Ideologues, zealots, and messiah complexes

May 25, 2007

I live in Washington D.C., and therefore I’m exposed to a shocking amount of politics. And I confess that from time to time, I enter political discussions, although mainly as an uninterested observer. I have opinions – I have opinions on almost every subject – but people with opinions shouldn’t be confused with people who care about outcomes. The fact that I believe we should secure our borders while simultaneously making it slightly easier to enter our country legally doesn’t mean I would care to fight for that outcome. It’s really not worth the time and effort and heartache to fight a political battle over how a Guatemalan stonemason enters this country.

 There are, however, thousands of people in this city that care deeply about outcomes. These people stink – I feel very strongly about this. As a country, I think we fight our political battles in a rather silly way.

Let’s put it this way: let’s say you’re in the middle of a personal crisis involving your boyfriend. When you go to your friends to seek counsel, you find two equally intelligent people. There’s only one difference – one friend is dispassionate and logical, and the other friend used to sleep with your boyfriend and cares deeply about your problem on a personal level.

 From which friend would you seek advice? Well, of course you say the calm and cool friend. How can you possibly trust the other friend? Perhaps she feels guilty about leaving your boyfriend, doesn’t trust that he’s happy, and will suggest that you stay with him in order to assuage her own guilty feelings. Or perhaps she hates your boyfriend, has forgotten his great qualities that attracted her to him in the first place, and will tell you to break up with him since, in her mind, there is no way a sane girl could remain interested in him. But in either case, her advice will be constructed not to maximize your happiness, but to achieve the outcomes she believes are right.

But we allow these demented sorts of people to dominate political discussions in this country. Somehow, caring about a subject the most has translating into a sort of quasi-expertise. Therefore, you get race-baiters like Al Sharpton talking about civil rights and the black community, and you have evangelical Christians talking about gay rights and abortion. But all Al Sharpton and evangelical leaders do is say anything they can to achieve their goals. They don’t mind convincing you by scaring you or making you feel guilty or lying to you, as long as they convince you.

 And it corrupts any chance of having a healthy debate. If the person that believes in his heart that something is right is far more likely to cut corners, to lie, to steal or cheat to achieve his purpose. He is going to do anything necessary to make his world better. But what does an uncaring person have to gain from unethical activities? Nothing. We’re taught to respect passionate people despite the fact that passion makes it more likely those people will conduct themselves shamefully to get what they want. And we’re taught to abhor or ignore the dispassionate, despite the fact that (unless they’re sociopathic liars) they’ll always tell the truth. It’s silly.


One Response to “Ideologues, zealots, and messiah complexes”

  1. skerns Says:


    Good to see you back buddy…the interweb missed you.

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