I was accused a couple years ago, by more than one conversation partner, of belonging to an ideological camp that I truly do not identify with at all. It was strange, at once both unsettling and a little entertaining.
On reflection, I realized that the reason I seemed to each of these fellows to belong to this other camp was because of my unwillingness to demonize the adherents of that ideological position and their convictions.
It wasn’t that I agreed with the people I was supposedly aligned with. It certainly wasn’t that I ever claimed membership in that particular political tribe. It was just that I wanted us to consider their arguments fairly and not assume stupid or malicious motivations behind their commitments.
It seems to me that that is increasingly the price of admission on either side of the ideological divide. Not only is it the price of admission – it’s almost the only criterion for membership.
It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you don’t affirm their beliefs, whatever they happen to believe at this moment. It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you hate them with the same ferocity as we do. It doesn’t matter what your arguments are or how bad they are, so long as your weak arguments are all directed against them.
As long as that is our approach to politics, we are actively making ourselves less virtuous and wise, making ourselves increasingly vicious and stupid.
We make ourselves less virtuous because we are finding excuses for indulging and nurturing the lowest, angriest, most hateful and despicable parts of ourselves. And we make ourselves stupid by learning to judge arguments not by their quality but by how well we like their conclusions. This can lead us nowhere good.