e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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Purity Politics--Making a Religion of Opinion

This year's political campaigns have offered many examples of Purity Politics, with multiple candidates claiming that they are "against the system,"  and their fans determined that they won't compromise on any point, and hate the candidates who have, or say they will.   They want *their* values/thoughts/opinions/ideals to be carried through--100%, no compromises.

And that's a bad thing.  Purity Politics is exactly akin--in the claim of Rightness, moral superiority--to the narrowest of religions, where there is only One Right Way to think and act.  And that's a bad thing.  No single human individual is entirely right, and the claim of being, the belief in being right, means that individual cannot learn, cannot compromise, cannot cooperate with anyone else who does not hold exactly the same opinions and beliefs.  As a result, that individual cannot cope with the inevitable change that comes to us all, because he or she insists that change can only be met with rigid resistance or active conflict.  As such individuals aggregate into defined groups, groups that demand purity of opinon and belief,  they feel strong bonds between them (the more alike they are, the more the bonds feel strong) and are more likely to restrict their opinions and define themselves by what they are against, creating an ever deeper gap between themselves and others.  Fear of the outsiders, fear of outside ideas, is typical of Purity Politics as it is of many religions.  A group of any kind that believes it is entirely right can only rule as a tyranny (if it has the power) or endure as an obstruction to everyone else (if it's not in power)   and its apparent strength is brittle--not tough and resilient--because of the inability to recognize that it lacks perfection. 

The strength of a representative government--even a half-sick one, let alone a healthy one--is that it contains diverse individuals, with diverse talents, knowledge, skills, and opinions, so that where one person has a gap in knowledge or skill, someone else can fill that gap.  Where one person's understanding of a topic is insufficient or clouded, someone else can share their understanding.  Everyone has a chance to benefit from everyone else, and to benefit many others--there's reciprocity and appreciation of diversity and reciprocity.  The greater the willingness to learn from one another--and to contribute to others--the stronger the state as a whole.  The more resilient it is, the more able to meet new challenges, manage disasters, maintain infrastructure, and provide a social, economic, and physical environment in which its members thrive.

Purity Politics exists on every definable node on the political continuum from extreme right to extreme left.  Wherever it exists, from one individual to a group or a movement or a candidate's backers, it divides, it spreads fear and unwillingness to work together.  Purity Politics wants its own way--all of it.  It's like the tantrum over whether the red shirt asked for is the right shade of red, or whether  the new shoes aren't the right brand or the right model of the right brand,  or, in business and politics, that the compromise worked out between opposing groups isn't acceptable because one side didn't get all it wanted while the other side groveled.  And so those committed to purity politics--those who want it all now, or (having it all now) don't want to share any of the power or wealth--those convinced of their own perfect knowledge and understanding and thus convinced their opinons are 100% correct--do great harm.   They prevent the healthy reciprocity, the back and forth sharing of knowledge, skills, opinions, ideas and restrict the state's resources and options to their own, ignoring the reality of change and variability.

(Note: disagreeing with someone--about anything--is not the same as refusing to work with them, discuss with them, and consider that that person may have something to contribute.  Since we are not all alike, and no one is perfectly right, disagreement is inevitable and in fact opens the door to increased understanding and learning on both sides, if both are willing.  It is not necessary to agree after discussion, either, but both sides should be willing to learn--to find out why the other side thinks or does what it thinks and does.  The Purist only wants to find out if the other person is Pure enough to be allowed into the Purist's group.)

Good governance--from the parent with a child, to a teacher or coach with a class or team, to a small town's city council, or a state's legislature or a nation's national government--requires flexibility, responsiveness to changes in circumstances of all kinds, awareness of all available resources, including human.  It requires the strategic ability to set elastic goals, goals that will inevitably change with the changing circumstances...the ability to *enlarge* the goals as needs and resources change.  And that, at root, means the ability to learn, to grow, to change, while still pursuing the appropriate goals for that level of governance.  A rigid parental idea of what their child should be (go into father's business, make a million dollars, become a football player) may not work for an individual child--may be impossible--and what then?  Flexible parents have viable goals for the child they have.  Flexible teachers have viable goals for the class they have.  Flexible coaches make a team out of whoever shows up.   In my opinion, as a non-perfect person who has reached this opinion only after many years <G>, true maturity includes this kind of flexibility, this acceptance that one might be mistaken, that someone else might have a better answer.

(Note again: flexibility does not mean having no values, or no real goals...but it means if you work with what you have, and when you're working with people, your higher goal is to increase their abilities, not destroy them.  I tutored math and science for awhile, and learned that just repeating what the textbook said did not work with every kid.  They all learned--but my methods varied for every student, because my goal was for them to learn, not for me to feel smarter than them.)

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