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I spend some time reading Allan Bevere’s blog and his post today rings with what I’ve been thinking about and have written about below. Today he has a post by Michael Kruse, who’s blog is now on my subscription list after checking it out today. His post is about how, we make our political opponents into “fools” or “self serving” persons. We perceive them as being out only for themselves and fail to see the substance, either or their arguments or our defenses against it. (This sounds pretty similar to my discussions below about the need to transform our political discourse.)
This is what Krause says of “Bulverism:”
Nearly a century ago, a young boy named Ezekiel Bulver overheard his parents arguing. It seems Mr. Bulver was trying to convince Mrs. Bulver that any two sides of a triangle are longer than the third. Finally, in exasperation, Mrs. Bulver exclaimed, “You just say that because you are a man!” That was the end of the argument. Ezekiel had an epiphany.
Traditionally you were required to demonstrate that your opponent is actually wrong in a dialog before explaining what led to his erroneous conclusion. What young Ezekiel discovered is that you can bypass that demonstration and fixate on how your opponent became so silly (or evil), thus diverting all attention from the substance of the issue. C. S. Lewis claimed that the mythical Ezekiel Bulver is the founder of modern day political discourse. And if you’ve been paying any attention to politics lately, you see Bulverism is alive and well.
But this is far too simplistic a view of how people vote–only looking out for themselves or voting in a way that just doesn’t make sense. Kruse argues that, when it comes down to it, most people pretty easily will vote against their own interests if they have a different understanding of what constitutes the common good. Therefore, a person with wealth might vote to increase taxes if they believe it is in the better interest of the common good to see medicare benefits expanded. Or, a poor person might believe the common good is best served by having leaders who will tighten restrictions on abortion or gay marriage, even if that means they will also vote against some social services that he or she uses. It’s a different understanding of the common good. But, because of Bulverism, we fail to see the perspective of the other and can only demonize them. We make jokes. We make up lies. And we send it all as e-mails to those we think are like-minded friends.
Kraus closes his article this way:
Most political choices we make are about weighing competing values and concerns. For instance, in America, there has been a general belief that government has a responsibility for a basic social safety net. But this responsibility is a supportive one, not one of controlling citizens’ lives. If politicians err too far toward weakening what is considered fair, they lose elections. Similarly, if they err too far toward an imperial model, they also get the boot. Reasonable compassionate people weighing the variables can come to differing conclusions. But the thrust of our age is to deny this reality in favor satisfying Bulveristic hunger.
I think the challenge for Christians in our polarized political environment is to begin a resistance movement against Bulverism. It is appropriate to occasionally have strong convictions about a particular issue or candidate. But as we talk with others, is it necessary to assume the worst about our opponents? Instead of beginning discussions by asserting how silly and/or evil our opponent is, is it possible to begin with assuming positive intent from our opponent, believing our opponent is seeking the common good, and searching for the value we can affirm in what our opponent wants to achieve? We may still come to conclusions that some are indeed silly or malicious, but just maybe by resisting Bulverism we will find that the great majority of us really have something in common: we are seeking the common good.
I cut out a big part of the middle of the article in the hopes that anyone reading this will check it out over here. I think this is helpful as we try to change our level of discourse.