Tuesday, August 04, 2009

On the wisdom and goodness of people who agree with me

"In reality we always discover afterwards that our adversaries had a reason for being on the side they espoused, which has nothing to do with any element of right that there may be on that side, and that those who think as we do do so because their intelligence, if their moral nature is too base to be invoked, or their uprightness, if their perception is weak, has compelled themto."
-Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time IV: Sodom and Gomorrah.

I like this passage because here we see Proust doing what he does well: casually tossing off a shrewd observation about human nature as if it was a minor detail. He is busy describing how the elder Swann's opinion of the young Robert Saint-Loup changed in relation to Saint-Loup's
take on the Dreyfus Affair, probably the paramount political issue of the day. Proust playfully points up the good fortune most of us have in political matters- the people who think otherwise than we do happen to do so because they're perfidious; those who agree with us either do so
because they're wise orgood natured. Lucky that. Proust's tone is ironic, but gently instead of bitingly: he can hardly write without winking.

It's something of a relief to hear that people had the same problems with their adversaries over a century ago. It's easy to imagine that civility is a thing of the past and that it's only recently that we found ourselves arguing politely with horrid jerks. Not too long after Proust's time it became understandable- who expects Communists and fascists to see eye-to-eye? But, now? When we feel ourselves opposed with every fiber of our being to people who'd rather see ten million dollars go to building a toll road instead of a bridge? Do we really need the barricades?

The Internet is a great guide to understanding why people think the way they do in these debates. Put simply, people whose opinions could be described as "conservative" tend to be uneducated bigots who yearn for a dictatorship because they are afraid of women, atheists, foreigners, and the earth. Liberals, meanwhile, are motivated primarily by a pathological hatred of the homeland, family, love and decency, and yearn for a dictatorship because they are afraid of God, guns, and successful heterosexuals. It's not hard to see why increasing numbers of people describe themselves as "independents".

But, how does anyone ever change their mind when it's a matter of pledging allegiance to the horrid blackguards or the snivelling quislings? And how do you convince people that they'd rather agree with you and be a jerk than with someone else and be a creep? Or, is it better to just try to figure out the reasons that other people think the way they do, given that most of them are, hypothetically, human? Or even try to figure out why other people might disagree with you, in spite of your own wisdom and benevolent kindheartedness? Heck if I know. I'm just glad that whoever agrees with me is infinitely wise and goodhearted. Otherwise, I'd be in trouble.


Brian Dunbar said...

Well said!

But seriously. Those toll-road advocates are real jerks.

rufus said...

Don't worry- I've banned them for life from this site. Tolerance? Feh!