Recently I was sitting in a room with a number of friends, and they went off on a political discussion, as my friends are wont to do.  In my circles, this means a lot of lefty rhetoric.  “Isn’t it great how Harry Belafonte called Bush a terrorist?”  “Bush hates black people.”  “Those people delaying the mosque in Roxbury are a bunch of racists.”

You’ve heard it all before, so there’s no need to repeat any more.

When I came home, I read up a bit about the NSA wiretapping story.  Basically, this involves the president asserting that he has the right to determine what is legal and that the courts and the legislature really have no say.  This is a pretty serious claim.  Sadly, it hasn’t lead to much serious conversation.  As far as I can tell, the right-wing justification for their lawbreaking consists of calling critics soft on terror.  This substitutes for a meaningful answer no matter what the question.  Do you believe that the president has the legal right to suspend the fourth amendment?  They are doing what is necessary to protect you, and your criticism endangers national security.

You’ve heard all that before as well.

I began to think a bit about what passes for political discourse.  And I began to think it all sounded a lot like the argument against the witch in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.

Why do witches burn?  
Because they’re made of wood.  

How do we tell whether she is made of wood?  Does wood sink in water?  
No, it floats.  

What also floats in water?  
Very small rocks.  Ducks.  

So, logically, if she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood.

That’s an abridged version, but you all can probably remember the scene as well as I do.

As I was thinking about this, my mind filled with anger and apprehension and admittedly a little resignation about the latest Bush escapade; I wished I knew a right-winger I could argue with.  But I don’t.  Conversations immediately degenerate into something like The Holy Grail.  And it is the same with my lefty friends.  Just as I don’t get into discussions with right-wingers, I avoid saying anything around lefties either.

And I like political discussions.

So today, I would like to make a plea.  It’s not an ideological one.  It’s not a moral one.  It’s merely practical.

I want to stand up for reason.  I want you to stand up for reason.  Just as Habermas claims, it’s the only thing that allows all of us to live together without our hands on each other’s throats all the time.  It’s what makes conversation possible between people with contradictory moral positions.

Next time you’re having a political discussion, think about what your postulates are.  Does your conclusion follow from them?  If somebody gave you evidence against these, would you change your conclusion?  Could you talk to someone with a different ideology and determine where exactly the disagreement lies?  Are your political positions even explicable in these terms?

Right or left, we all need reason.  If it declines into parody, we imperil our government, our society, and even our lives.

—Pete DeWan

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