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One of my favourite albums is Pink Floyd’s classic, the Division Bell, a paean for the lost art of communication, bemoaning the fact that people simply don’t talk to one another any more. And yes, somewhere deep inside, the cynic within me screams that the idea that people have suddenly stopped communicating is just as ridiculous as the idea that technology is beginning to dehumanise all of us or that other twaddle we were fed as truth during HSC English. What’s the mechanism, screamed the cynic? Where’s the evidence? How do you even define what is human?

But I was relistening to the album just today and I thought – what if its true? Not the part about the dehumanisation – that idea is contaminated by its mere association with HSC English. But what if we’ve suddenly stopped talking to each other. One of the things that’s always irked me about Americans is their unerring partisanship. What if that’s caused by the fact that people have just stopped talking to those they disagree with?

In many countries, the left/right divide is becoming increasingly blurred by a shift towards what is contemptuously called managerialism – the idea that what works is what should be adopted. But the exact opposite is happening in America where a very strong duality is emerging in terms of solutions to America’s most pressing problems. In economics, we can solve future crises through deregulation and trickle down economics – or by intelligent regulation and government stimulus. In education, we can shift to merit pay and school vouchers or we can throw more money at schools.

But why is this happening? I blame political correctness. No – not the kind you normally hear people complaining about where you can’t call African-Americans the N word or homosexuals the F word, unless you yourself are African-American or LGBT-identifying. I mean the idea that you’re not allowed to talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. It’s no longer polite conversation. And this is particularly strong in America (where political correctness – the much maligned kind – is also particularly strong). I’m not sure why – perhaps its a particular confluence of factors – the American tendency to be effusive in their conversation, combined with their tendency to be reserved except with their closest friends.

In any case, this lack of communication has a particularly malicious effect upon democracy. Democracy presumed that there would be a vigourous marketplace of ideas where different ideas could be contested. And it need not be at a particularly high level of discourse – it could be as simple as throwing slogans back and forth at one another. But if those conversations are frank, then I think some real good comes from it.

If you look at the most controversial topics which are the most taboo topics, abortion for example, you’ll find that they are the topics which we should be discussing the most. I don’t see why a pro-life advocate can’t understand the very strong points that a pro-choice advocate would make. Yes, there is a life (or potential life) at stake but aren’t you effectively forcing a woman to carry a child for 9 months against her will? Of all the cruel and unusual things we might do to criminals, are any of them worse than forcing someone to carry a foreign body inside of you for 9 months interfering with your entire life for that period, making you crazy and hormonal and culminating in an excruciatingly painful birth?

And why can’t a pro-choice advocate see the equally powerful and valid points made by a pro-life advocate? Even if a foetus is not “alive”, isn’t it a potential life that you’re destroying? But for your act, doesn’t that foetus have a 90% chance of surviving? Perhaps that child was the result of a rape – but that isn’t the fault of the child you are destroying. Do we still believe that

And yet there are still so many ardent advocates of one position who see the slightest undermining of their position as a grevious injury to themselves. During the health care reform debate, liberal Congressmen threatened to vote against the bill because it didn’t fund (some) abortion procedures. Likewise, conservative Congressmen threatened to vote against it because it funded some abortion procedures. Isn’t that ludicrous that abortion somehow became the lynchpin for such a major reform?

The distressing thing about the partisanship in America is how it obscures the real problems plaguing America. Each party accuses the other of being in the pocket of special interest groups. Republicans are corporate stooges. Democrats are in love with gay lobby groups and animal rights’ activities and hippies. In truth – both sides are in the pocket of both corporations and special interest groups and are distorting public policy. The same thing is happening for individual issues. The furore over health care wasn’t about the real issues of restraining skyrocketing costs and inequality. It became about States’ rights and abortion. In education, the debate over merit pay v higher teachers’ pay completely ignores the fact that money has actually been flooding into education. The problem is that all that money has increasingly been used to pay for administrators’ salaries without linking that to performance improvements.

Americans need to learn to understand opposing points of view. I’ve made it clear that I’m not a fan of the Tea Parties. Many of their members have abhorrent anti-libertarian beliefs and their ideology is misdirected because it solves none of the problems they complain about. But I still recognise that the Tea Parties’ philosophy is a nuanced and intriguing one which traces its way back as far as Jefferson himself. And that historied past simply doesn’t appear in any coverage of the Tea Parties except for Fox News’ coverage. Likewise, neither the conservative nor liberal media outlets are explaining President Obama’s legislative agenda properly. They don’t voice his version of events, but instead report on irrelevancies. Its all process and not policy.

[Grr yes, this is what happens when its 2am and I can’t sleep. I start ranting semi-coherently. Grr]


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