The failure of the congressional super committee to agree on a plan to reduce the federal deficit, now $15 trillion, is the latest indication that our troubled nation is suffering a paralysis of passion with two opposite ideological camps stalemated over just about everything — each side believing with absolute certainty in the intellectual and moral superiority of its position. And, even within each camp there is conflict over who is ideologically pure, who really has got it right.
Because human motivation is driven more by emotion than by reason, manipulators of the masses successfully use this to their advantage. They can stir up a population with half-truths, fractured facts, exaggerations and outright lies. Once people are emotionally agitated, it is easier to convince them with short logic — or even illogic — to move in a certain direction.
The dismal success of political ideology in reducing consideration of all issues to a choice between liberal or conservative is predicated by the propensity of people to succumb to emotion. The fascinating irony of surrendering objectivity to ideological passion is how certain the faithful are of their infallible logic.
Those folks who are not reason-impaired understand that neither liberal nor conservative ideologies will solve our common problems, strengthen our nation or please everyone. There will be no Ayn Randian or Marxist utopias. These are philosophies for dreamers and tools for schemers. Attempts to implement them in the real world fail because neither accounts for nor can surmount the realities of human nature.
The frustration with the mutual antagonism between these two opposing political-economic ideologies is that each has their valid and worthwhile principles. A free market with limited government interference fosters human productivity, creativity and, most of all, freedom. It, however, fosters individualism at some cost to community.
Strong government with a reasonable level of regulation fosters equal opportunity, justice and protection of the general welfare from the depredations of human greed. It, however, fosters community at some cost to individualism.
The logical approach would be to recognize the validity and practical values of both ideologies and apply them in effective measure where they make sense in addressing the nation’s problems. Going all out one way or the other may work in novels and movies, but not in reality.
When addressing the competing needs and desires of a diverse society with complex problems, cooperative compromise is the byproduct of rationality. But, because compromise transgresses ideological purity, we are not seeing much of it lately.
If only more of us were like Mr. Spock, the fictional character from the Star Trek sagas who was half human, half Vulcan. Vulcans were an unemotional race of people who strictly adhered to pure logic in all things. But, being a half-breed, Spock was in effect a compromise between dispassionate reason and intuitive emotion — cold logic tempered with some sentiment.
We could sure use some half-breed Vulcans in the halls of government these days. This constant ideological idiocy has become more than tedious, it has become criminally irresponsible. The common good is being neglected and jeopardized as various special interests leverage unreasoning ideological passions to garner support for their selfish goals.
The fight over national health-care reform is a primary example of this. The insurance companies and allied special interests spent nearly $3.5 billion fighting the current reform legislation, disparagingly referred to as Obamacare, and vehemently opposed any proposal for a single-payer plan, which would be the more effective approach.
They appealed to ideological passions in an attempt to enlist the public in rejecting something arguably in the public’s best interest. Health-care coverage is a real, life-and-death need affecting nearly all Americans, especially the 50-plus million who have no health insurance.
The ideological argument against national health-care reform employs the same faulty logic that sustains the insane war on drugs. It goes like this: health-care reform is a gateway socialist program certain to addict the nation to full-blown socialism. Socialism is always bad, the health-care reform act is socialist, and therefore the reform act is bad. This syllogistic argument is as fallaciously subjective as the argument that capitalism is always bad because some people get so rich while others are so poor.
Among ideological minds solutions must be found in compromise, but among logical minds compromise is not necessary for effective problem solving. Any ideas are considered and those that work are adopted regardless of whether they conform to liberal or conservative ideology.
We citizens who want workable solutions to our common problems need to substitute off-the-shelf ideology with clear objectivity. It really starts with us.
— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns.