Monthly Archives: February 2016

“A man hears what he wants to hear…”

donkeyPolitical arguments can get frustrating from time to time.  Exchanges can get heated and I, a man who prides himself on civility, am sometimes tested.

I contend, however, that I never draw first blood, even if my posts incite disharmony, and I never resort to personal insults.  I, on the other hand, have been called stupid and uninformed.

Sometimes I walk away, but sometimes I simply cannot bear the remarks, particularly when they are extended to my friends.  One “foe” resorted to:  “Gary’s liberal friends are stupid and should be ignored.”

Someone had posted a quote from Winston Churchill on my Facebook page:  “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

That quote is worthy of discussion, and clearly the point he was making is that “socialism is wrong” and it was directed toward me because he thinks that Marxian Socialism, or communism, is what liberals are directing our country toward.

I’m in a bit of a quandary when a deduction like that is made, however, because I’m caught between my desire to correct them and the realization that if someone is living in a world with talking trees and flying monkeys, what’s the point? (Okay…but that’s as close to an insult as I get)

I decided to clarify Churchill, someone I admire, and to put this quote into perspective.  Even though Churchill was a brilliant man, his views, taken out of context, do not necessarily stand the test of time.  The same can be said of any revered historical figure.

Churchill was a man of his times and, in fact, opposed women’s suffrage in England.  He saw the presence of women in politics as unnecessary and believed that men represented them well enough.  In spite of his sincere dislike for socialism, he also realized that aspects of that philosophy were necessary and many crept into his own political initiatives.  He advocated for unions and collective bargaining and even created state health care, similar to Medicare, that was paid for by taxes.

I wasn’t trying to de-mythologize the man, but, rather to clarify him, but that is where the trouble began.  Not everyone is looking for clarity and suddenly someone writes:  “Only Gary would say that Churchill was a bad man…”

Sigh.

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” is how Paul Simon describes his iconic boxer’s decision to choose his profession over voices in opposition.

Selective hearing is very common in our political discourse and I particularly see it coming from the right (Uh-oh!).

My challengers often put words into my mouth that were never there; often those words are the complete opposite of what I’ve said.

I wrote: “It’s frustrating when intelligent people don’t use intelligence in their arguments.”

Immediately, the responses lined up:  “Gary is calling us stupid!”

“Gary said he’s never wrong!”

“No…,” I replied, “…I just called you intelligent.”

Sigh (again).

The issue at hand is the choice to go beneath what we see on the surface; to look several layers deeper to find the truth.  That is the essence of critical thinking.  It is not the sole domain of liberals to use, but in our current political discourse it has been the platform of liberal ideas, while on the right it can be an obstacle for their policy.

Let me offer a conversation I had with someone about Social Security to illustrate that point.  This person took the position that they could “invest that money a lot better than government.”

That concept fits perfectly with the political position to empower the private sector and to deflect the encroachment of government.  I then asked, “What if you don’t invest well?  What if you don’t invest enough because you wanted a bigger house, or maybe you only made enough to pay the bills, and by 65 you don’t have a retirement?”

He responded, “Then it’s my fault!  I have no one to blame but myself.  That’s called taking personal responsibility.”

“Okay…but….what do we do with you and the possibly millions of others who didn’t invest well?  Do we step over your dead body on our way to work?  Do we annex land in Arizona and call it “It Sucks To Be You Acres” and farm you off there?”

“I’ll just have to keep working then,” came his reply.  That, too, fit nicely into his privatize /personal responsibility/keep government out of my life policy paradigm.

“What if…you can’t?  Aging has this nasty habit of diminishing some of our skills.  There aren’t a lot of 85 year old airline pilots.  What if retirement is forced on you because there is a better employee, younger, cheaper and able to work longer than you, who’s ready in the wings?”

They were silent.  I never assume that I’ve “won” these arguments because 999 times out 1000 no one’s mind has changed, but I know that my point was received and not dismissed.  Political ideology is often as inherited as our religion and the roots can be planted deep and change doesn’t happen often.

This isn’t fantasy and it isn’t an illustration of what would be an anomaly in a post Social Security America, it is exactly what would happen.  But finding that truth required going deeper than a superficial concept of personal responsibility.

That doesn’t mean that the person was “superficial” only the concept….Oh no!  Here they come!  I have to remember- “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it- people like me!”