“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” 20th Century Baseball Great Satchel Paige is credited with asking that question. I think it is one of the best questions ever posed. The implication is that you are as old as you feel you are and as old as you act. We all know people who are aged 80 years and who run circles around lots of 60 year olds. There is mounting scientific evidence that your feelings about your health and your vitality greatly effect both.
It makes me want to consider the question, “How Moderate would you be if you didn’t know how moderate you were?”
Let’s say you consider yourself to be mainstream and quite moderate in your views. You are informed of the world about you through your contacts with your friends, business associates, and, reading/listening to/ watching various available local media.
My guess is that if you lived in St. George, Utah, were a member of the Rotary Club, attended the local ward of the LDS Church, owned a small feed store, and read the Readers Digest regularly, you would be fairly conservative. In your view, you might feel middle of the spectrum or “moderate” in terms of your politics. That would be confirmed by your friends and associates, the prevailing conservative nature of your town, and the simple fact that we all see ourselves as reasonable, not extreme.
If, on the other hand, you were a resident of the Boston area, a graduate of Harvard, an attorney employed by the League of Women Voters, an agnostic, and an avid reader of the Boston Globe and the New York Times, you would consider yourself both well informed and moderate or possibly a bit progressive in your politics, anything but extreme. Your beliefs would be confirmed by your associates at work and most of your neighbors in upscale Lincoln where you live among like-minded folks.
The way we feel about things, from our health to our politics is strongly influenced by where we live and with whom we associate. All this leads me to believe even more in the premise of the article “America’s Ruling Class — and the Perils of Revolution“. It is worth the few minutes it takes to read as I think it speaks accurately about our current political debate and who runs our country. I’ve written about this article before, but reflecting on the Satchel Paige question brought me a new perspective. It is clear to me that members of our ruling class say and do the crazy things they do because they are surrounded by folks who feed at the same trough.
It is difficult to disassociate with your environment to better understand and relate to others not of your background or place…. difficult, but probably an effort worth taking if we ever want to tone down the level of our political debate and make it more reasoned. It would also help provide the diversity of ideas that is so lacking in Washington D.C. and most State Capitols.
So how do we lower the level of discord in our political discussions when most players feel their views are reasonable, even moderate? I would suggest that we do that by being less isolated. That is not an easy process. It would take an amazing PR plan to get most americans to step out of their comfort zones. Imagine Jews attending Mass for a few months and participating in social events held by the Catholic Church. Or, imagine public school youth from Tuscaloosa switching schools for a semester with private school kids from Manhattan.
The closest thing we have to that type of cross-cultural exchange probably happens when young people enlist in the military. They are thrown together with others from every demographic in the country. Since they must work together and trust one another, they begin to see things from a slightly different, often less aloof and confident, point of view. Maybe universal conscription has more and higher purposes than just raising a standing army.
Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be interesting if every elected official in the country had the opportunity to spend a month sitting on the city council (our whatever their position is) in a town with opposite demographics. What do you think?