Monday, November 4, 2013

Fence-Sitting, Then and Now

I don't get political, really. Sometimes, I will pick up a political topic, but it is usually something I approach with a more personal edge. (Once, for instance, I wrote a thing about Obamacare and its impingement on religious institutions. So, it happens...) Usually, I stay away from this whole subject.

This doesn't stop me, however, from causing the occasional Facebook brawl by posing politically-based questions. When the discussions begin, I tend to stay out. The only reason I ever ask is to gather opinions from my more politically-conscious friends, in order to help with my own understanding.

Last time, a friend asked me how the "view from the fence" was. I replied that I am not on the fence; I am in a helicopter. There is a difference.

It really is true. I have very clear ideas as to what I think is right and wrong; what I think is moral and immoral; what I think is fair and unfair. But that doesn't mean I feel I can see through the clutter of clandestine political agenda, bad logical argumentation and flat-out deception. The focus is much better from up high, but only for the human questions. Policy, procedure and the eventualities of the Rube Goldberg machine that politics have become are, and always will be, to the seeker of reason, a mystery.

Clear understanding of something should be a minimum requirement for commitment; I don't believe anyone can have a clear understanding of American (or global) politics. Therefore...

Still, everyone has a perspective and everyone thinks his perspective is the right one. Old story.

I posted this on Facebook the other day, and it lead to one such discussion:
Many of my friends are sure Obama is a liar and that his health care reform is the worst thing that could ever happen to America. Many of my friends think Obama is a wonderful man who cares about the American people and that his health care reform is the best thing that could ever happen to America. All of them have reasons. Now what?
When people think things are going well for them, they give credit. It usually amounts to a kind of ego centrism, if you ask me. With the exception of a few idealists in my conversation threads on Facebook, most are really looking for what their country can do for them.

...which is okay. I just wish people would own up to it. Aren't we all that way, to an extent? Ayn Rand would not mind.

I know, as well, that fence-sitting has been a demonized behavior ever since Dante. I agree with that, when it comes to someone who is not committing to a position for the sake of his own safety or because he is jockeying for a position in society. But what about the person who just feels lost in the jungle of rhetoric, lies and incessant agenda-driven noise? Is he supposed to commit to a position out of fear that people might accuse him of being a fence-sitter? Isn't that dangerously like getting married because one's biological clock is ticking? Either unreasonable commitment can lead to bad outcomes and both were caused by external pressure.

Then, there are those who decide to eject themselves from the whole process because they feel it just doesn't work anymore; those who refuse to participate (including voting), like the late George Carlin; or, at present, Russell Brand -- about whom I knew nothing, until I saw this clip. (I know they are both comedians. No, this doesn't make them unworthy of political commentary; if anything, it makes them more qualified than most. Oddly, when these people speak up, they are told they are not allowed to because they don't vote. Uh...why? Their whole point is a break with convention.)

I'm not sure I am completely in their camp, but I get the perspective.

Fence-sitting was a whole different thing when the Lord of the Manor was beating his serfs, stealing their daughters and cadging the village chickens. What do you do then? You fight. The Lord of the Manor is evil and abusive; you go after him with pitchforks. If you sit back to save your own neck or to gain his noble favor, you are a worthless worm. Why? Because things are clean and simple. What is right and wrong here is clear.

But...Obamacare? Some people say the president is stealing chickens, but no one has a good count of how many were in the yard to begin with...or, rather, they do, but the next person comes along and says the number was wrong...or the number is inflated because it included too many roosters...or that the number was fudged...or that, sure, the pen was full of chickens, but its dimensions were smaller than the fact-gatherers let on...or that...

Please. It's insanity. Maybe, then, it makes sense only to the insane? How can a rational human possibly feel confident in his perceptions of chaos disguised as order?

I don't want praise from anyone for having or not having an opinion. What I want is clarity, and it just isn't there. If you think it is, ask yourself if your clarity comes out of delusion, self-serving motives or from an automatic attachment to your father's (or mother's) beliefs. If not, go get the pitchfork.


  1. "Wastes of time: [...] Fighting for what you believe in (-- unless you're right; but are you? -- are you sure?)"

    I frequent online arguments probably more than the next guy (or girl), and what I see is that both sides will claim they are seekers of truth, fact and honesty while the other side relies on emotions and propaganda. A Randian perspective would hold that both sides are still better than the fence sitters, as "the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist". Of course, this should apply, as you said, to those who are genuinely sitting outside of the battle even when they have a position.

    But in arguments today, such as with the Affordable Care Act (or anything for that matter), positions are so polarized that the opposing sides hate each other just to hate each other and love themselves. There is such a fear of being wrong that both sides will never concede or compromise. There is such a fear of seeming incompetent that both sides have to know everything. In this modern format of "debate" (which essentially means: I'm always right, you're always wrong, and if you disagree then you're a Communist/Fascist), who could be blamed for being confused? To think that your position is so true that you need to impose a position on someone who genuinely doesn't know is, as you put it, egocentric (and as I put it, dishonest).

    The people who admit "I don't know" are thus, usually, the ones you can go to for a pretty accurate perspective - a perspective that isn't going to twist your arm either.

  2. There is, indeed, a lot of arm-twisting going on around here... Well said.

    And I still owe you lyrics. One of these days...