First, some brief background introduction on what inspired me to write about this subject. Without disclosing names, or details, in the course of an email to an individual who I know from the University of Connecticut (the specifics are irrelevant and will not be disclosed), who I will assign the pseudonym "Joe", I mentioned something resembling "X is is a good idea because it will encourage Y." Joe responded with something loosely saying "I agree! I also think it's great because X encourages Z. In fact, maybe we could even do A to encourage Z even more". * (I told you I wouldn't be specific). However, Joe had misunderstood me. In fact, I thought encouraging Z was a bad idea, and that we should take precaution with with continuing with X to avoid doing Z.
But, at the same time, I couldn't tell if Joe felt strongly in his support for my (perceived) argument or if he personally disagreed (or didn't care one way or the other) but not strongly enough to tell me so and risk offending me. So, I clarified what I meant by my original remarks, and said that if he really feels that encouraging Z through X (and ultimately A) is good, by all means, do something about it. But if you don't feel too strongly about it one way or the other and are going along with it rather than risk unnecessarily offending me, know that it's not actually my opinion. After all, as I mentioned, plenty of bad ideas live on because many people feel that they are wrong, but are worried what others will think of them if they say so.
The first story I thought of comes from my Jewish education and the Bible. (Not to worry, this isn't a religious article.) I recall from the story of Joseph and his Brothers Reuben thought it was wrong that the rest of the brothers were throwing him in the pit, and secretly planned to rescue him later. Meanwhile, Judah, unaware of his brother's intention and believing Joseph was to be killed, sold him into slavery as the lesser evil. The meaning of course is, had Judah and Reuben spoken up, they could have cooperated and rescued Joseph outright. (Then again, some Jewish scholars claim that Joseph's being sold into slavery ensured the Jewish people would fulfill their destiny. This is beyond the scope of this article.)
Then, I thought about it some more and realized this could be applied to the two party system. Even when I did consider myself to be a strong Democrat, I was still firmly against affirmative action. But what could I do? I can't vote based on just one issue. I could support the Republicans, who I agreed with on affirmative action, or I could support the Democrats who I agreed with all other issues. ** What do you think I chose?
Of course, that's the problem with only having two options. First of all, not all issues are black and white (for instance, when debating whether the definition of "marriage" should include same-sex couples, nobody from the major parties questions the need for a definition at all. But some people do. They get ignored. Is it right? No. But it happens). But the grayness of issues is another discussion for another time.
The main issue is how I'm sure I wasn't the only Democrat in America who opposed affirmative action. But we couldn't do anything about it since a breakaway party would do more harm than good, if it did anything at all. With a more current example, Jews as a demographic group show a strong tendency for support for the Democrats over the Republicans. And I'm sure pretty much all of them disapprove of President Obama's recent statements about Israel. But the vast majority of them are still voting for him in 2012.
If it's one issue, it may be two, or three, or more. But in most cases, those people simply change their views to conform with the party rather than agree to disagree. This is worse. For instance, a Republican who supports most of what the Party stands for, but advocates gay rights and affirmative action and is pro-choice, would likely change those opinions, voluntarily or not, to avoid being perceived as a "bad Republican". Once again, the person was only given two option - Democrat and Republican.
There are several possible solutions to this complex issue. I will address them in another post within a day or two, and may even make another one after that. So stay tuned!
* - Note that this is not intended to be a word-for-word transcript of our conversation. There was more in there than that, and Joe's misunderstanding was certainly reasonable. But to explain why would require disclosing more specifics than either of us are comfortable with me posting publicly on the internet. This is just to give you an idea of where this thought process came from so you will understand the point I am making. As a disclaimer to "Joe" and the very limited number of people who were involved in this specific situation and recognize it as such, the specifics are different, but that's not the point of this. But if you're thinking "Why don't I remember this happening?" it's because it's not a word-for-word transcript.
** - I always found libertarianism to be a fusion between the (claimed) benefits of the two major parties. They support limited government involvement in the economy, which the Republicans supposedly do. The accuracy of this claim is doubtful, but supposing each party's claims to be accurate, I would find that a major benefit of the Republican Party. On the side note, libertarianism also advocates low government involvement in personal life, for instance by broadening the definition of "marriage" (or eliminating it), protecting civil liberties, and military non-interventionism. Once again, whether the Democrats actually stand for these or not is questionable, but they claim to. Beyond that is another discussion.