Eight out of 10 people would describe themselves as open-minded, reasonable and rational. Those attributes are a misrepresentation. Instead, 8 out of 10 people are, actually, essentially close-minded, unreasonable and irrational. They hold quick, fixed and unalterable views. They care little about “the facts” of the situation, about the views of others, about changing their views. They are staid, stuck and defensive about what they believe.
The misrepresentation applies to the more educated as it applies to the less educated. The misrepresentation is a common disposition – a sort of common human way of thinking that is based on gut reaction and rote self-interest. There is little “critical thinking.”
This is what dominates American politics, even though it does not dominate important decisions involved in ordinary life: how and where to lay a brick wall, to dig a trench, to engineer a building or road, to diagnose an illness, to service a client, to maximize profit, to grow a business. As to these things, in ordinary life, 8 out of 10 people are open-minded, reasonable and rational. In the absence of these attributes, there is personal failure or ruin. But no such consequences are usually on the minds of the 8 out of 10 about who they would vote for.
Why is this so?
No cause to be rational
In part, the irrationality has much to do with our two-party system – Democrats and Republicans – where “joining the team” becomes much like one’s allegiance to a particular football, baseball or basketball team regardless of the “merits” of the team. In this way, American politics is like sport: root for your own hometown team, your native tribe, however well or awful the performance or promise of its players. Here, there is no cause to be open-minded, reasonable or rational. We join and root for the team, whatever the facts, because it’s ours alone – whatever that means.
But, the choice of a president, a senator or a congressman should have nothing to do with this primal sense of allegiance. The success of “the team” should not be important in contrast to the success of our communities and nation as a whole. When we elect our governmental representatives, we should (and usually intend to) root for something broader – the better welfare of all of us, and not the provincial satisfaction of simply scoring more points than the other side as in a parochial sporting contest.
This does not mean that we should jettison our two-party system, which otherwise creates a certain efficiency in our system of government. But it does mean that we have the option and privilege of being “independent” and unshackled by a staid and unthinking adherence to the policies or candidates of a particular party (or team).
We can be free in this “independent” way to exercise the very openness, reasonableness and rationality that we otherwise exercise in our daily and working affairs. And, in doing so, we can be better assured that our independent disposition and decision-making will truly contribute to the results we intend – a direction that is, over time, for the practical and overall betterment of our communities and nation.
Perhaps this is worth considering for the 8 out of 10 of us.
Nick Herman of Chapel Hill is an adjunct professor of law at N.C. Central University and Campbell University.