Lead Us Not Into Division, and Deliver Us from -Isims

The holidays are a perfect time to gather your friends and family for wonderful celebrations and endless political and philosophical debates.

Actually, I love debating philosophy year-round, but the holidays are an even better time to get into those deep, controversial topics. Your guests aren’t going to leave while they’re eating delicious sweet potato casserole, now are they?

All joking aside, it’s not the intellectual dive into complex problems that creates drama among otherwise pleasantly agreeable people. The culprit in most disputes is division by firmly held dogmatic belief, or -isms. Communism, socialism, libertarianism, liberalism, conservatism, or pretty much any other word that has ism at the end is likely a belief system that applies a very limited set of core beliefs to a wide-ranging set of issues.

We often come down on one side or the other, dividing a complex situation into only two possible solutions. Isms drive us to do that, and that’s the problem.  That’s what creates the divide, and encourages non-participating family members to indulge in a second glass of wine to drown out the noise of the contentious debate. In the American election of 2016, long-time friends and couples have separated over these strong divisions. And yet if you discuss each issue without the preconceived political bias, most reasonable parties will at least form some workable consensus on the way forward to deal with the problem.

Just like no scientific theory can adequately explain every problem mankind has ever had, no political or philosophical system can handle even a majority of the real world issues that we encounter. While deeply held beliefs may drive your motivation or shape your answer to problems, the actual implementation is generally milder, more compassionate, and more complex than the simple, one-line memorized answers that people shout in debates.

The popular meme of “Taxation is theft” distills an extremely complex problem into a meaningless dribble of fact that offers no solutions to the problems that taxation tries to solve.  Is taxation theft?  You bet, from some.  Others are fine with paying, though we all pay taxes whether we like it or not. But by removing taxation do we solve all of the problems that taxes help to resolve? Not remotely. Conversely, simply taking tax money from the rich and giving it to the poor is the same kind of brute force thinking that solves nothing and actually exacerbates the problem it tries to resolve.

Dispense with the isms and listen to one another. By working together, you can usually arrive at an imperfect, yet workable solution.  The real world demands complex answers, discourages division, and won’t be soothed by the common platitudes that isms so easily dispense.

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