Thursday, April 13, 2006

Kirn/Sullivan convergence

I was pleased to find out today that Walter Kirn is guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan (although I'm kind of sad that I'll be deprived for awhile of some of my daily dose of righteous indignation).

Kirn is attempting some sort of serial internet writing experiment on Slate called The Unbinding. I'll add it to the list of things I mean to read but never do.

To digress, I inescapably find myself wondering what Kirn's political inclinations are. It's been pointed out to me that my fixation with where people fall on the political spectrum is annoying and obsessive. But I can't seem to help it. I find that political orientation serves as a useful shorthand for discerning whether I can trust someone on a certain level. That I succumb to this tendency worries me--it goes against everything I believe about not pre-judging people or ideas. But it is nearly impossible to avoid. Just as I was brought up to divide people into two categories: Member (of the LDS Church) and Non-Member, now the important categories are Reasonable and Conservative. My definitions of those groups are highly personal and probably make sense to few others (e.g., to me, Sullivan is Reasonable 60% of the time and Conservative the other 40%).

I think almost everyone makes these pre-judgments on some level. Sorting out "people I can trust" from "people who have to earn my trust" is a universally human aspect of group dynamics. Politics is the relevant calculus for me, having replaced my previous Faith. Or maybe for me, like for so many, politics and Faith are one and the same, and I've now just moved over a bit towards the "Godless commie" end of the spectrum.

I've found that the spectrum is highly contextual and breaks down and reforms itself in unfamiliar ways when you leave your homeland. I find myself accused of exactly what I accused my mother of back in college when I became an adherent of Clinton's mystical Third Way. I couldn't understand why she tied herself down to the outdated duality of Left and Right, which had so clearly (to me then) failed to produce solutions to the intractible problems of poverty, war, and injustice. Now I feel less certain than ever that I've found a politics/Faith which will provide the solutions, and even more trapped in the old combative, counterproductive duality. I still feel that if we were somehow able to redirect our energies away from endless bickering, which seems sharper with each passing month, we'd be much better positioned to solve the eternal problems. But, discouragingly, I feel most passionately about, and I'm least willing to compromise on, the issues on which there is the least agreement: gay marriage and the war in Iraq.

I wonder sometimes whether simply triangulating and navigating the rocky middle is the right answer, but the Clintons and Blairs, the Sullivans and Brooks of the world often invite the most scorn of all, since they are perceived as enemies by one side and as traitors by their own. And being conciliatory does little good if you are objectively wrong. But I guess in searching for a principle to provide some comfort in uncertain times, the best one I've found is that of not judging people to have Stars Upon Thars. Much easier said than done, and I'll probably recant next week as I thunderingly condemn Bush's latest transgression.

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