The other day I wrote a short review of Ralph Nader's book The Good Life in which I said that it was disappointing but unsurprising; however, I'm unconvinced that I made my main point about disappointment because it was so lost in digression. And so, I'd like to revisit that in a more focused way.
Explicitly, my disappointment in Mr. Nader's book stems from the difference between stated objective and actual accomplishment. At the beginning Mr. Nader makes a powerful point about the necessity and obligation of the ordinary citizen to participate in the political and social world around them. In short, the ordinary person in the street is called upon to contribute to change. This is a powerful, wonderful, much-needed message. The book goes on to detail why such change is needed. Unfortunately, in so doing, much too much is made of those who are to blame for our present situation--and that blame is always thrown at anyone who disagrees with Mr. Nader and most of the time there appears to be in the implicit assumption of malice, conspiracy, or both. For example, the Republicans are out to deliberately oppress and create an underclass of the ordinary working person. While it may be true that there are some Republicans who might positively delight in such a prospect, I seriously doubt whether that is the express intention of the majority of Republicans, even powerful republicans, as they go about their daily duties. Why not look at the households of famous Democrats or liberals who hire and mistreat illegal immigrants routinely? I'm sure that the number of these is approximately equal to the number of Republicans whose deliberate mission it is to create an underclass.
In all political discussion of the present day, there appears to be an at least implicit assumption of ill-will or malice. This may be the case with all political writing through time, but I don't get the same sense from writers of previous eras. That may be because what survives to come to us today, survives because it transcends the tropes and diatribes of the time. It may, however, be indicative of the time, I do not have the breadth of experience to suggest the truth of the matter.
However, I do believe that it is possible to urge people to action on an issue without spending time blaming one group or another for the present situation. What does it matter who is responsible for allowing parking lots to be built on the watershed that directly feeds into the Everglades. The reality is that they are being built and will continue to be so until action is taken to prevent it.
Any effective action is by its own nature bipartisan any way. Yes, some laws are passed by a party, but those that stay in place are usually passed by a majority in both parties. The situation we are in is the result of input from both groups--it implies at least implicit consent from one group or another despite griping. (This goes, of course, only for true legislation, not for legislation from the bench, which seems almost impossible to overcome by any means allowed within the Consitution,)
My point is that civic action is a duty of all citizens. Involvement in the the political life around us is required so that we can inform it. It is the realm in which religion legitimately and purposefully enters into the social sphere. It is the intersection of "in the world" and "Of the world." and as such, helps to define that world for better or worse. As we choose to remain outside that interaction, society is deprived of the proper formation of conscience. Thus, there is a purpose to peaceful prayer outside of an abortion clinic, but no purpose to violent bombing of clinics or assassination of doctors who perform abortions.
My disappointment with the book stemmed from the fact that I was hoping to read about individuals who were working for the good life implied by the title. Instead, I'm told about how messed up life is and how it is all the result of Republican scheming to maintain and enlarge the underclass while exploiting the world.
Why is it not possible to engage in political discussion with an assumption of good will (if perhaps bad reasoning, or poor thought) on the part of all of those engaged. Why do we find it so hard to refrain from maligning the person rather than dealing with the idea? I think this is in part the same phenomenon that occurs when we drive and there are not longer people on the road, but cars. In the same way when we address people who hold ideas and call them idiots, morons, whoremongers, or whatever terms we use, we have placed a child of God within the vehicle of idea and have condemned them both.
By all means, bring every weapon to bear upon bad thinking. Help to correct the immoral or incorrect assumptions or bad data or other source of error in the thought of a person holding an opinion that differs from one's own. But my plea to all politicians and to all who would engage in political debate is to debate the ideas. Do not tar with one brush all people who self-label. All Republicans do not want to exploit migrant workers and toss them out of the country. All Democrats do not want to open the borders to all and sundry and allow the terrorists to overrun us. Why do so many writers write as if it were so?