I am a centrist. That means I am always looking for the middle ground between political extremes. Probably the only place I have unyielding dogma is my view of the American League’s designated hitter rule. It’s an abomination.
I am fiscally conservative and liberal on most social positions. I read, watch and listen by dipping into both extremes in American political thought. When I tell my liberal friends that I always watch Fox News Sunday or listen to Lars Larson when I am driving around they shudder and say, “I just can’t think of doing that.” Yea, I know.
Early in my graduate work I ran across an academic piece where researchers looked at the brains of persons who were being exposed to political positions different than their personal beliefs. Hearing or reading such materials, the volunteer’s brains lit up the emotional parts of their brains. When people say it is impossible to hear different opinions, they are, in large part, physiologically right.
As my academic work depended on being able to overcome my innate liberalism, I knew I had to expose myself to ideas that made me uncomfortable. My solution? I listened to Rush Limbaugh every morning until I stopped reacting emotionally. Eventually, I would look at the morning paper and try to coolly predict Rush’s talking points for the day. I got good at it and since that time I can listen to positions vastly different from my own without wanting to throw things.
The stranger result of my pursuit of middle ground is that I have developed a different sort of intolerance for people who can only live in, and preach to, their own choir. As polarization has become more and more deep in our society I am pretty much annoyed at everyone. My 8 years in the City Hall liberal echo chamber probably made me more conservative. How’s that for reactionary?
What is true at both edges is that, though they would not admit it, the attachment to victimization is universal. On the right, it is essential to be angry at something all the time. The government is victimizing you. The bureaucrats are taking away your rights. Oh if we could just get back to the good old days. The left spends just as much time looking for outrage in traditional power structures and privilege. Semantic bear traps are baited daily so that the innocent bungler can be proven ethically or morally inadequate.
I wear my contempt for both extremes on my sleeves because I don’t think either pole in our national debate as an end game. Listening to Rush all day or participating in yet another daylong conference on agreeing with each other is not the way out of this current dilemma. I know it literally hurts but try to connect with ideas that make you crazy. If you can, you may discover that beyond the anger and talking points each side occasionally makes sense. No…really…do.