Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Political debate and global citizenship

Most of the time, I agree almost decidedly with John Linkner (he's really smart and pretty divergent in his thinking). Today, he had a post titled Why I Don't Care About Obamacare (or Abortion or Gun Control) on Forbes and I disagree pretty strongly with some parts of his remarks. Given that his post is somewhat about dialogue and disagreement I thought it'd be worth remarking / responding. Before that though, let me outline what I do agree with.


In my respects, I don't disagree with Josh's conclusion - why bother worrying about controversial topics like abortion or gun control (note, I've excluded healthcare from this list - I also think it's curious that Linkner uses "Obamacare", a politically charged term, in an article where he criticizes pointless, inflammatory political debate). My rationale is different however - I don't think the dialogue is wasteful or causes a diversion of focus, I just think there are other issues that take priority. Moreover, I suspect a lot of the issues that are hotly debated are predominately raised to mobilize latent constituent groups instead of to actually debate them, which is disheartening and divisive.


I also agree with Josh's statement a few paragraphs in:


"Our country’s decisions are determined by a majority; the people making these determinations were put into place by the ultimate majority: public opinion. Once our officials are put into place, it is their job to make decisions for the greater good on our behalf – your anger or support after the fact won’t adjust their choice"


Indeed. Legislators are agents who vote on our behalf (a la "little r" republicanism) and I think it's good that way. It makes it easier to make tough choices. Also, I agree, anger or support after the fact will not adjust a previously made choice.  That's a matter of fact.


Anyway, allow me to disagree with two sentiments Linkner presents:


1 - "Wasteful: Think about how much time, energy and emotion people spend heatedly discussing these issues. What does it accomplish? Not much. If the same logic went into a company’s decision-making, nothing would ever get done."


2 - "Refocus: If you take all that emotional capital and re-invest it into something more relevant to you personally, think about the dividends that could result. Simply ignore the debates in the larger political climate that affect your success a lot less than the time you spend on them. Instead, repurpose that energy into your true passion, no matter what that may be. Think about what riches would flow from this type of attitude"


We live in a world with global problems that need (in the words of Gordon Brown's TED Talk) a global ethic to solve. Plainly said, there are many different opinions on how to solve these global problems - many of which which conflict with each other. More than that, there are different outcomes that different people desire from different situation (e.g., authoritarian dictators desire something a lot different for their nations than the people within them desire).


All in all, there's a lot of potential for conflict. Conflict, rather, is truly inevitable. And we have  a choice, we resolve it or we don't.  I think we have to, because to get anything done without resolving conflict requires coercion, deception, or both. I happen to think that "getting things done" and avoiding coercion/deception are both worthy aspirations.


So, I've presented an undefended claim above: that things don't get done if there's unresolved conflict (unless actors are coerced or deceived). I think this is true, think about every argument you've been in - can you move forward with a plan unless the conflict is resolved? For example, can you plan a trip with your friend if you both want to go to different places? Can you raise your kids in a single faith if you're in an inter-faith marriage and you don't reconcile your views with your wife? Can Europe even begin to prevent financial meltdown if they don't agree on a plan of attack?


So, I'd disagree with Josh's contention that heatedly discussing issues accomplishes nothing. On the contrary, I'd suggest that nothing is accomplished unless we hotly discuss issues. Without hotly discussing issues we don't resolve conflict, unless we coerce or deceive. And if we don't resolve conflict, we don't get things done. Consequently, we'd better hotly discuss issues. The discussion doesn't necessarily yield immediate results, but I don't think results would happen at any point in time without the discussion happening to lay the path for action.


I also don't think that the answer is to take the energy we would spend and channel it into something more relevant to us personally. I think doing so leads people to be aloof to broader concerns and circumstances beyond their own backyard. Maintaining a global perspective (i.e., a perspective where we empathize with people across the globe) is essential, I think, to solve global problems.  I think channeling all our energy into our own interests probably cultivates an attitude which does the opposite and degrades our global perspective. Linkner doesn't advocate for all people avoiding political debate (in fact he encourages people with a such a passion to pursue it) but I suggest a more extreme position. I think it's important for all people to engage in political debate which elevates a global consciousness.


Now, this argument falls apart with the claim that only a limited subset of people need to really address broader problems and have a broad perspective. I disagree. We are incredibly connected by our actions and our ideas. We won't solve climate change unless we all change our behavior. We won't have safer neighborhoods unless we all watch over our streets. There may be many policies which only need to be decided by a few people, but we all have influence (whether we like it or not, and think so or not) on the outcomes. Call me naive or optimistic, but I think a global perspective makes it more likely and easier to follow-through on our responsibilities as global citizens.


Bear in mind, I think focusing on passion is important (and agree with Josh in this respect). But, I think there's also a place and importance for spending time refining our collective global consciousness - there's a need to discuss conflict.


Toward the end of his post, I start to agree with Josh again:


"The point I’m making isn’t to avoid proactive involvement.  If you are passionate about a political, social, or community effort, by all means you should dive in and make a difference.  Individual citizens ranging from Rosa Parks to James Brady have played a key role in shaping our nation.  However, if you plan to do nothing but complain, it is a total waste of your time.  The bitch-and-moan club has millions of members, yet creates nothing but anger and frustration.  If you chose to delegate policy making to the politicians, stop your indignant rants and start repurposing that energy into something productive for both you and society."


Obviously, narrow-minded ranting with no intention of listening to other people isn't really helpful in developing a global consciousness. But the answer to stopping ranting isn't to shut up, it's to push harder and harder to listen to each other and have enlightened dialogue.


Don't agree with me? Let's chat.