This post comes as the conclusion to my two-part ending for July (albeit a little late, perhaps). In this post, I intend to take on a notion which is widespread in the United States, but is also found in just about any country. We like to think of everything within the bounds of black and white, good and evil, and nothing more. There are innate problems with this system, and the very fact that we let it exist obstructs much of our policy efforts.
As stated, we like to see politics through a lens of “this is either one thing, or the other, and nothing in between.” We can see it in many of our mantras: if you’re not with us you’re against us, we do not negotiate with terrorists, etc. We enjoy the simple nature of having to choose between two options; this allows us to avoid having scary things like complex situations arise. The biggest problem with this is that the world does not work this way. Things are not so black and white, and in fact there is far more gray than either extreme. And often, it is when we are presented with multiple choices that we make the best and most informed decisions.
I’ll make elections my first example. In America, we allow for third parties, and yet in every election the only parties which receive anything more than a negligible amount of the votes cast are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. There are two main reasons for this, and the first is a systematic disposition towards two-party elections. Because our constitution and election rules force parties to receive fairly large followings, it’s quite easy for our nation to settle into the swing between two opposing political groups. Since we fell into that pattern a long time ago, it’s a very hard one to break. But the secondary reason why third parties receive so few votes is because we do not want them to exist. Often, whenever third parties make an issue known, people will simply ask that one of the two major parties absorb that issue, and the third party is then moot. I’ll take the Green Party of the United States as my prime subject here: [link]. While the Green Party itself has developed a full platform by now with an excellent candidate, most people view the party as simply existing to advance the environmentalism movement. This couldn’t be further from the truth, although the party was founded on such principles. However, we refuse to acknowledge them beyond their roots.
Now let me explain why this hurts us. A democracy flourishes with more ideas having representation in government and during election cycles. While this doesn’t mean a country should have tons of political parties, this does mean that a country with three or four typically ends up more vibrant than one with only two parties. Look at Israel, for example. Israel is the strongest democracy in the Middle East, and it has a multi-party system. From the extreme-right Likud party to the leftist Labor, Israel has formed a flourishing nation which does quite well for itself despite being strapped for resources and close to dangerous enemies. We consistently praise Israel for its democratic successes, and in many ways we are right to do so from time to time. Meanwhile we are stuck having our two main parties battle it out over all the issues, forcing both parties to adopt opposite stances or risk looking like “sell-outs”. This effectively filters moderates out of both parties, causing extreme partisan rifts that most Americans have decried. This, after all, is our prime reason for disapproval of Congress: [link]. Having multiple parties means that members of each party can have views that do not all fall in line exactly, but still leaves them electable and important.
Another example of the poor effects of seeing things through black and white is our foreign policy, and this is one that several countries are guilty of beyond just us. In his 2002 State of the Union address, former president Bush declared Iran, Iraq, and North Korea to be part of an “axis of evil” ([link]). This notion that we as America are the great hero in an American story, and that these other countries are just evil villains, is foolish. This is what led us and the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq, causing a huge sectarian mess that we’re still paying for today. Yes, these countries aren’t the best places to be. That does not mean that we can decry them in their entirety, effectively ending any chance at diplomacy in a time of peace that most people would like to keep up. Take a look at this through the eyes of a citizen of one of the “axis” nations. Here you are, just trying to make a life for yourself, and one of the most powerful and important world leaders has basically just called you and everyone you know evil. How would you feel? The thing to remember is that just because people live in Iran, that does not mean everyone is allied with the current government system. Not all Iranians are extreme religious conservatives, and many are likely apathetic about politics in general just as long as their daily lives don’t get altered too heavily. A good lot of Americans could care less about politics; what makes us think that citizens of other nations are any different?
That is all for this two-part post, and I hope I’ve made my point in full. If you have questions or comments of any kind, I encourage you to post them right here. My email at firstname.lastname@example.org is still open, along with my Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts. And this is KnoFear, signing off.