April 28th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

What Do You Think of Your Opponents?

Before I go any further, I want a reality check of sorts. So I want to pose a very, very broad question to everybody who reads me, one that applies to you if you care about anything at all in this whole world, one that each of you has an answer for. It would help me know how to explain my positions to you, and to explain other people's positions to you, and your positions to other people if I know how the percentages break down on one simple question:

What do you think about your opponents?

For your answer to this, I want you to narrow this down by thinking about the one single political, economic, or social issue that you care about the most. I don't care what the issue is. I don't care if it's taxes, religion, censorship, gay rights, communism, racism, abortion, illegal immigration, smoking, AIDS, free trade, feminism, privacy, terrorism, drugs, Open Source Software, or any thing else you might care about, just whichever one is the single most important one to you. Nor do I care which side of it you're on. All I know is, as sure as anything, if you care that much about it it's because there are some people out there who disagree with you. Now, I want you to set aside your opinion of the voters who vote for them, of the followers that they've persuaded or recruited, and think only, for now, about the leaders of your opposition. I want you to think about the people who run the organizations, about the people who write the books, about the people who talk about it on the TV and on radio. Do you know who I mean? OK, I want you to think about them for a minute, and then tell me in your honest opinion why do they disagree with you?

Do they disagree with you because they've looked at pretty much the same set of facts that you have, and thought them through, and simply come to a different but honestly held conclusion? Do they disagree with you because, even knowing what you know, they honestly and for their own good and sufficient reasons prefer a different outcome than the one you prefer? Do they disagree with you because of an honest difference of opinion about basic human nature? Are they well informed, intelligent, decent human beings who just have a different philosophy than you? Or ...

Do they disagree with you because they don't know the whole truth? Are they misinformed? Have they not heard, or are they ignoring, parts of the truth that you know but they obviously don't? Is there something they should read, something they should see, somewhere they should go to learn the truth? Do you believe that if they only knew what you know, they'd agree with you? Or ...

Do they disagree with you because of a fundamental flaw in their logic, or in their thinking? Do you think that they disagree with you because they use faulty logic? Do you think that they disagree with you because they haven't thought things through to their full conclusions? Do they disagree with you because even if they knew the same facts you do, they'd be too stupid to figure things out the way you have? Or ...

Do they disagree with you because they're bad people? Is it because they don't care who they hurt as long as they get their way? Is there an element of malevolence in it that they're hiding, or even one that they're showing? Are they saying what they say and doing what they do specifically to hurt some people that they just don't like? Do you think that they know the same facts you do, because everybody knows them, and have thought things through the way you did, because nobody could honestly come to any other conclusion, and so they must be lying about what they believe or know for some nefarious reason? Or maybe a selfish one? Or maybe a crazy or psychotic or psychopathic one?

Now, before you object to the way I've framed this question, before you say that it's unanswerable or that I haven't offered you the right answer, yes, I know that not everybody at the top of an organization, party, religion, or movement is alike. You might think that among the leaders, organizers, and spokespeople for your opposition there is some kind of a mix of people some of whom might honestly disagree, some of whom might be clueless, some of whom might be stupid, and some of whom might be evil. But the truth be told, you and I both know that within an organization or movement at any given time, there are a few people who are the leading lights. They're the people that everybody, from the top to the bottom, listens to and respects. When they ask for something within the movement, they usually get their way. So think about that small group of people, and ask yourself (and tell me) which is more prevalent among them?

Poll #718506 Characterizing the Opposition

When you think about the majority of the organizers, leaders, and opinion shapers of the people who disagree with you about the single most important issue in the world, why do you think they do it? (Please pick the one answer that most closely matches, even if it's not a perfect fit.)

Because they honestly and rationally prefer something other than what I prefer, because they and I disagree about what would be best for the world? ("Philosophy")
58(46.4%)
Because however smart they are, they're not working with as complete a set of facts as I am? ("Ignorance")
7(5.6%)
Because regardless of their preferences, philosophy, or grasp of the facts, they just haven't thought it through fully or correctly? ("Stupidity")
23(18.4%)
Because even though they probably know that I'm right, they have their own awful, terrible, psychotic, selfish, and/or evil reasons to lie to their followers? ("Malevolence")
37(29.6%)