Column: Serious Thinking

By Kevin Hartung

How do you solve societal problems with people who are not seriously thinking them through and coming to rational and workable solutions?

Partisanship has mobilized the masses. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality of the populace is escalating. Volatile debates between political opponents have intensified stronger hostilities between the constituencies.

Our Founding Fathers were leery of identity politics and warned against it.

James Madison addressed the destructive behavior of ‘factions.’ He states in The Federalist Papers No. 10, “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” Meaning the inherent nature of ‘faction’ is violence and the union must seek to constrain the aggression and division. Madison went so far as calling that division a ‘dangerous vice.’ Yet we have pronounced partisanship in our elected officials which subsidizes the factious divide in the populace rather than harnessing it.

Madison went on to say, “…the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority [party].”  True then and even truer today.

Historical evidence shows that partisanship results in violence. Southern Democrats rejected the outcome of the 1860 presidential voting that saw Abraham Lincoln elected resulting in four years of Civil War. We have recent proof that conflicts are often decided by the majority party with disregard of the minority party’s rights (passage of the Affordable Care Act comes to mind or conversely nominations for judicial appointments).

Existing partisanship has not yet erupted in another civil war, but the signs are there. The tendency toward lethal violence is evident. Position-taking partisans on both sides have demonstrated attitudes that prophesize support for ostracizing and harming political opponents.

Research shows that most opponents embrace moral distancing from violence but only to maintain a moral high ground, not in empathy. A counterpart of citizens endorses gratification or amusement from an opponent’s tragedies or failures, going so far as desiring or inflicting harm on them. That lesser counterpart represents a significant number of citizens numbering in the millions.

We see the anger prevalent in clashes between polarized supporters. They show up at opponent’s rallies with signs depicting the political rhetoric of their party, resulting in shouting matches and physical confrontations, where law enforcement must be summoned.

Partisan aggression is not limited to the masses nor to political opponents. It is evident in everyday encounters with our family and friends and within our communities.

As political signs appear on lawns supporting a nominee’s election, neighbors with opposing views tear them down or obliterate the message. Some take legal action to have an opponent’s posted signs removed from street corners. Still, others rise to the point of ostracizing family, friends, or neighbors from their political circles.

Such partisanship is ill-advised and excessive. We were born wired for connection. Being human, we have transcendent connections with one another down through the ages. Having meaningful connections with others is essential for our health and wellbeing. We may not recognize that we need that connection, but we are psychologically damaged when our attachment to others is threatened or severed.

Our ambitions and aspirations and the parallel desires of others are fortified through our relationships with families, friends, and communities. We all share comparable goals, and we have similar means of obtaining them. Our political preferences are only a small part of who we are, or what represents us. Political differences should not be the cause of dehumanizing separations.

Profound thinkers reflect on the complexities present in mankind. Resolving societal problems requires sensible thinking about the issues and the outcomes. Finding equitable, justifiable solutions to resolve societal difficulties involves rational, thorough deliberation of the concerns.

Serious thinkers ignore bias news reports and talk show purveyors who seek stories that further the anger and divisions already present in society. Authentic thinkers ignore political rhetoric. They ignore the dissenters found on social media platforms who offer no solutions but want virtue-signaling attention for themselves. They are not seeking a genuine exchange of dialogue that focuses on intellectual debate over differing opinions.

Genuine thinkers strive to see themselves in ‘the other.’ They care nothing for political parties, notoriety, or monetary gains. Calm thinkers do not rush to judgment. They tend to work with all peoples pursuing diplomatic answers to communal disputes. Serious thinkers want results designed to accommodate the entire populace for all times and not a select few at the moment.

Rational solutions are a hard-fought-for victory. Uniting opposing forces is challenging, but not insurmountable. Now is when we need more serious thinking and less impulsive actions. Partisanship can be resolved when we give honest attention to moving toward unification and away from violence. Violence begets violence. Recognition of opposing opinions and a right to have those opinions results in our acceptance of each other and a move toward commonality.

You may not believe in a united or peaceful nation, but do you want to leave our children with an alienated and warring nation?  If we do not come to terms with a tolerance of opposing opinions neither will they. Deeds speak louder than words. If we are determined to fight to the bitter end, we will leave our children with a legacy of hatred and violence evident today in opposing forces.

Our children should be facing a wondrous world of new horizons in technology. They should be looking forward to a unified nation that is aspiring for higher pursuits that serve humanity, pursuits that ensure peaceful coexistence and sustainability of world populations. This can be their future if we commit to resolving political and societal challenges today.

Instead of teaching our children to disparage and condemn the opposition, we can teach them to listen and understand their adversaries. And to concede a challenger’s right to opposing viewpoints. In every case, they are worthwhile endeavors, and listening, understanding, and unifying attitudes are admirable qualities to possess. Besides, our cooperative attitudes will teach our children that peace and harmony are obtainable goals when given serious thought.

We should aspire to give our children those attributes that produce the skills necessary to survive and succeed in a future world, one of unification and peace, a world where governments seek uplifting and humanitarian ideals and endeavor to curtail factious divisions amongst their populations.