Dear Activists: Get Coffee With Me, I’m Buying
I’ve been a hypocrite. I’ve been working for an organization called “No Labels,” which works to bring politicians in Washington D.C. across the aisle to talk to each other and build shared solutions. It aims to promote dialogue between otherwise polarized ideological camps, with an aim of forging a bipartisan consensus and a new politics of problem-solving. It’s really a beautiful thing.
And in politics, I subscribe to this mentality completely. Politics shouldn’t be about warring factions, it should be about differing factions that negotiate solutions together.
Yet in the field of culture, I have been a partisan culture warrior. I have been taking snipes at activists from my traditionalist standpoint, while never bothering to take the time to sit down with those with significantly different views from my own. I have been betraying the No Labels mentality.
Further, I have recently realized that this kind of echo-chamber thinking results in a further polarization between people of different camps whose fundamental goals are very likely more similar than we might think. I’m undermining potential dialogues by failing to sit down with activists.
I’m also betraying the Progressive Republican tradition. Back in the 60s and 70s, the last remnants of the Progressive Republicans sat down with social justice advocates to talk about the issues, even talking to radicals and gang members. Meanwhile, the Conservative Republicans merely trashed these groups as opponents and enemies of law and order. Though the Progressive and Conservative Republicans shared similar culturally conservative views, the Progressive Republicans were more conciliatory and able to build constructive change while still standing on conservative principles. The Progressive Republicans are gone now, and as such, few Republicans sit down with activists to talk about social issues that really are relevant to everybody.
And furthermore, I don’t think the fundamental differences between my progressive traditionalist thought and activist thought are sufficiently gaping to preclude some shared goals. I stand for equality of opportunity, the dignity and power of every person, and the gradual but progressive removal of barriers to individual success in all fields- and I think most of the activists I typically oppose would support these same goals, albeit by very different tactics.
But how can we find out?
By talking to each other. After all, one of the great blessings of Western Civilization has been its tendency towards liberalism and the tolerance of ideologically polarized belief systems. It hasn’t always been perfect, and some have been excluded from such tolerance, while at other times the excesses of ideological zeal have completely overcome the doctrine of toleration. But generally, more than any other culture on Earth, Western Civilization as a whole has tolerated dissent without treading all over the rights of the dissenters. And thus discussion and dialogue between opposing camps is not merely a privilege we possess; it is indeed the heritage of Western Civilization, and we live that heritage by partaking in it.
Therefore, I invite activists of all stripes to sit down and have coffee with me-I’m buying. We can discuss the various great issues of the day, and the philosophical and theoretical approaches by which we interpret them. The point would not be re-education or missionary conversion of each other to the other’s beliefs. The point would be fostering a deeper understanding of each other’s points of view, both to make arguments more accurate and to perhaps to expand each other’s views of how reality works. But more important than anything would be the coming together of opposed camps to talk about potential shared solutions.
The culture wars aren’t going to stop, and they shouldn’t. And we’re not going to stop posting incendiary articles about each other’s political thought, nor should we. BUT, we CAN have a deeper understanding and a better relationship, and possibly avenues for future cooperation- should we choose to talk and not to fight.
Therefore, all activists, and indeed anyone with views different from or similar to mine- let’s sit down and have coffee. Maybe we’ll learn from each other.