Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

At my official campaign kick-off party at Jefferson County Commissioner Kathy Hartman’s house a little over a year ago, I gave a speech which included the statement, ‘We are confronted by a fire-breathing dragon of blind ideology.” At the time, I was thinking more of right-wing ideology, though I’ve always known that all blind ideology, wherever it falls in the multidimensional space of political beliefs and values, diminishes our ability to govern ourselves wisely, divides us in aggressive and often arbitrary ways, and, in general, is counterproductive to human welfare. I’ve been reminded again recently of how ugly left-wing blind ideology can be, and am constantly reminded of how ugly right-wing blind ideology has become.

The two competing major spheres of political extremism, as usual, are defined more by their similarities than by their differences. It is very much akin to the similarities of Christian and Muslim fundamentalism, each deeply imbued with an absolute false certainty, the two certainties, though very similar, are perceived as mutually exclusive and incompatible, and as absolute truths ordained by god, as justifications for extremes of intolerance mobilized in their service. Political zealots, like religious zealots, are mirror images, arguing over whether they part one should part their hair on the left or the right (or whether, in Jonathan Swift’s Lilliput, they should crack their egg at the small end or the large end).

I recently watched with my seven-year-old daughter “How To Train Your Dragon,” an entertaining and insightful children’s movie that bears some resemblance to the issues raised by competing blind ideologies. The Vikings has an image of themselves, and of their purpose and character and bases for honor, that compelled them to slay dragons, which were constantly attacking their village and stealing their food. The dragons, we eventually discover, are compelled to do so by their overlord, their own authoritarian guiding principle. The clever but “shamefully” peaceful son of the Viking chief, in an attempt to kill his first dragon, instead, when the opportunity arose, saw that it was very much like him, afraid and vulnerable. And by showing it kindness, it quickly became his ally rather than his enemy.

It would be nice if this meant that the instant any reasonable person of goodwill (which Hiccup, the young protagonist of the movie, represents) shows a blind ideologue, whether on his own side or the enemy side, kindness and goodwill, they become instant allies and all is well. Occasionally, even in my own experience, this does indeed happen from time to time. But, more often, the entrenched ideology is not so easily dispelled, the assumption of hatreds, which catalyze reactions even among those who would have preferred a different kind of discourse, not so easily massaged into mutual accommodation. But the idea, though accelerated for the purposes of entertainment and providing a compact enough message, is really very true: We either smite our dragons, and, by doing so, cultivate their escalating enmity, or we tame our dragons, and by doing so cultivate a growing alliance with them.

The question of “how to tame our dragons,” by people of all ideological stripes who seek a more productive and mutually respectful dialogue, is the question we should be facing, first and foremost. It is more important than “how we get money out of politics” (though that is important too); more important than “how we win this election” (though that is important too); more important than just about all other issues and challenges we face.

How to tame our dragons? Both those within (ourselves, and our party), and those without. This is the long-term fundamental political challenge. Does anyone have any ideas on how to accomplish it?

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.