One of the more irritating aspects of life is having to deal with political discussions. Most of the time, such discussions provide nothing more than difficulty and hassle, with the very real possibility of alienation from others over one’s words and one’s stances. Discussion usually tends to be focused on external matters, such as the particular stances themselves or how abhorrent they are based on one’s own worldview, or how out of touch and unrealistic other people are because of what they believe. Far less attention is paid to the ground on which our positions and arguments stand. This ground is not necessarily uncontroversial, but it is a vastly more serious matter with more serious consequences than the actual positions themselves. At times, different positions stemming from similar ground show that the real dispute is a matter of perspective, while the same positions may not always mean agreement in a larger sense.
What sort of ground do our arguments and positions stand on? The most important and fundamental ground our arguments and positions stand on is our worldview. This is, not surprisingly, often the least examined aspect of the ground on which we stand. It is striking, even in discussions from immensely educated people who should be aware and sensitive to the contestable nature of their worldviews, just how often statements are assumed from a worldview without the contestability of that worldview being recognized in the first place. What is taken as an article of faith by someone can be a completely ridiculous belief in the eyes of others who do not share that assumption. This is true no matter what particular worldview on which we stand. Essentially, worldviews appear to be completely solid and without the possibility of error for those who hold it but are completely without sense to those who are opposed to that worldview. Ultimately speaking, disagreements in worldview are not prone to be solved unless there is the willingness on the part of those in error to change their worldviews, which makes such conflicts essentially intractable and often impossible to resolve reasonably.
Other grounds for conflict and disagreement exist. Even among people who share essentially the same worldview, there are still grounds of potential conflict because of our perspectives. For example, based on where were stand, we could hold different positions out of self-interest, if a defense of our self-interest (however defined) is part of our worldview. In such a case, our positions do not depend on philosophy or morality, but rather where we stand. Of course, our self-interest can be short-term or long-term. We may care mostly about what benefits us (or hurts us) today, or we may look with a longer time horizon and be willing to forgo current pleasure or accept current pain in order to attain a better future in a far off time. Of course, that may not be the case, which will lead to very short-term decisions made that lack a larger vision. Of course, we may sometimes be spectacularly wrong about our self-interest, in which case we may make stands and positions which end up hurting us both now and in the long-term.
Still other grounds for conflict and disagreement exist. Often conflicts and disagreements can erupt because of disagreements. Such disagreements can most easily be resolved, as all that is necessary (as if it were an easy thing) would be for all parties involved to acquire and act on accurate knowledge. This is far from an easy matter, but it is at least feasible. Oftentimes both sides, or all sides, in a given dispute must learn about the accurate reality that they are dealing with, so that they can all respond accurately. Sadly, accurate knowledge is at a premium in our lives, and acting on it is not always the most straightforward of matters.
Why do we not reflect on the ground on which we stand? For one, no one likes the thought that they do not stand on solid ground but rather stand on sand or fill. Such a realization is deeply troubling. To make matters even more complicated, our degree of confidence in our worldviews and perspectives of self-interest and knowledge has no necessary relationship to the soundness of that ground or self-interest. People can be tentative about ground which is insecure; they can be tentative about ground which is solid but whose strength they do not recognize fully; they can be secure and confident in worldviews which are simply totally inadequate; they may also be secure and confident in a worldview which is strong. All of these options are possible, and require deep reflection if we are to live wisely and well. Let us hope we are all able to do so.