Democratic Spirit

I’m reading a book called “Consider the Lobster,“ by David Foster Wallace. It’s a collection of essays. I’m on the one called “Authority and American usage,“ in which he discusses being a “SNOOT” — essentially a very rabid nerd about composition and grammar. It’s very deep, and extremely intellectual. I had to look up a lot of words and scratch my head over several “obvious” examples of incorrect English usage that he points out. I almost put it down several times. Found myself skimming ahead, wondering if I could just “pass” on this particular essay.

But every time I landed while skimming, I read something that interested me, much to my surprise. Something told me that there was something in this that I needed to read.

Furthermore, I was reading l was recently reading shortly after having an email exchange with a friend that I felt kinda crappy about. It was about politics. I left myself open to be challenged to a “this side is better than that side” kind of exchange, which I generally try to avoid. It’s just never leads anywhere, even with a friend I’ve known since college.

But then I came across this excerpt…

“… A Democratic Spirit (DS) is one that combines rigor and humility, i.e., passionate conviction plus a sedulous respect for the convictions of others. As any American knows, this is a difficult spirit to cultivate and maintain, particularly when it comes to issues you feel strongly about. Equally tough is a DS’s criterion of 100% intellectual integrity – you have to be willing to look honestly at yourself and your motives for believing what you believe, and to do it more or less continually.

This kind of stuff is advanced US citizenship.

A true Democratic Spirit is up there with religious faith and emotional maturity and all of those other top-of-the-Maslow-pyramid type qualities that people spend their whole lives working on. A Democratic Spirit’s constituent rigor and humility and self-honesty are, in fact, so hard to maintain on certain issues that it’s almost irresistibly tempting to fall in with some established dogmatic camp and to follow that camp’s line on the issue and to let your position harden within the camp and become inflexible and to believe that the other camps are evil or insane and to spend all your time and energy trying to shout over them.”

This, in many ways, is what UnderstandingOnPurpose is about. I mean this web site is not strictly about political discussions, but politics is where a lot of our inability to communicate manifests (the other area I keep getting sucked into is Couples Therapy).

In my discussion with my friend, I was presented with a bunch of areas in which liberals interpret rules to benefit themselves. I maintain that conservatives do the same. I was asked to present examples, and declined. I declined because I suck at tit-for-tat arguments, I never see them resolve anything, and it’s entirely against what I’m all about. I could present a dozen ironclad counter-examples and it wouldn’t change my friend’s opinion. If you want to read an article about “Why Facts Don’t Change Peoples’ Minds,” try this link.

My basic approach is this: It’s a human trait to interpret the rules to your own advantage. We’ve all seen this at sporting events, for instance. The crowd cries “bullshit” when a “bad” call goes against their team, but applauds when the same bad call goes their way. Not only have we all seen this, but we’ve all been on both sides of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s independent of political party.

So, if you accept the premise that it’s a human trait to interpret rules to your advantage, and you agree that both liberals and conservatives are human, well, there you go.

Even my friend acknowledges this. But then “it’s a matter of degree,” he says. To which I also agree, but I’m going to stop short of the haggling, for now. Doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Haggling… reminds me of a joke.

A man asks a woman if she’ll sleep with him for a million dollars. She is initially somewhat offended, but thinks about it and says “yeah, under the right conditions, I’d sleep with you for a million dollars.”

The man says “Will you sleep with me for $100?”

The woman is grossly offended: “NO! What do you think I am — some kind of whore?”

To which the man replies: “Well, we’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling.”