REASON IN POLITICSRadical Bleeding Heart image

Toward Rationality

Where would rationality take us?

First of all, reason tells us that it is not possible to live by reason alone. There is nothing wrong with that; it is just that reason cannot tell us what we want. Reason can only help us achieve what we want, once we have ascertained what that is. Politics is about deciding what we want as a society or country and then determining how to get it.

There are still people who imagine that their values are reasonable and the other fellow's are not. 'T'ain't so. We bleeding hearts might argue that the golden rule is rational because if everyone followed it we would all be better off. We are good to others because we want them to be good to us in return. The hard hearts will answer that the only way to keep others from exploiting us is to exploit them first: do unto others before they do unto us.

We are both inventing reasons to justify our values, and, within limits, both reasons are reasonable. It is called rationalization.

So we start with values, which are beyond reason. They come from somewhere inside us. Then we have to have some sort of picture of the way things are: how the world is and how it can change. Shine the light of our values on our picture of the world to know what we like about it and what we would like to change. Then we can come up with programs and policies: the steps we think will bring about the changes we want.

It seems so simple.

Of course it is not simple once we get into it. To begin with, people’s values and their ideas about the way the world works get all mixed up. We all believe what we want to believe, and in particular, what it is profitable for us to believe. For another thing, we often do not actually know what our values are until they are confronted with some sort of concrete situation in reality. And many times people do not admit — even to themselves — what their values really are. For instance, people who like war because it is exciting (as no doubt it is) will tell you, and believe themselves, that their real concern is with security. But a rational look at politics must start with values; if you do not agree about values, it is difficult to agree about anything else. It is not impossible. Values can differ without being incompatible, in which case policies and programs might be devised that will satisfy each.

So while we should start with values, in fact we rarely do. Political discussions usually start with programs and policies, which would be the last step if the process were rational. But if you are not clear about values, the policies that end up being implemented apt to be confused compromises that satisfy no one.

How exactly do our values differ? Are there huge differences among us, or are we just throwing rocks at each other because that is what we have always done?

[Next Section: Political Differences]

Or . . .

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