“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” – William James
This project began with the recognition that democracy is hard work, as well as a bit of disappointment over the unedifying tone of the national discourse. Needless to say, the tone and substance of that discourse have not improved of late. Hope, as always, springs eternal.
Politics, it has been remarked, is a contact sport. Over the last several decades, Americans have been reacquainted with the accuracy of that observation. In response, it has also become commonplace to hear people complain that politicians should work together, cut deals, and get on with the job of running the country. That’s fine in theory – voters seem to recognize that life requires compromise in the abstract. But when the time comes to hammer out policy, it’s always easy to feel that compromise is something better left for the next bill that comes along.
The democratic process is about finding compromise in the here-and-now.
That task of self-governance is perpetual: you never get there, you just get closer. Along the way, there are a few tempting side avenues.
First, it’s easy to confuse being clever with being right. You can build a lot of really good arguments in service of really bad conclusions, and a lot of really good principles are hard to defend with rigor. Healthy inquiry is messy – but the alternative to that inquiry is to remain, self-assuredly, in ignorance.
Second, it’s easy to dismiss the experiences of others. But my experiences are not yours and your experiences are not mine. We all understand and misunderstand the world in unique ways because we all see uniquely different slices of it. We all want to believe that we are special, and that therefore our experiences are especially informative. It’s an alluring thought, but it’s rarely true.
The strength of a democracy lies, in great part, in people’s ability to come together and balance out each other’s errors. So I believe that public debate should be lively, robust, and critical. But I also believe that it should always seek to be constructive.
That means staying away from the temptation of scoring points: no ad hominem attacks and no straw-men arguments. It means remembering that there are no teams. And it also means giving your detractors the benefit of the doubt – if someone disagrees with you, consider their argument in the best light. You’ll learn more that way.
More than anything, The Fog of Policy is my personal effort to keep engaged, keep listening, and keep doing the work of citizen.
Americans proudly profess the notion that people have the right to govern themselves, but too often we forget that doing so requires a lot from us. Democracy isn’t supposed to be easier – just better.
At the end of the day, politics is raw and messy and oftentimes corrupt in thousands of small and large ways. But if those of us who believe that self-government can be a great affair refuse to give in to an easy and insidious cynicism, then I believe we can pull our politics, kicking and screaming, back into the light.