Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Name One Issue Where You Disagree With Your Group

We all wear a lot of labels: Democrat, Liberal, Humanist, these are all labels that I identify with to at least some degree. We all do this, it just becomes a necessity at some point. There are so many ideas and opinions that we can't express all of those things at once very easily, it is nice to have a shorthand. If my ideas generally conform to the stereotypical democratic viewpoint it is much easier to say I am a democrat than to try to explain all of my nuanced ideas. If I get into a deeper conversation I can then indicate which democratic ideas I think are off the mark.

The problem comes when people do this in the opposite order. "I'm a democrat and democrats believe X, therefore I believe X". A lot of people do this and it is a huge problem. I think it is just so much easier to do things this way, thinking through all of the issues we have to deal with is a big job and most people don't care enough to do it, so instead they just agree with the party line, whatever that happens to be. I really wish we people would just say "I don't know, I haven't thought about that much" or even "I don't care about that", but I think they are afraid of sounding stupid. They'd rather have an opinion, any opinion, than just leave themselves open.

The reality is, no one really agrees with every single opinion under any given label. It might be subtle, it might be a refinement, but there are places where you will disagree with the label. This is fine, the label should just be a way to quickly get some information passed at the beginning of a conversation, it doesn't have to be the end of the conversation as well.

A few years ago I heard this "no labels" idea, that people cling too closely to their political labels so we should get rid of them. The idea definitely has some appeal, but it seems to take things too far, labels do serve a purpose. It's nice to organize ideas together and work together with like-minded people, you just can't do this so blindly as everyone seems to want to. I think the right thing to do is identify with the group that seems to share your ideas as much as possible, but always be willing to challenge those ideas and even change labels if it becomes appropriate (whether that is because your ideas have changed or the party platform has changed). You should question ideas that come from people who share your label exactly as much as you question ideas coming from people of other labels. If you are a democrat who agrees with everything that Obama does and disagrees with everything that Boehner does, you are doing it wrong.

But disagreeing with our own group is hard. It is much easier to follow party lines and conform to ideas that we have thought about previously. And we identify with our labels for a reason, chances are a new idea under that heading will be to our liking anyway, it can be tempting to skip the step to verify this and just adopt this new idea before really giving it your full attention. This is fucking dangerous. This is how huge numbers of people wind up holding positions that are against their own interests. So what do we do about it?

This brings me to the title of this post. I don't think we should simply question ideas regardless of the source, I think we should go out and find some issue that you disagree with from any group you strongly identify with. Again, it could be something subtle, or it could be a refinement from a commonly held position, but I feel pretty confident that you should be able to find something. For myself, I feel like little things come up all the time, but it is hard to think of examples on the spot, which is why I've been sitting on this for a few weeks. But I have come up with a few examples that seem to go against the first few labels I have up at the top:

1. Social Security

Now don't get me wrong, I love the idea of social security. People shouldn't spend their retirement eating cat food because they can't afford anything better. I think we should do as much as we can for the people who really need the help. I hate the idea of cutting programs and having people's needs not be met. But there is an economic reality that social security is screwed up right now. We basically have two options, cut a little bit now or a lot later. I would much prefer we do a little bit now.

The problem is, when the idea of cutting social security comes up, many democrats and liberals stand up and cry bloody murder. This is not because the proposal is unfair or the cuts are too deep, but just because the issue is on the table at all. If they want to pick apart a plan that is proposed and say that there are issues with it, I'm right there with them. It's quite likely that I would agree with many of their complaints. But I hate this idea that social security can never be cut, ever, no matter what. With this mentality there is only one option, wait until things get to catastrophic levels and then make much deeper cuts that we would have had to earlier.

2. Death Penalty

As I understand it, the humanist position on the death penalty is that it should be completely removed. The main argument would be that many people who are on death row have been exonerated. New evidence came up, maybe they had a terrible lawyer, who knows. It is also my understanding that death penalty is used much more against poor people. In general I think the death penalty is bad, I don't think it should be used very often. Almost never I would say. But there are extreme cases where I think we should just kill the guy. Any of these mass shooting that seem to be all the rage lately are great examples. If they go into a public place and kill 20 people indiscriminately and they don't kill themselves, we should just do it. There is no question that they are guilty and they have done something beyond horrible, I say kill em. Serial killers are another great example. The evidence needs to be absolutely overwhelming, but assuming we know for sure these guys are guilty, I say kill em. What do we gain by keeping them locked up for the rest of their lives?

One final thing I want to add here, this whole thing applies to people as well. If you are a big fan of someone and you listen to a lot of what they say, you should make sure it doesn't become hero worship. Do you love Dawkins or Hitchens? That's great, but I'm sure you disagree with some of their opinions, keep that in mind as well.


  1. The problem with both of your complaints is that the system has been misused. Social security has been plundered by politicians, almost as long as it's been around. If every single penny that was put into Social Security was untouchable and people got back what they put in plus interest, it wouldn't be in trouble today. Of course, there's no way to put the genie back in the bottle, this is what comes of fiscal irresponsibility.

    For the death penalty, we need to stop pretending that humans and human justice is ever going to be perfect and stop shivering in our booties over the possibility we might make a mistake. We make lots of mistakes. That shouldn't stop us from ever taking an action. We need to learn from our mistakes and make fewer mistakes next time. It's part of being human.

    Frankly, I don't consider myself part of any "side", I'm only responsible for myself. I spend a ton of time bitching about the stupid stuff everyone else does. I'm an equal-opportunity bitcher. :)

    As for your last question, I don't do hero worship and frankly, I'm more concerned with what someone says than who they are. Dawkins and Hitchens are fine, but the men aren't important, just the message.

    1. I completely agree, social security has been handled poorly and that is why we are in our current situation, but we need to look at where we are, fix the problems and move forward in the best way possible. We can look back to see the mistakes that were made in an effort to try to correct them, but ultimately I think we need to look where we are at and where we are going.

      I think it's a good thing to not consider yourself on any "side", I think that is pretty rare though. And even still, I think most people will find themselves in groups where they generally agree with the people around them. In those situations I think it's a good idea to take a step back and find something where you disagree just for the exercise of it. But I imagine you are a fairly rare person who doesn't really need to do this exercise :)

    2. That's the problem, you really can't fix social security, it only works so long as the money in the system is never touched. Unless we can replace the trillions of dollars that have been stolen from the fund, it's not correctable.

      To be honest, I think we've messed up the social structure in this country something terrible. People no longer learn to stand on their own two feet and be personally responsible for themselves, their views and their actions. As much as you probably don't want to hear it, a lot of that comes from the liberalization of America that we've undergone in the past 40-50 years. Now we have a bunch of people who can't be responsible, can't think for themselves, can't deal with reality on reality's terms. That is a major problem.

    3. Cephus...there is a huge difference between being liberal, and remaining ignorant, because you are too lazy or selfish to be responsible and work for a living. I don't think this is a "new" problem...I think it has been around for much longer than 40-50 years, and has simply ballooned because our population keeps growing.

      I do agree Welfare has exacerbated the problem...but I can't agree we should punish innocent baby's and do away with it completely, just overhaul it, promote planned parenthood, and insist food stamps are going to be a temporary fix.

      My immigrant grandmother believed children who were allowed to sleep late would become lazy adults so she didn't allow it. Probably something to her theory. Though she never rose any higher than being a poor sharecropper's wife, her four sons all prospered extremely well.

    4. Cephus, what do you mean when you say it is unfixable? There's a certain amount of money coming in, and a certain amount going out. Isn't it just a matter of balancing that equation? As Anna said, it might take a huge overhaul (which is probably what it needs at this point) but it seems like something could be done. What is the alternative? To abandon the program altogether? To just let it keep going as it is until it completely runs out of money?

  2. Thanks so much for writing this. Totally. The group is conforting, and to step out of a group, ugh, difficult.

    1. Agreed, it can be difficult, but ultimately I think it is for the best and actually can be quite rewarding.

  3. Interesting thoughts Hausdorff...but I really don't think it would be a good exercise for me to go looking for a cause I can disagree with...they pop up quite often when I'm not looking. The one issue I can disagree with is our defiant two party system...I think it's time for a non biased third party.

    I agree, my Social Security has been raped and robbed by our irresponsible government and fraudulent claimants for a long time and warn my kids and grandkids they better save privately for their retirement.

    I live in Texas and Gov. Perry says "Fry em all and let God decide who was guilty and who was not."

    A friend of mine is now in the process of helping get a movie made about a man she tried desperately to save on death row...but could not...who was later conclusively found innocent and exonerated of the charges he was executed for. "Oops," says Perry.

    I don't worship any hero but I do greatly respect and honor the honorable ones.


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