Here’s the crux of our problem illustrated by two specific examples. The other day, while listening to the radio, I caught a few moments of a debate over gun control. It was the typical back and forth liberal versus conservative banter, but towards the end of the segment, the conservative challenged the liberal to talk to NRA members, not the executives mind you, but everyday people. Her response, and I’m paraphrasing, was something to the effect that she had nothing to say to those people. The second example comes from the gay marriage debate. On Facebook, two different religious conservative friends of mine posted similar rants about having other people’s sins forced upon them. In both of these examples, there is a common thread that shuts down dialogue and allows no room for discussion.
In the first example, the liberal woman refuses to talk to her opponents. In her mind, her position is perfect and flawless, with no need for improvement or refinement. The arrogance of this stance is staggering. When someone refuses to listen to someone else, that person is adopting an air of superiority, as if their opponents cannot possibly be intelligent enough to add anything to the discussion. Now, I can almost justify this stance if the challenge had been to converse with an executive from the NRA, someone with a profit-driven agenda to promote, but this challenge was specifically to talk to ordinary people, to listen to their stories, to hear their perspectives. In her own way, she dehumanizes conservatives, and her arrogance is what makes people view liberals as out-of-touch elitists.
For the second example, we have the opposite side of the same coin. Both of the religious people are operating from the mindset that their beliefs are the only ones with validity. Anyone who doesn’t believe their version of the scripture is simply wrong. Much like their liberal counterpart, they refuse to accept that their view might be flawed. Never mind that there are many, many examples of laws proclaimed by their bible that are now considered archaic and absurd. We no longer force rapists to marry their victims for one example. These people cannot see the holes in their own logic that as humanity’s understanding of science and biology and psychology has improved, we’ve let go of the obviously ridiculous “rules” proscribed in the Bronze Age. Even though they more than likely enjoy delicious, tasty bacon, to them the Holy Bible is the immutable law of God, except the passages they conveniently choose to ignore. Just like their liberal counterpart, they dehumanize homosexuals with inflammatory analogies to bestiality, and as long as they hold this stance, there can be no discussion with them.
Until we can get both of these extremes to budge off of their arrogance, we cannot find peaceful resolution to our differences. Until we can get these extremes to stop dehumanizing their counterparts, we cannot find common ground. The only way we can ever hope to heal this widening chasm is by listening to each other, but as illustrated, the extremes have no interest in listening. In their minds, their stance is perfect and beyond reproach, and I for one have no idea how to breach this irrational gulf.