Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Acknowledging the Cost

Man, I'm going to regret writing this. But here goes.

Sooner or later, we all have to take a turn defending the status quo. And it sucks.

Sooner or later, something (or someone) crucial to our value system is implicated in a disaster or a tragedy, and we have to take a turn in the cognitive hot seat, saying "well, let's not be hasty here - you can't use this as an excuse to XYZ - the *real* problem is ABC."

Nobody likes to be in the hot seat. Nobody likes to be put on the defensive. And in moments like those, our brains actually, literally defend our worldview harder than ever. We double down as instinctively as a pill-bug rolling up under a three-year-old's inquisitive poking. It's what we're neurologically wired to do.

Today a white guy with a shitload of guns is in the spotlight, and the right is on the defensive. Eventually there'll be another ISIS attack, and the left will take its turn.

But y'all - the thing I wish we could ALL do? (Besides hold hands and sing kumbaya.) Is understand that when we say "well, hang on - you can't just up and ban these people/things - that would be a betrayal of the greatness America stands for" - what everyone on the other side of the fence hears is "and that's why we have to let this keep happening."

Guns are a constitutional American right - and that's why we have to let this keep happening.
Immigration is what this country was founded on - and that's why we have to let this keep happening.
The free market is an essential cornerstone of our democracy - and that's why we have to let this keep happening.

Any time you try to deflect criticism of your thing (that you are deeply invested in) over to some other thing (that you are not invested in), without offering any specific, meaningful skin-in-the-game plan of action, your statement always ends with the unspoken "and that's why we have to let this keep happening."

(Example du jour: "it's not guns, it's mental illness" - but I'll wager the percentage of the people saying that who have personally called, written, and/or voted to advocate for improved access to mental health care is slim at best. The left-side equivalent is probably "it's not Muslims, it's radical Islamic terror" - which rarely comes with a solution more nuanced than "pull out of the Middle East and hope that in twenty or thirty years everybody will have settled down and stopped hating us.")
And that's why your argument wins no converts.

I wish our neural wiring would allow us to straight-up admit our feelings this way. I wish we could psychologically afford to stand up and say "I accept this blood as the cost of doing business." I mean shit, maybe we can. We've long since done it with cars. Being an automotive society means that there WILL continue to be fatal accidents, DUI manslaughter, kids forgotten in hot cars, and cars/trucks used as weapons of terror... but the only way to completely prevent those deaths is to stop driving, and we are not willing to do that.

That does not mean we're bad people. It means we've weighed up the pros and cons, and accepted a certain number of auto fatalities as the cost of doing business. We'll happily do what we can to *minimize* that cost (what company doesn't want to reduce its operating overhead?) - but only so long as it doesn't impede the business itself.

So when your goal is to vent, to commiserate with the other people on your team, to express your feelings - absolutely go for it. No criticism here.

But whenever it's your turn in the hot seat, and you feel obliged to defend the value/importance of your thing to the unpersuaded world at large, your efforts will be so much more fruitful if you start by acknowledging its cost.

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