Changing Your Spots

A Patch reader commented that I should think about changing my spots. I did, in The Bucks County Herald and now, in Patch.

Changing Your Spots

It must be very difficult to be convinced conservatives and be characterized in the media as “old white men”.  This label sits on all the fundamental religionists, racists, mean-spirited Tea Partiers, Anti-choice, Anti-Obama Care, Anti-Medicare, and Social Security, Anti-regulation of anything (but especially firearms), Republicans and Democrats alike.  Blankets them all.  Right along with intelligent, caring, generous, fiscally conservative patriotic citizens who are earnestly concerned about America’s role as a leader among democracies everywhere.  Maybe you would like to change your spots.

But it is as difficult to change party loyalty, as it is to end a long personal relationship.  The people who know you are expecting you to behave a certain way, politically and philosophically.  They expect you to support them unconditionally.  If you don’t, they think you have been unfaithful.  You face ostracism.  Invitations fall off dramatically.  Forbidden topics increase at family gatherings.  Stiff necks and closed minds may need medical treatment.

Speaking only to those that voted for them anyway, both parties talk about change. The flaws of this approach are obvious. On the Republican side, if opposing government is your primary objective, it’s hard to have a positive governing program (David Brooks, NYT). Or, if using government for generous purposes or services that all citizens enjoy, where are the lines drawn at inclusion and costs?  Nobody cares to yell CHANGE in a crowded theatre, for any reason.

So the parties end up talking only to each other.  They are super-vigilant and super-paranoid.  Any accommodation presents risks that each only wants to avoid.  Jared Diamond has described tribal “constructive paranoia” in New Guinea as a paranoia that actually makes good sense for the Dani (The World Until Yesterday, Viking, 2012).  If one constantly witnesses the death of careless people, one learns an attitude of care in order to survive.  But does this concept translate well to larger societies?

Political parties have “tribal” characteristics.  House districts have been gerrymandered to such a degree that boundaries have become rigid encirclements devised for the good of some and a relentless effort to keep the wrong people out.  The Dani of New Guinea behave exactly that way in order to insure the safety and continuity of the tribe.  Democracy and “fairness” do not enter into the thinking.  But change and reconciliation should not be dangerous, in modern politics, or in life.

How do we get out of this mess?  One of the most obvious methods is to be open to information.  And how does one do that?  You could devote time and energy to personally checking up on news and views.  Once you get facts verified from a different source than the one you always listen to, you might experience revelation.

One can ask somebody the way.  There are always friends and neighbors who know stuff.  You know they do, because they read a variety of sources and talk about what they have read. They can help in determining which myths need to be abandoned and/or what prospects have merit.  Doesn’t matter if they are Republicans or Democrats.  What matters is someone checked over the landscape, established a route, and is willing to share it with you. 

It sounds rather like teaching.  And, the fact is, until you left school, you experienced assignments to verify, contrast, and report, several times a day, throughout the year.  Remember?  You looked at decision-making: who stood to gain, what changes would be required, or what would yield the broadest benefit. You may have been forming your political spots, but you were doing it logically and carefully.  Rigid partisanship doesn’t have any place in critical thinking.  Go ahead.  Examine your “spots”.  Think about shedding your skin if it is needed for growth (which is yet another story, but equally apt!)


Ann Melby Shenkle

The Bucks County Herald (http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?eid=dfdc5e47-80cb-4e63-851b-ee46a98a7661&pnum=10)



Printed in Bucks County Herald, February 8, 2013

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David Neamand February 12, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Ann, An interesting blog. I had to read it several times to get what you are trying to say. One correction, our form of government - we were set up as a republic, not a representative democracy. Thank you Thomas Jefferson! It is up for argumentation if we still have a republic. I personally believe we do not. A few other observations - I agree with you about labels. I call them boxes. Something that conforms to the following... I also agree with you about news, personally I prefer AP raw as a news source. I must admit that occasionally I will watch Bill O'Reilly for news/entertainment. I agree as well about your issue regarding verification, but there you must be careful where you verify. You look long enough and you can always get corroboration of a story even is it is false. Gerrymandering - is a dirty little game that has been played since this country has been formed. The last 2 were republican controlled within this state, prior years been used just as viciously by democrats. As to our two party system, both parties have been hijacked by the radicals. Perhaps it is time for a third party in this country, one based on moderation rather then extremism. I also agree with you that the where do we go from here scenario is a difficult one in this country. First the finger pointing and blame game must stop. Any public official who finger points or attempts to place blame is part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Ann Melby Shenkle February 12, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Thank you Mr. Neamand. Nice to hear from you again! As you point out, there's a long way to go to reach a viable "middle", but the best approach is always going to be via rational, careful critical thinking.
Jane February 13, 2013 at 02:24 PM
Well said, this was an interesting piece in light of what I perceive as a little bit of echo chamber reading along voters on both sides of the political spectrum. Well said.


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