Sunday, May 17, 2015

Same As

I could have voted for the first time in the recent British election, but didn't. It didn't matter because I was registered in Putney which is a very safe Conservative seat. I would've if I wasn't travelling. I was pet sitting in Avalon, Sydney. What I did do, was read the election manifestos of the five big parties. So I don't think I completely neglected my democratic duty. Since I spent much of the time there at the local RSL, that duty was hard to forget. Every night at 6pm, there would be a moment's silence in remembrance of lives lost in the World Wars.

The manifestos didn't leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like the American and South African election processes, democracy seems to be largely built around the politics of opposition. It isn't pretty. Left-Right politics originates from France where they are referred to as 'the party of movement' and 'the party of order'. For there to be political parties, there need to be policy differences. The parties can't be too closely aligned or the electorate isn't presented with a choice. If the opposition party doesn't present an alternative, they will be accused of not holding the government sufficiently accountable. It gives the impression of being a game. A debate club where you have to take up views that aren't necessarily genuine. Spaces are even designed in a confrontational way where it becomes hard to know where to sit politicians when there are more than two parties.

A debate in South Korea's parliament 

Most people are not going to have the time to read the manifestos. Many people don't seem to trust them anyway. So votes are often tribal. Governments could probably save a lot of money by allowing people to select a default vote until death or otherwise notified. There could even be a 'Same As' principle where your vote doesn't change unless you say so. Even without that being a policy, I suspect many of our decisions, not just in politics, tend to be same as. We disagree with someone by default.

Daniel Dennett gives four rules for how to compose successful criticism:
  1. You should attempt to re-express your target's position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your target says "Thanks, I wish I thought of putting it that way".
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement)
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism

In the same way as you earn the right to provide feedback, you earn the right to oppose. You do that by showing you are part of the same bigger tribe. If you are having a 'same as' discussion in the sense that you are never going to agree with the person anyway, you don't have to be present. You can write your view down and go do something else. You aren't required.

When it comes to politics there is an easy test for this. Many people say, 'A vote for [the people I oppose] is a vote for [these horrible things]'. The easy test is whether if asked, the other side would take those points and agree.

At the end of the day, we are all on the same side.
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