We Are More Alike than Different


I always get taken aback when people seem surprised that we'd actually agree about something political. The hidden assumption is that we're SOOOOO different that we could never agree on anything in reality, right?

Fundamentally, I believe that Americans already agree on about 80% of all issues. We think that free trade has value, that rights are worth protecting, that freedom is important, that theft is wrong, that we should stand up for what is right, that we need to make a better world for our kids, and on and on and on. So, 80%, we're all in sync with.

Then I see another 15% where we disagree, but can compromise on. Should we build more power plants, should we keep our parks funded, should we fund a mission to mars, should we tax cigarettes, should we raise the driving age, should we allow drunk driving checkpoints, etc... These are things where we are able to grasp that there are two sides and it's a matter of negotiating where we draw the line.

Then there's the last 5% that we disagree on fundamentally. Should abortions be legal? Should institutional bigotry be legal? Should we have safety nets for our poor? These issues are the ones we talk about the most, because there the ones we can address with absolute certainty, usually from a singular point of view. These are what make debate shows tense and cause fractures at the Thanksgiving table. These are the 5% that we choose as our identifying markers... despite the fact that there's 20 times more issues where we can agree or compromise on. This is the political illusion that we live in.

But I go even further.I think we can find more than half the issues within that 5% where people can come to the AWARENESS of some compromise. If we look at abortion, we can clarify whether the goal is to reduce abortions or not. We can recognize that we can reduce abortions without making them illegal, and in doing so we reduce the issue to a policy debate instead of a dogmatic one. This kind of discussion is not easy, and fundamentalists who want to make abortion a dogmatic issue will fight tooth and nail to prevent a healthy discussion of the issue from taking place. But if we can treat it like an issue, and not part of a culture war, we can improve our "agree or compromise" percentage to almost 98%!

This is the flash point we see in places like Facebook and Cable News. The fundamentalists prevent nuanced discussion from taking place, make grand sweeping gestures based on dogma and symbolic posturing. They insist there is no compromise, and that we are all fundamentally opposed on principle, unable to reach agreement... when all we are really doing is haggling over 3% of our common interests and not noticing we have so very, very much in common.

Yes, there is still 2% we will always disagree on... and for that, we should vote and find a way to tolerate our disagreement... but that's simply community in action. You need to get over that.