The Great Way is easy For he who has no preferences, When love and hate are both absent, The truth is clear and undisguised. To be for this and against that Is the disease of the mind.
-from the Teachings of the Third Zen Patriarch
America today is a country polarized. Compassion and understanding are rarely in evidence in our political discourse while hatred and high temper run rampant. A truth large enough to guide all parties and temper their accusations towards each other does not exist. Rather than possessing a truth large enough to guide our decisions we have substituted differing points of view, each containing a kernel of truth but not the whole truth, and we support the view that most nearly matches our own. Self righteousness has trumped understanding.
On the right side of the political aisle we have the fundamentalist religious right with its “culture of life” agenda. The fundamentalists are convinced that their agenda is divinely sanctioned and they are absolutist and self-righteous in pursuing it. They presume to speak God’s word and believe they are His chosen instruments. No point of view is right but theirs. They do not speak compassionately but authoritatively. They divide in order to conquer. They are certain God is on their side.
On the other side of the aisle are the liberal Democrats. Nobody knows quite what they stand for anymore, but they habitually assume the moral high ground nevertheless. While many of them go to Church, they are not religious zealots like their brethren on the right. The liberal democrats have been weakened, are certain of little, and no longer have acoherent message. Not only have they become marginalized, they are in danger of becoming irrelevant. While they are in decline the Christian fundamentalists are in the ascent.
Lack of Political Intelligence
John Stuart Mill once said that the “stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” We know that the fundamentalist Republicans are cocksure and that the liberal Democrats are full of self-doubt. That much is obvious. What is less evident is Mill’s assertion of the relationship between intelligence and attitude. Is the radical religious right truly stupid and is the liberal left really intelligent? How you answer that question probably depends on the color of the state you live in. I deliberately choose the path of discretion and leave that judgment in your good hands. However, in my mind anger and self righteousness make people less intelligent than they really are. When one is full of negative emotion one can’t see the whole truth because one is devoid of compassion. Since negativity and fear rule in Washington I can only conclude that both sides are less intelligent than they could be and should be.
Zealotry and Demonization
One cause of the continuing decline of constructive dialogue between the parties is the takeover of the Republican Party by the religious right. The advent of zealotry and the mingling of Church and State have meant the waning of collegiality and compromise. Unfortunately, the deterioration of constructive dialogue is not an isolated phenomenon that is easily contained but, like a multi-car accident on a busy freeway, has unforeseen consequences that may stretch far into the future. One effect is the habit of both major parties to demonize their opponents. How do you find middle ground with evil? To do so means making a deal with the devil and taking on some of that colorization yourself. Who wants to do that? Whether we conceive of ourselves as having the higher moral ground (Democrats) or see ourselves as the agents of God’s will (fundamentalist Republicans) the result is the same, -gridlock and stalemate.