Saturday, October 13, 2012

Catching Flies: A Vignette

    "Do you think I'm evil?"
    Though gently put, the question caught her off-balance. Even though it was a common attitude among her set that anyone who disagreed with their politics simply must be either stupid or evil, she'd never heard it so bluntly put. It forced her to balance her disdain for conservatives against the imperative of courtesy under another person's roof. She shook her head, struggling against the urge to look -- or run -- away.
    He nodded. "Well, I hope you don't think I'm stupid."
    She shook her head again. "No, not at all, just...misinformed, maybe."
    He looked off briefly as if considering it. "I suppose I have to grant the possibility. Excuse me for a moment while I get another glass of wine. Would you like one?"
    She mutely handed her empty glass to him. Presently he returned with refills.
    "My take on the problem we have discussing politics," he said as he handed the refilled glass to her, "is that it's mainly the assumptions we make about one another. I don't want to think of anyone I'd willingly talk to as stupid or evil, because keeping that sort of company would reflect badly on me. Besides," he said through a grin, "half the country disagrees with me, and there can't be that many villains or idiots out there, right!"
    She chuckled. It was impossible to dislike him, as much as she'd always disliked political conservatives. "I guess not."
    He leaned toward her with a conspiratorial glint in his eyes. "So if neither of us is, ah, morally or intellectually deficient, why do we disagree so much?"
    She thought about it.
    "Well," she said at last, "it could be that one of us knows more about politics than the other...or it could be that we have different priorities."
    He nodded. "I can't think of any other possibilities, myself. Let's examine the priorities factor. What are yours?"
    "To make poor people better off," she said, "to make government less corrupt, to keep the environment clean, to get minorities a fair shake, and maybe a few other things."
    "I can't disagree with any of those," he said. "But I'm surprised you left out defending the country and keeping peace in the streets. You do care about those things, don't you?"
    She bridled. "Well, of course, but...not at the expense of the other stuff."
    He gestured assent. "Of course not. So we have the same priorities, and neither of us wants to shortchange any of them just to promote another. What that says to me is that our differences are over what works best. Would you agree?"
    She sensed that she was being led in a direction she'd been reluctant to follow. It had always been so easy to scorn conservatives and their notions before this. A swift dismissal of such things as either laughably stupid or morally unacceptable had always sufficed. Yet before her was a courteous representative of exactly that sort of thinking. His opening move had compelled her to cast away her set's presumptions of innate superiority. His position was the essence of reasonable discussion between equals. She couldn't reject it without casting herself as unreasonable...maybe even hateful.
    "I know you're trying to convert me," she said slowly, "and I seriously doubt you can, but so far everything you've said is beyond dispute -- at least if you really aren't stupid or evil." He chuckled, and she found that she couldn't repress a grin of her own.
    "Yes," he said, "I'm trying to get you to see things as I see them. That's the point of political conversation. But if I'm not stupid or evil -- say, is the jury really out on either of those? No? -- then if we start talking about any particular issue on a what-works basis, using just facts and their reasonable implications, you'll have just as much of a chance to convert me, won't you?"
    "I suppose so," she said.
    "Okay. Let's try it this way: you pick a topic, and we'll agree to get together, say in about a week, to talk about what we've learned about it. After we've had that conversation, if it goes well, I'll pick a topic, and we'll do it again." The conspiratorial glint returned to his eyes. "Are you game?"
    "Okay," she said. "But...you look like you expect this to be fun."
    "Of course!" he said. "Learning new things is always fun. Isn't it?"
[Dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Don Lavoie.]

1 comment:

Graybeard said...

With a couple of exceptions, this is the running conversation I've been having with my son for well over a month now. I'm not certain he's learning anything. I haven't - because as in the case you describe, I know what he's going to say.