Shorcuts and cutting corners can poison discussions

Mainstream discussions of political, social, and economic policies, often reflect a great deal of misinformation, or simply, a lack of information. The ideas and arguments, as presented, do not facilitate depth of discussion in relation to policy, nor do they reflect a potential for change in perspective. Far too many arguments today fail to incorporate a potential for falsifiability, and instead rely on conflating ideas with simple slogans and terms which none disagree with, thus undermining opposition.

One need not strain their memory to recall a time when friends or family were engaged in a heated discussion of politics, or perhaps, the economy. In recent times, it may be even easier to recall. In lieu of the government shutdown and the posturing and attempts to blame one another, various camps, and their supporters, are sparring frequently. I had thought of myself as quite informed in regards to such topics. Yet, after overhearing a few fellow students debating Health Care, and reading various articles, I found myself lost in relation to the whole debate. What precisely is an HMO, or a Health Insurance Marketplace, and what are theiris its relationships to the economy etc.? In that moment I was confronted by my own ignorance, shrugging back at me.

Thus, I took up the burden of attempting to read the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.” What I had imagined would be a minor obstacle, something to be overcome on a Sunday afternoon, instead manifested itself as a document which was over 900 pages long, not counting amendments and other related items like the Health Care and Reconciliation Act. I began to wonder “Has anyone actually read this?” Certainly the number must be rather slim, seeing that the Affordable Care Act must be, like, the Ulysses of documents.

Yet I found upon a bit more searching that it was not uncommon to find aActs and legal documents of note, which are, to the common person, inordinately long. State budgets often rival the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in size. With such formidable substance, one wonders, how is it that discussions of topics, like the Affordable Care Act, for instance, are reducible to one faction asserting that the others are ‘socialists’, and the other, callous haters of the poor.

The above trend of oversimplification is not so isolated as to be relevant only to the debate on Healthcare. The complexity of policy is often overlooked in discussion and debate. There are countless fallacious, and and or misleading parallels to such claims as Sarah Palin’s regarding death panels in other topics and fields. In the debate over abortion, one may note the ineffectiveness of the terms pro-life and pro-choice. Doubtless, repeating claims regarding one’s desire to let women have a right to choose, or about the sanctity of life alone has seldom yielded positive results. Slogans such as ‘support our troops’ fall within a similar field. As presented, these positions, be they in relation to health care, abortion , or foreign policy, seldom provide access or permit discussion about the policies at hand, or the philosophical principles in question. In fact, in many cases, it is no longer necessary to thoroughly acquaint oneself with a position, for there is greater ease in conflating a particular perspective with a generally positively held value. To present one’s opinion as something, which, if opposed, would result in the opposition labeling themselves as ‘against the troops’ or ‘against choice’ or ‘against life,’ seems to be a rhetorically cheap way of establishing and defending perspectives.

One need not be a ‘conspiracy theorist’ to realize not only that the above way of elaborating on otherwise complex ideas is hardly constructive, but that it might very well take that form by design. Our rhetoric functions to divert attention. One is seldom compelled to think of the implications of policy, or of the principles upon which it is founded. Instead, one is asked to oppose some spectral enemy, say, Obama’s totalitarian ‘socialism’ or to support something otherwise not opposable, such as helping to create an equitable system, that will aid those in need. By this shifting of attention from the principles of an argument, or from the document in question, these perspectives manage to prevent those who hold them from critically examining the contents of the perspective itself. In doing so, these perspectives self-perpetuate through misdirection.

The first step then, in having constructive discussions, with a potential for growth on the parts of those engaging in conversation, must be to circumnavigate these shortcuts in thought. Instead, in making an assertion, one must do so in a way that reflects the potential for falsifiability and a degree of respect for the opposition.