Part 2: Are You Political, or Positional?

(Part 1) (Part 3)

Do your politics dictate your positions, or do your positions dictate your politics?  This is an important distinction.

A position can certainly be rational or irrational, logical or emotional.  One person who was a witness, as a child, of a gun crime against a loved family member can grow up so emotionally charged against guns that he or she will not allow for any position that does not result in outlawing guns.  Another person who grew up in a family of responsible gun owners is vehemently opposed to any hint of regulating them.  Still, there are plenty in the middle with neither experience, and so they hear the experiences of others (one-on-one or vicariously through broadcast media), consider what the social groups that they identify with say, and form a range of opinions.

gunGreat power is held by those in the middle (neither hard to one side nor hard to the other), because they hold the overwhelming majority of the votes.  Those who do hold purist positions work to persuade those in the middle to lean toward their side’s way of thinking.  They tend to do this loudly, with alarmist statements, graphic imagery, and polarizing slogans.  Like it or not, these tactics are very effective.

Very few people can stay generally uncommitted on a wide range of issues for very long.  Most adults by their twenties have begun to identify more often than not with a narrowing region of the field of opinions, building a set of filters through which all new issues and positions get passed in order to determine whether they meet the test of agreement or disagreement.  Therefore, most people eventually allow their politics to dictate their positions.  There is nothing wrong with this per se.  People use their life experiences to construct a set of beliefs about how the world works so that they can operate somewhat efficiently without the continual need to start over each morning, re-examining everything they have learned all over again.

As most people inevitably allow their politics to dictate their positions, lost in a sea of voices, this relative intransigence on issues which most people develop tends to make the process of change very painful . . and arduously slow.  Now, when the contentious issue of gun regulation comes up and legislation is proposed, the purists on both sides launch their (dis?)information campaigns anew with a three priorities:  1) take as much of their opponents’ ground as possible.  But, if this becomes impossible then 2) hold your ground and don’t give up an inch (drive toward a stalemate).  In the worst case, when opponents gain steam and begin to win people over then 3) dig in your heels and give up as little as possible.

And all of this gets done, one media sound bite, one office visit, one letter, and one phone call at a time.  But for all the noise and haggling, a lot of ink and air gets greatly wasted because most people already had their minds made up and refuse to change them, including those wielding government authority.  How can anyone make progress or find a place to go on an issue that generally makes the most people better off?  How indeed, when politics is so polarizing, leaving everyone both right and wrong at the same time depending on who is doing the judging?

Taking a giant step back, removing the emotion and the filters, and forming a logical position is like a magic bullet in a battlefield of projectiles being imprecisely fired in all directions.  I discuss why in Part 3.

Jeff Koenig