Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Taking a Jab at Polarization

Experts have noted that politics in the United States have become increasingly polarized over the years.  People are identifying themselves with either Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives.  Fewer and fewer people are nonpartisan or independent of a political party.

In response to this divergence of political parties, two United States Senators have decided to demonstrate “that a Democratic and Republican U.S. senator could work together.”  Jeff Flake is an Arizona Republican, and Martin Heinrich is a New Mexico Democrat.  To convince the public of their claim that the two can indeed cooperate, they spent a week on an uninhabited island.  Their goal was to work together to succeed in proving their point that “two politicians can oppose each other on policy yet work together to accomplish something.”  Their means of conveying this message is unconventional: their week on the island was a “Survivor”-like experience that included fire starting, shelter building and food gathering.  However, they hope that people understand the significance of what they are trying to demonstrate.

For the Senators themselves, it was also naturally a very beneficial and educational experience.  In addition to getting to better know and understand each other, the men were able to build a sense of trust.  The New York Post article notes, “Republicans and Democrats have fewer opportunities to know each other because of a political atmosphere that doesn’t reward conciliation; it’s a recipe for gridlock.”  The two Senators plan on sending letters to their colleagues suggesting they meet socially once a month to encourage relationships that will help each other work together and reach compromise.

The point of this is not to say that the Republican and Democratic political parties will or should be completely merging any time soon.  The best decisions are said to be made by considering many options and viewpoints, and it is the practice of Dissoi Logoi that helps us to do this.   Wikipedia defines Dissoi Logoi as something “intended to help an individual gain a deeper understanding of an issue by forcing him or her to consider it from the angle of his opponent, which may serve either to strengthen his or her argument or to help the debaters reach compromise.”  Perhaps a simpler way to understand the term and clarify what it does for us is to break it down.  “Dissoi” means countervailing, opposing, or two sided arguments.  “Logoi” can mean speech, word, message, or reason.  When anyone, in this instance Senators, make decisions they need to respect and consider all sides of an argument, understand the reasoning behind every contention and eventually come to the best possible solution there is for a particular problem.

The trick in today’s world is the eventuality where a resolution and compromise has to be reached.  With such polarized political parties, this is becoming more and more difficult.  This is why experiences such at Senator Flake and Senator Heinrich’s island excursion can create a sense of camaraderie that can translate into a willingness to work together and even look for compromise.  While we do need Dissoi Logoi, we do not necessarily need extreme polarization in politics.  Hopefully recent this “Survivor”-like demonstration, while unconventional, will be a precursor of the better understanding and teamwork to come.

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