecture about critical thinking.  Critical thinking had two objects.  The first was to understand the position that one was analyzing.  The second was to try to continuously pierce one's own subjectivity, which would be a never ending but necessary task. 

In the grand political arguments of our day, we seem to have almost lost sight of the first point and have entirely lost sight of the second.  (I am generalizing here to stimulate a vigorous discussion).  People's political positions now all seem to be tainted in such a way that the other side has no information to offer and one seems honor bound to uphold one's own subjectivity as a matter of principle.  I note the following things about political discussions in 2017.  While these things have always existed in political discussions, they seem to me to dominate it now.

1. If an article or an analysis serves a particular political position, it is biased and not to be trusted.

2. If a biased political source makes an allusion about the other side, that accusation will be nullified if the other side can find a similar thing done by the accuser's side.

3. Any group that is caught either having lied or having made serious errors of judgement in the past is forever tainted as a source of information.

4. An appeal to "common sense" as a source of wisdom is always stronger than an appeal to data that seems to contradict it.

5. All bureaucracies are self-serving and whatever they say fuels their service to themselves.

6. The other side's position is always fueled by consistent values, so that the entire other side can be characterized by the actions of any one person associated with them.

7. The other side's positions are characterized by emotions (rather than reason) that they themselves might not be aware of.

8. Power is by its nature conspiratorial.  There are always secret goals and actions.  Actions by power that serve a secret agenda are proof that the secret agenda exists.

9. The opponents are always well organized.  There are no "accidents" in what they do.  And everything conforms to a plan.

10. Everybody does it, so the well is always tainted.

For myself, I don't think that a political position of any sort entirely taints their position with subjectivity.  I think that actions can be reviewed alone (in terms of what they are) and are not nullified by anything that the reviewer has done in the past.  I think that anyone who has lied or made errors of judgement in the past should be at least given a small benefit of the doubt that the fallout from this may have caused them to reform.  "Common sense" is not an infallible source of wisdom; it is to be cultivated but not especially trusted.  Bureaucracies do serve themselves, but they also serve the goals for which they were created at the same time and these two things are not identical. The other side is fueled by ranges of values (this is how we appeal to them; by appealing to those who are closest to us first).  Everyone is emotional, although the emotion of moral indignation is a curse when appealed to.  Power is conspiratorial; however it does not follow that everything it does is conspiratorial.  The other side is never as well organized as they appear; much of what makes them look well organized is a construct that we (and they) create after we all see the outcome of something.  All wells are tainted.  We are human.  Purity is an endless struggle that begins with ourselves.

What do you think?

unagidon is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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