How well do you know your fellow Americans?

Can we talk about this?

To understate things significantly, this is an unusual Presidential election we are facing. And the degree of “unusuality” has only served to increase the heat of our political rhetoric. While we’re already fairly quick to demonize our opponents — overtly or subtlety — that tendency has been magnified during this election season. This is a tendency has long bothered me, and so with an increase in the mudslinging has come an increase in my impatience with this unfortunate tendency.

It makes me impatient because — and I’m generalizing here — I don’t think most of us make a real effort to understand why those we differ with on political issues (or any sort of issue, for that matter) hold the views that they do. We are often shocked, shocked! that someone could possibly vote for (or against) Candidate A or be for (or against) Policy Position X.

On the other hand, I tend to think that the vast majority of political views have some  plausibility to them, and while I find some of them to in the end be unpersuasive, I can usually see the rationale that would lead someone to support them.

There are several reasons why I think it’s important to make a serious effort to understand the views of those with whom we disagree: some go back to my studies in ecumenism, some go to my desire to convince others to accept my argument, which requires that I get inside their head to understand theirs.  😉

It’s this motivation which made me such a fan of the Ideological Turing Test (ITT), a social experiment which can be an effective way to determine the extent to which we truly understand the rationale of people who views whose differ from our own. Thanks to DarwinCatholic, I first heard of ITTs at atheist-turned-Catholic Leah Libresco’s blog when she used an ITT to compare the extent to which atheists and Christians truly understand one another’s positions (she came up with the atheist/Christian ITT prior to becoming a Christian herself).

In short, ITTs typically consist of a group of people from each of the various sides of an ideological question, in which each person is asked to submit multiple sets of answers to a series of questions, one set according to their own perspective, other sets according to the differing perspectives. So in Libresco’s ITT, the “panelists” submitted two sets of answers to her series of questions: one set from their own perspective (atheist or Christian), the other set from the opposite perspective. Then, the public is invited to vote as to who they think wrote a given answer (the author and their perspective are kept secret during the voting stage). The goal for the panelists, of course, is to be able to so successfully mimic the opposing viewpoint’s perspective that your “fake” answer is voted as authentic, especially by those who hold that perspective. Being able to do so would give a strong indication as to your grasp of a position with which you actually disagree.

With that as the background, we come to the point of this post: I think it would be interesting to run an ITT with regard to this year’s Presidential elections, with three positions: voting for Mrs. Clinton, voting for Mr. Trump, and voting for neither (that might be voting for a third party candidate or simply not voting for any Presidential candidate).

The question for this ITT is simple: in 300 words or less (for each of the three positions), why are you voting the way you are?

I’ve already shared this post with some friends who collectively hold to all of these positions, but I’d be open to submissions from others, so if you’re interested in participating as a panelist and submitting answers for all three positions, either say so in the comments or email me at chris.burgwald@gmail.com with “ITT” in the subject line.

I hope to have all the submissions in by next week, at which point voting will begin.

One final thought: even if you aren’t a panelist or don’t even vote, I would invite you to consider what is the ultimate point of this experiment: how well do you understand how those you disagree with think?

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Meaning, Purpose & Getting in the Zone

in the zone…

One of the sources of a general sense of frustration in American culture flows from our attempt to give our lives meaning & purpose rather than finding the meaning & purpose which they already have. It is the latter which ultimately gives us the sense of fulfillment and focus… of being “in the zone”.

Let me unpack that a bit…

In Saturday’s post I talked about the attractiveness of the Judeo-Christian take on meaning & purpose, as opposed to atheism’s position on the matter. It’s not just atheists, though, who attempt to give meaning & purpose to our lives… doing so is a very common American approach to life, probably the dominant one, in fact.

The ideas of the “self-made man,” of “making something of yourself,” of “being all you can be” are all deeply embedded in our culture, and they all hinge on the idea that meaning & purpose are something we give to our lives.

As I mentioned in this opening of this post, I propose that much of the underlying frustration which many Americans feel — and which manifests itself in many ways — flows from this idea of giving purpose to our lives. Why? Because of what I said in the previous post: you can’t give meaning & purpose to your life (or to anything, for that matter)… you can only find and discover the meaning & purpose which it already has.

Recognizing this is not a bad thing, however, but just the contrary: discovering why I exist and what I exist for is freeing and exhilarating… it allows me to thrive, to live life abundantly.

How do we do this? How do we find meaning & purpose in our lives? The same way you’d find the meaning & purpose for, say, a machine that you don’t know how to use: you ask the Maker…

Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1511-1512

Meaning: Either it’s there or it isn’t

One of the most appealing aspects of the Judeo-Christian understanding of reality is the idea of meaning and purpose: everything — including my life — has both meaning and purpose. Unlike an atheistic understanding of reality, my worldview doesn’t require that I live a fiction: instead, I get to live my life exactly as it is: with a meaning and a purpose.

Let me unpack that a bit.

One of the great tragedies of contemporary American culture is that despite the abundance of material wealth and leisure time which the vast majority of us have, many of us are profoundly unhappy. There are many causes for this malaise, among them a sense of purposelessness and a lack of meaning.

To overcome both, some people try to maintain a state of perpetual distraction, while others throw themselves into their work, hobby, or something else which at least gives their life the appearance of meaning.

The conundrum is this: if the atheist is right and there is no God, then life has no meaning, and any attempt to give it meaning is fictitious. While the average atheist may not have thought this through, the more intellectually-serious and -coherent atheists have (e.g. the twentieth century British philosopher Bertrand Russell, as I discussed in this post).

On the other hand, the Judeo-Christian account of reality says that yes, my life has meaning, every circumstance I encounter has meaning… indeed, everything in existence has meaning.

Instead of living either a lie — pretending there is meaning where there isn’t — or a life of “heroic despair” — acknowledging there is no meaning and soldiering on anyway — I get to live an adventure: first, discovering the meaning of my life, and then living it to the fullest.

I’ll take the latter option, and twice on Sundays, thank you very much.

So… what’s the meaning of your life?

“Reading” the Newspaper

 

It’s at a minimum interesting — and usually instructive — to “read” a newspaper, i.e. to be attentive to the kinds of stories that the editors present, and what that tells us both about them and about us.

When it comes to the cultural analysis that I call being a movie “critic”, one of the forms that I find particularly fascinating is to “read” the newspaper.

The quotation marks there are important, of course… I’m not talking about just reading the stories found in a newspaper, but about stepping back and being attentive to the nature and number of stories the paper contains.

In this post I’ll explain what I mean by this, give some examples about how to “read” a newspaper, and then explain why it’s important to “read” a newspaper.

Continue reading ““Reading” the Newspaper”

Why Not?

If we can’t explain our moral code, we’re building houses on sand for ourselves, our families and our local and national communities.

In this and some upcoming posts I’d like to take step back from Obergefell and its immediate fallout and look at some of the deeper issues which it raises about our society and culture. In this post I’d like to look at the rationale behind our morals, or more precisely, at the need to be able to articulate the rationale behind our morals.

Continue reading “Why Not?”

You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.

One of the central difficulties which the Church faces in responding to Obergefell is that what most Americans understand marriage to be today is at odds with the historic understanding of marriage, both within and outside Christianity, and hence a substantial renewal of the culture’s understanding of marriage is required.

Here’s the thing: both sides in the (yes, ongoing) debate keep using the word marriage, but I don’t think that it means what they think it means…

Continue reading “You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.”