I disagree with you

We do a very poor job of disagreeing in this country. You’d think we would be experts at it, because we do so much of it. But we’ve developed a culture in which most people are far more eager to tell everyone else why he’s wrong than to understand why there’s a disagreement — much less what to do about it.

I’m never sure whether to be amused or frustrated at the extent to which some people are outraged when I outline a position on a controversial issue that doesn’t stick to the accepted framing of the issue. Some of the nasty email I received about my Monday article concerning the moral right to make your own choices — even if they’re the “wrong” choices — are perfect examples.

Look at comments from two different emails and tell me whether you think these folks read the same article:

“Your just a homo lover,” one person wrote. “You make me sick the way you want to hurt my rights, God not approve the fudgepacker lifestyles and I don’t either. Quit bowing down to the gay agenda and stand up for liberty and religion.”

“It’s obvious you are simply trying to find an excuse to justify bigotry because of your own homophobia and hatred of gay men,” another reader wrote. “Unless the law requires those in the LGBT community be treated with dignity and respect, none of us will live in freedom.”

Try to put aside your own feelings about the issue for a moment and look at the bigger questions. How have we gotten to the point that people such as these can be so certain that there are only two possible positions that they each assume I’m on the other side of their (obviously correct) position? How could both of them have missed my point so badly that they’re angry enough to write this sort of email to a total stranger?

There are a lot of interesting things we could talk about in response to those questions. We could consider whether I communicated what I wrote clearly enough. We could look at the psychology that each of these people brought to the subject matter. We could consider the sociology of a culture where extreme positions are pushed at us in media as the norm. We could look at how philosophy, logic and morality are taught (or not taught) today.

They’re all valid ways of approaching the matter, but I’d like to suggest something more basic. I’d like to suggest that emotional and volatile human beings aren’t ever all going to agree with each other. I’d like you to consider that maybe the question should be how we can all get what we want, not how we can force other people to agree with us.

Is it your goal to live in a place that reflects your values? Or is it your goal to force everyone else to live according to your values? If your goal is the first, we can look for solutions. If your goal is the second, there’s no choice but to continue fighting in nasty ways that are eventually going to lead to violent conflict. And those two goals can’t be resolved. You can have one or the other. Not both.

Different groups of people have very different visions about what a good community looks like and acts like. Social conservatives have a strong idea about that. Progressives have a very strong idea that’s radically different. Libertarians and anarchists of different stripes bring much different ideas to the table. There are all sorts of other groups with different ideas — and all think they’re right.

We can’t all get what we want if we assume that there is any “one size fits all” system that everyone must adopt — and that’s the current assumption about politics. We’re never all going to magically change our minds and agree with each other. So what can we do?

There’s no reason for all the various groups to be required to live under the same rules. Why can’t different cities, communities or regions adopt their own competing sets of rules — and let individuals decide for themselves where they’d like to live based on the rules in place there?

Why not let some people have their socialist utopia for those who voluntarily want to live under such a system? Why not let social conservatives have their own communities where the laws reflect their beliefs about what normal is? Why not let progressives set up communities that reflect what they believe in? Why not allow those who believe in various religious laws to set up their own communities? And so forth. Why not let communities compete for “members” or even “customers”?

The only thing stopping this from happening is the idea that we all have to live under the same basic set of laws. Why does that have to be?

We’re not all going to agree. We’re already at the point of divisive explosion. Why not consider how we can all get what we want? It could take a lot of forms, but the breakup is going to be far uglier if we wait for economic and social collapse to happen.

Why not consider a peaceful breakup that would let us all get what we want?