I’m the village idiot…

It is so obvious that if you do not understand this you are clearly uninformed, uneducated, stupid and possibly evil.

This is the basic argument of all things political in America today. We see it all over social media. The blatant insinuation that if you do not “understand” X, you are stupid. If you don’t understand that Obamacare is bad for America, you are stupid. If you do not understand that the Koch brothers are buying/have bought the American political system, you are stupid. If you do not know that Obama is a Muslim, you are stupid. And on it goes. The naked arrogance in both tone and content makes any civil discourse about the given issue all but impossible. The deep partisan divide is as much a grassroots movement as it is a problem inside the Beltway, in fact what happens inside the Beltway may well be a reflection of this grassroots phenomenon.

There is actually a lot going on in formulation of these arguments. First, a complicated and convoluted issue is reduced to a single component. That single component is then encapsulated in an emotionally loaded statement that is heavily biased. The statement is delivered with righteous indignation, calling into question your intelligence if you do not immediately and unequivocally agree. The ploy is that emotion, ego, and bewilderment will take you down the primrose path before you have a chance to question the original premise. Before long, it feels so good to support such a worthy cause that honestly and openly evaluating the cause in earnest seems almost evil.

One thing I have learned in life is that I am never the smartest guy in the room. Regardless of the topic, no matter how many years I have been doing it, there is a better than even chance that someone in the room knows more about it, has more experience doing it than I do. And if I am not the smartest man in the room, I am definitely not the wisest man in the room. Ever. My greatest moments of wisdom are when I have the presence of mind to shut up. So, I am not really comfortable with idea that I have figured out the answer to any given thing and anyone who does not agree with me is wrong. I have some pretty strong political opinions. I have a preference for how I would like to see government work. I also recognize that very smart, wise people who have studied forms of government and government process most of their lives have arrived at opinions and preferences that are very different from mine. It would be the height of arrogance to assume that they are not as smart is I am. It would be only slightly less arrogant to presume that I am smart enough and wise enough to discern which of two opposing groups of smart people is correct to the extent that I am willing to call everyone who does not agree with my choice stupid.

Life demands that we all make decisions. An old adage says that wisdom comes from making bad choices. I think that is only partially true. We do seem capable of repeatedly making bad choices while never getting any wiser. At least I am so capable. As we go through life we come to conclusions about how life works, why things happen. I think that our choices, conclusions and opinions would benefit from taking the time to fully understand the person who has arrived at a completely different choice, conclusion or opinion. Even after we fully understand how she arrived there we may not agree. I might even think he is not very smart. If I was a wise man, I would also consider the possibility that I am the one who is wrong. Maybe even on both counts.

“I’m the village idiot, I don’t have anything to do with this pathetic little opera, I just felt like passing through!”

A quote from Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
an opera in one unnatural act
by PDQ Bach.

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