A Life in Reason
Most everyone I talk to is puzzled by the spectacle of the current Presidential election. Some think Bernie supporters are naïve. Some don’t trust Clinton and wonder why others can vote for her. Some are scared of Cruz. Many don’t understand Trump voters. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this election.
I’m beginning to realize more fully that I shouldn’t quickly and easily dismiss any group of citizens because I disagree with them. Instead, I should be trying to understand those who currently confuse me. Why do they feel the way they do? What are the underlying problems that give rise to their support of their candidate?
John Dewey wrote that democracy is a way of life whose paradigm example is neighbors gathering to talk about and solve a problem on their block. Dewey was a Congregationalist, of course. Hilary Putnam developed Dewey’s idea and argued that democracy isn’t simply another form of government but is the method for solving the problem of living together in society.
American Pragmatism arose after the Civil War among a generation who saw how a political process captured by dogmatic ideologies was unable to solve problems and resorted to horrific violence. The Pragmatists wanted to develop ways of thinking that assured we would never resort to force again.
Hilary Putnam died on March 13. University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum reflecting on Putnam wrote, “The glory of Putnam’s way of philosophizing was its total vulnerability. Because he really did follow the argument wherever it led, he often changed his views, and being led to change was to him not distressing but profoundly delightful, evidence that he was humble enough to be worthy of his own rationality.” That final clause is quite profound.
She continued, “A life in reason . . . is difficult. All of us . . . find it easier to follow dogma than to think.”
For democracy to work we must humbly listen to one another, trying to understand. We must develop the skills to work cooperatively in order to solve problems. We must think, being open to changing our minds. The alternative is violence. Let’s not go there.