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When there is no middle ground

Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“Through measured debate, facts, moderate tones and actual discussion, problems can be solved.” Tony Farkas

I disagree with this statement, and I doubt that measured debate, facts, moderate tones, and actual discussion can resolve that disagreement. The word “facts” is where this breaks down.

A friend and I are driving together to a car show and see one of the exhibitors is driving several car lengths in front of us in a Mustang Mach 1.

“Very nice 1969 Mach 1,” I tell my friend. “428 Cobra Jet with the Shaker hood scoop, just like the one I owned in 1969.”

“No, man, that’s a 1970 Mach 1,” my friend retorts,” It has the 1970 Mach 1 script.”

“No, it has the 1969 Mach 1 script, and besides, it has the 1969 frameless taillight cluster.”

This is the kind of disagreement that can be settled easily. When we get to the car show, we can find the car, look at the ID plate, and agree on the fact that it is, as I argued, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet. (Super fun car, by the way. It would go 140 mph, Woodville to Livingston in 15 minutes. Don’t ask me how I know.)

Unfortunately, things get much more complicated when we start dealing with social issues. 

While you would think it foolish to continue to debate the year model of a car  when both parties are standing in front of the car looking at the ID plate riveted to the vehicle, the societal analog would be if one of the parties insisted that despite the fact of the ID plate, the rear light design and the fact that the 1969 in question had four headlights and the 1970 only two, that the car, was, “in fact” a 1970, but offered no evidence to support other than a belief that it wasn’t what it appeared to be.

The social and political disagreements we are now contending with are unresolvable because not only can folks not agree on the individual facts, but they also can’t agree on what constitutes a fact. What the meaning of “fact” is. They can’t agree on process. About how to gather and assess evidence to reach agreement.

A current example. Donald Trump insists that he won the 2020 election, that it was totally fraudulent and stolen from him. He has millions of followers that accept that conclusion, even though many recounts and investigations have turned up no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election. Yet, millions of Americans still insist, without producing evidence, that there was massive fraud by the Democrats. (See Mike Lindell, who says he has spent $30 million gathering evidence of election fraud, but has repeatedly failed to produce any evidence).

On the other side, a majority of Americans believe the 2020 election was legitimate and Joe Biden won. They accept the many assertions by state and federal officials, both Democrat and Republican, that there was no widespread fraud in the elections. They say the actual counts, that have been counted multiple times in many states, and have been certified by both Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government as legitimate, establish the fact of Biden’s win.

Like many of the social and political problems we face today, there is no middle ground. Either Trump won or he didn’t. But there is no process to reach the facts that both sides will agree upon. They have reached a conclusion and have now insulated themselves from any data that might prove them wrong. Measured debate, facts, moderate tones, and actual discussion are meaningless when there are no accepted facts nor even an agreed upon process for determining the facts.

Consensus is no longer possible in this country. It is too big and too diverse. As a result, I believe it has become ungovernable. And I think the refusal of many to accept reality continues to lead toward us to ultimately bad outcomes.

“We live in a house of mirrors and think we are looking out the windows.”  Frederick Perls


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Monday, 15 August 2022