Drop the Battle Lines and Solve Problems

RF_alum and I often bemoan the difficulty of extracting facts from contentious debates. From the Rocky Flats Plant to GMOs, ideologues are ready to abandon facts in their battle with long-standing opponents.

I’m an engineer but that doesn’t make me an expert in anything outside my field. I can’t read and evaluate primary sources from scientific journals – where I expect facts to arise. I don’t have the background, and life is short.

Like most people, I look for sources that seem trustworthy. I try to avoid ideologues, or at least listen to all sides, and use several fact-checkers. But I despair when our national dialogue is dominated by Red Team/Blue Team talking heads who just want to count coup.

What if the rhetoric changed?
What if the people you and I look to for leadership decided to solve problems and not just score points?

I ran into two hopeful interviews recently (links are at the bottom), where proposed changes in rhetoric could allow us to actually solve problems. In both these cases, partisans on all sides would have to open their hearts and minds to new ideas.

Climate Change
Republican Bob Inglis served six terms in the House, representing the very conservative 4th district of South Carolina.

I was my first six years in Congress saying that climate change was hooey, Al Gore’s imagination… All I knew was he was for it, and therefore, I was against it.

Based on viewing some of the evidence (on trips most of us can’t take) he says to fellow conservatives, be

…climate realists and energy optimists. We should be realistic about the science. And then let’s also be energy optimists, realize the power of free enterprise to fix this problem. If we would just put the cost on the fuels, then the free enterprise system would sort this out. And also, at the same time, we should eliminate all subsidies for all fuels. Then the innovation that would come from the free enterprise system would be exciting.

Inglis appeals to me. Leftist ideologues are dour, misanthropic killjoys. I don’t want to live in their world. But I do want to deal with climate change. It’s a slow-motion problem that will eat away at quality of life – for old farts like me, but especially for future generations.

Inglis wants to break away from the current rhetoric, which has backed too many of us into a corner.

Change the question. Currently, if a Republican is asked in front of a very conservative crowd, do you believe in climate change or, is it a fact, an affirmative answer ostracizes them from the audience. But if we can phrase that question differently – can free enterprise solve climate change? – then they can answer that question in the affirmative in front of the reddist-meat crowd.

Gun Violence
Even more encouraging was a piece on gun violence, another topic where facts are suppressed. Enforcing ignorance makes me especially crazy:

There hasn’t been any federally funded scientific research on the issue since 1996. That’s because in ’96, Congress froze all federal funding for gun violence research.

Two long-standing opponents were interviewed:

A Republican congressman from Arkansas named Jay Dickey spearheaded the anti-research legislation, which had the backing of the NRA. On the other side of the issue was the Centers for Disease Control and a doctor named Mark Rosenberg.

Dickey has found an interesting analog to gun violence that never occurred to me.

The highway industry… had a goal of eliminating head-on collisions in our interstate system. And they never [said] we’re going to eliminate the cars. And they spent the time and the money for science and developed these 4-foot barricades that now you can see on the highways between the lanes of the interstate. And the results have been remarkable as far as eliminating head-on collisions.

Rosenberg is ready to change, too.

We’ve got to hear and respect the other side. And if we do, we will understand that we can protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners at the same time that we find policies that will reduce gun homicides and suicides and mass shootings.

We take a policy. And we test it… the science can tell you – if this worked.

…and if it didn’t work, get rid of it. Hurray. Too often politicians cling to failed policies because it was such a fight to enact them, their egos get tied up in the battle, and no one will admit they were wrong.

Most gun violence involves handguns, and much involves suicides. But since mass murder is – sadly – so often in the news, I can’t resist plugging my own suggestion. Investigate mass and terrorist killings – rare but horrific events – like the FAA does plane crashes, so the causes can be understood and ways to stop future attacks suggested. No one proposes eliminating planes, but flight gets safer over time.

People must find a way to separate facts from values from opinions. Keep in mind that people once believed the Earth was flat, and all their belief did not succeed in unrounding it. Reality has a way of winning. Let’s make that to our benefit and not to our detriment.

What do you think? If one of the politicians or organizations you trust suggested working with the “other side,” how would you react?

The interviews discussed above can be found here:

NPR Climate Change

NPR Gun Violence


2 thoughts on “Drop the Battle Lines and Solve Problems

  1. The biggest problem we face in the Information Age is – and this is some serious irony – too much information. Most of it worthless, except to bolster the frothy blatherings of the ideologues of which you speak. I forget who first uttered the famous quote about everyone being entitled to his or her own opinion, but not his or her own set of facts, but these days that maxim is becoming a casualty of the ideology wars. What good is a fact that isn’t recognized as such by half the populace?

    • Ah yes – https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Daniel_Patrick_Moynihan
      I am often depressed by people’s willingness to ignore facts – I sometimes point out errors (esp in memes – those things are horrible even if sometimes funny). I try to be positive and upbeat and polite- but people seem offended. I think people invest in a position too soon, get their ego tied up with something, which makes it hard to say “my mistake – never mind.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *