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Andy Schmookler: I’m Not an ‘Us vs. Them’ Kind of a Guy

schmooklerHere is another passage from the draft of my book-in-progress, What Liberal America Should Understand about Evil. It appears in the first chapter after I’ve begun making the case for “See the evil. Call it out. Press the battle.”

I’m thinking that people who don’t know me should have this information to reassure them about where I’m coming from. At present, I’m thinking I will not make an entry of it in the series, but will just put a sentence worth early in the series, with a link to this as part of the background supportive material.

But I would be interested in hearing your opinions about how this should or shouldn’t be played.

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Let me stop for a moment to address a concern that, judging from my years of experience of communicating about these issues, some readers may now have about me.

Back in the 1990s, concerned as I was with the widening divisions in America between right and left, much of my work focused on the phenomenon of “polarization.” [Note: see “The Dance of Polarization– How a Culture Breaks Down into Warring Half-Truths.”] As I’ve perceived and investigated the rising destructive force, I’ve come to see the phenomenon of polarization in a larger context—but it remains a concept that’s quite relevant to some of what we see happening in the breaking up of the structures of wholeness in America.

And one of the issues on which right and left are polarized – one of those areas in which there is a marked asymmetry between the two sides—is on attitudes toward “Us vs. Them” thinking. On the right, it tends to be considered a virtue to see the “other side” as the enemy. In liberal America, it is frowned upon.

For that reason, some readers here may be worried, after reading my characterization of the force on the right, that I’m doing what “they” do, that I might be coming from the same sort of “we’re good, they’re bad” place that the likes of Limbaugh’s dittoheads have been encouraged to inhabit.

Let me reassure you: I’m not an “Us vs. Them” sort of guy. My history shows this.

In the 1980s, I was associated with a group in Washington called Search for Common Ground, whose purpose is to help people entangled in conflict find ways to get to mutually satisfactory solutions. In the 1990s, I gave talks around the country with the title “Beyond Dispute,” encouraging liberals and conservatives – in our already-polarizing nation – to turn away from ideological combat and seek a higher wisdom that integrates the valid insights and principles of both sides.

My 1999 book (Debating the Good Society, from M.I.T. Press) had the subtitle “A Quest to Bridge America’s Moral Divide.” And I began my radio show with the suggestion that we –liberals and conservatives—should talk to each other in a spirit of mutual respect “as if we might actually learn from each other.”

Something has changed since then, and it is not I.

Mutual respect and bridging divides are how I’d like for our political world to be. But something new and dangerous has seized hold of the political right, and a new response is required of us. Wisdom requires different responses to different situations, and a tool-kit with but one tool in it is dangerously inadequate. The dark force I began to see in 2004 inspired me to set aside the tools of bridge-building for the tools of waging battle.

There are those who have a need for enmity, who are comfortable only in a world in which they wage war against some “Them.” And then there are those who are willing, however reluctantly, to do battle when that is required in order to defend the values they hold sacred. FDR was no warmonger, but he understood what must be done and led America in doing it.

Andy Schmookler blogs at http://www.nonesoblind.org/index.php.


augusta free press
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