It may surprise some readers to know that I am a conflict avoider when it comes to arguing politics in social gatherings. There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is often a desire to escape substantive issues in the off-hours of my life.
However, one important reason I don't like discussing current events or other weighty issues with people (particularly in groups) is that many of the people I meet don't really have an underlying philosophy, but rather a hodge-podge of political positions stitched together from a variety of sources. This makes it almost impossible to have a substantive conversation with them.
When I have a disagreement with someone on matters of politics or economics or whatever, there are really only two satisfying outcomes:
- To discover that we share the same basic premises and philosophy, but have reached different conclusions from these premises. Trying to figure out where we diverge is an interesting and generally informative exercise
- To discover that we have very different fundamental premises or assumptions about the nature of existence. While perhaps not satisfying, this can at least save a lot of useless discussion. For example, if you believe that we are all born with an obligation or requirement, kind of like original sin, to provide our fellow man with material comforts, while I do not, there is not a lot of point in the two of us arguing about redistributive taxation.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to reach either of these conclusions with people who have no underlying philosophy that drives their ethics and political positions. I remember one discussion with a woman who was taking all all comers over abortion, defending a woman's right to choose for her body. So I asked her if she was therefore opposed to the government ban on breast implants. "No, that's different, those are totally frivolous. Women shouldn't have breast implants, its demeaning". But, I asked, isn't the FDA telling women what they can and can't put in their bodies. "But its necessary, she says, because people don't always know enough to make the right decisions". So, I follow-ed up, its part of the FDA's job to hold up drugs like the morning-after pill? "No, that's just christian-right bullshit".
How can you argue with this, when there is no consistent underlying philosophy? Essentially her position boils down to "I support government intervention except when I oppose it". And this is not unusual. In fact, the positions she took are entirely consistent with the positions on these same issues taken at the NOW web site. Hell, the entire Republican and Democratic platform each boil down to "we support government intervention except where our major donors oppose it".
The reason for this brief, really tangential rant was this morning when I was reading through some recent emails from a trade group I belong to called the NACS, or the National Association of Convenience Stores. Because of changes in the market, the NACS represents a large percentage of the gasoline retailers in this country. In the last two weeks, the NACS has:
- Opposed government "price gouging" regulations aimed at how gas stations price their product.
- Advocated government intervention in the pricing of credit card processing services, arguing that gas stations are getting gouged by banks today
Could anything be more stark? There are no values here, no philosophy, no core assumptions about the nature of man and man's existence. Just a bald desire to be left alone yourself, but have the government intervene in your favor with everyone you do business with.
PS: Credit card processing rates piss me off as well, but you don't see me asking for the government to intervene.