Below is a composite conversation we can see weekly, experience personally, and hear in the news, repeatedly. Civil discourse has gone missing. Part of the problem is a refusal to follow one of the most basic rules of freshman English:
Back it up.
Friend: “Listen up world—I have a baseless claim to make.”
Me: “I hear WHAT you’re saying, but can you help me understand WHY I should accept it?”
Friend: No way. You might discount my point.”
Me: Maybe your point needs more support.
Friend: I don’t need anything up here on this moral high ground—certainly not from you way down there.
Me: How can I join you unless I understand why I should be up there?
Friend: If you were not a (insert label here), you’d be up here already.
Columnist Thomas Sowell says that many opinion-makers cave under three questions:
Compared to what?
Some visions for a better world do not connect with real human beings and real human nature. For example, imagine everyone in the country with the same top-quality healthcare. The rhetoric around such a vision creates an urgency to achieve it, even by legislative fiat, with no accountability to how we might sustain it. I understand that it feels wrong for the marketplace to drive medicine. But let’s not ignore what produces medical innovation in the first place. A vision to make the world’s best healthcare system better requires a horse and not just a cart. Further tampering should begin with the opening principle of the Hippocratic oath: “First do no harm.”
At what cost?
Much of the current wishful thinking towards a more perfect union needs a history lesson. Generation X (my generation) was just old enough to appreciate the high cost of government-engineered equity in the Soviet Union. Those lessons of the Cold War seem to be fading. Again, the cart needs a horse. We keep loading expectations onto the cart of the Institution without appreciating what feeds the horse that pulls it.
Human nature requires accountability and a lot of it. It needs checks and balances–not one controlling Politburo bent on managing and perfecting human nature. Neither the government nor the market can solve all our problems. We can always do better, but the “one best system” comes at a price.
What hard evidence do you have?
Feelings need facts. For example, guilt seems to be driving the movement for open borders. Guilt can lead us to do things that feel compassionate in the short run but which lack long-term vision. Having just returned from Cuba, I saw another example of what remains in countries nearby when our border becomes a sieve: Bitterness over the brain drain.
The immigration debate sounds like an episode of Survivor as if the U.S. were the only “island.” Children born here to illegal immigrants families will require special attention and compromise, but the bigger question needs to be reframed to include the needs of countries around us.
Spend a little time in developing countries or the inner city examining what actually works to elevate people’s lives and you’ll see an emerging a pattern. A handful of strategies and principles consistently have proven effective across cultures. Why is that kind of substance missing from the current political tennis match, whether volleying about welfare, race, or immigration? Perhaps because real solutions offer no quick-fix. They don’t play well at the ballot box or on cable news–red or blue.
To whom must has been given is much expected. – Luke 12:48
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