Don’t you get tired of this? It’s all over the place at the moment in the US election: why do Democrats hate America/freedom/liberty, why do Republicans hate women/the elderly/the poor? WHY ARE PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE WITH ME SO EVIL?
I was just having a very friendly chat on Twitter with, among other people, Tim Stanley and Socialism’s Owen Jones, when someone interjected: “Why does Tim, with all his advantages, hate the poor, blacks and Hispanics so much?”
Now, I know I bang on about this all the time, and it’s silly to be annoyed by something someone I’ve never met said on Twitter, but seriously, it’s very tiresome. I know Tim quite well. I know he hates statistics, almost as much as he hates being seen without a mustard-yellow tank top or leaving the house without blow-drying. I know he is not a fan of Nate Silver. But it is straightforwardly ridiculous to suggest that he doesn’t like other races, or the poor, at least as long as they don’t try to apply Bayesian probability theory to political polling. He just disagrees with the Twitter-interlocutor about the best way for government to provide for those groups, and the rest of society.
There is a wider point here. It’s not just that people disagree, it’s good that they disagree. Individual people aren’t, actually, all that bright. Oh sure, some are cleverer than others, and some are very articulate and good at persuading people that they’re right about stuff, and some will actually be right more often than the average. But everyone, including me, and you, will be wrong about a significant percentage of the things we believe. As Bill Clinton put it recently: “Nobody’s right all the time, and a stopped clock is right twice a day. We go through life knowing we’re never going to be right all the time, and hoping we’ll be right more than twice a day.”
Which is why it’s good that people argue, and that there are two main factions in politics across the world, one trying to conserve what should be conserved, and one trying to improve what can be improved. Any given person will likely be wrong as often as he or she is right, but the wisdom of crowds, hopefully, will by-and-large dictate that things get slowly better, as they have for the last five thousand years or so, on the whole.
So someone like me might think that Tim is wrong on various subjects, such as abortion or welfare levels or whatever, and he might think I’m equally wrong, but I hope he’d agree that we’re doing it from positions of basically wanting the best for humanity, just disagreeing on the methods (or, perhaps, what “best” means). But because we’re fallible human beings, we’re both very likely to be wrong on a lot of stuff. So it’s best that our ideas can be put forward, argued over by a nation full of disparate people, and rejected or accepted (or more likely ignored) as appropriate.
That, incidentally, was pretty much the philosophical ideal that the US Founding Fathers held: that no one person should have too much power, because they’re just too likely to be wrong about lots of stuff (not least how right they are). Hence the checks and balances, the competing power structures. So, today of all days, remember that just because you disagree with someone about, say, disability benefits or the NHS, doesn’t mean that they are trying to kill disabled people; it’s just that they disagree, and there’s a very strong possibility that you’re wrong, not them.