Search This Blog

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Uptake on "moral values"

Guest post by Avery
“Red America” and “Blue America” are, as some commentators took pains to show in the days after November 2, misnomers. We share our political system, a culture, a language, a set of experiences, and much of our iconography. The vast majority of members of each side are Christian. But when the two sides say “moral values” I suspect that they don’t even share the concept.

Then, each side is shocked—I suspect genuinely—to find itself accused of exactly what it accuses the other of: arrogance, immorality, disregard for democratic procedures, making America weaker, failing to “support our troops,” etc.

Republicans have deluged the local paper with op-ed pieces and letters charging Democrats or liberals with arrogance, elitism, and of course, being sore losers. The only positive judgment they’ve offered is that John Kerry did the right thing—by conceding without litigation. Generous praise indeed!

On the other hand, liberals and Democrats express their ressentiment by circulating “The Concession Speech that Kerry Should Have Made” (wherein he is supposed to say, “I concede that I misjudged the power of hate”)—not to mention “Fuck the South.” [Sorry, Rodger, just reportage here.—AK]

This is a problem of uptake—a moral concept that my colleague Nancy Potter taught me to appreciate [free login required]. Giving uptake is different from agreeing or even being civil. My brother-in-law and I remain perfectly civil most of the time, but he gives me zero uptake, and that has made it impossible for us to talk. (Maybe I’m doing the same to him, and can’t tell?) To give uptake requires us to see how the speaker could hold a certain position genuinely, honestly, rationally; and then to take it seriously, and, if we disagree, treat it as a legitimate view to be opposed with good arguments. You can be civil simply by saying, “well, you have your views and I have mine.” But that isn’t uptake. Uptake allows the other to make a kind of claim on us; it is not merely tolerating others’ views, but engaging them in a certain way.

A general practice of giving people uptake on their strongly held beliefs, at least about public issues, is a public good, one of the most important public goods to be secured by a democratic government because it makes the difference between a deliberative democracy and a mere contest of interest groups.

One of the most grating things about the Bush administration is its rampant free-ridership on this public good: the stunning lack of uptake on issues that many of us see as very serious. If you think that looting in Iraq after the invasion should not be stopped, okay, give us the argument; but don’t just shrug off the “messiness.” If you think that enough safeguards are in place to prevent abuses of the “USAPATRIOT” Act, okay, then explain what those safeguards are and how they work, or at least why we should be less concerned about civil liberties; don’t accuse us of aiding terrorists. If you think it was worth going to war in Iraq even though the main justifications evaporated, okay, give us the argument; don’t just lie about it or ignore the question. Etc.

But one thing that happened in this election was that liberals and Democrats were accused, at least by the “moral values” voters, of also free-riding on the public good of giving uptake. This was pretty surprising, and disturbing—or so I thought. And maybe, just maybe, the accusation was true. Certainly the responses I mentioned above suggest that it was.

So here’s my question: how do we increase provision of the public good of uptake? How do we increase the extent to which each side gives uptake to the other(s)?

I hereby call for concerted effort to contribute to the public good of uptake. This may be a prisoners-dilemma-type situation. Those who give uptake may find that they are free-ridden upon, or worse. But if enough of us do it, then the public good will be provided, free-ridership be damned.

You might think that it’s impossible, pointless, or even accommodationist to give uptake to someone who thinks you should have no protection against discrimination, let alone the right to get married. You might think the same about someone who thinks your national homeland should not exist as an independent state. Or you might think that the effort will never be reciprocated, so it’s a losing strategy. But what’s the alternative? Secession? Exile? The further erosion of any approximation to deliberative democracy?

No comments:

Post a Comment