I have to give Dr. Jordan Ellenberg the credit for this example from his wonderful new book How Not to be Wrong. What Ellenberg poses is a fantastic bit of, in essence mathematical philosophy, which illustrates a perfect example of what this blog is all about, objectivity, logic, and critical thinking. The idea of simply associating “good” or “bad” to ideas even subconsciously, is an extremely dangerous way of thinking. “Dangerous” in this case meaning it’s very easy to make a mistake or assume a position on the surface one would otherwise later find they disagree with.
The typical political mindset is represented by the graph to the left. “Swedishness” in this instance referring essentially to liberalism. The graph is constructed arbitrarily for someone who associates themselves politically conservative but would represent the inverse for someone who associates more liberally. Regardless, this would illustrate a “less government is good so even less must be better” ideology. Well clearly this purely linear relationship to government would never hold true otherwise, the most effective way of doing things would be to eliminate government all together, declare Marshall law, and god speed to those without an AR-15. Conversely, a lock-down Marxist dictatorship never works either, as evident by numerous government overthrows throughout human history.
At this point, I’d like to state once again, that most of partisanship is no way an indication of how anyone necessarily consciously believes. Most of what we’re talking about here is how partisanship is largely illustrated by subconscious behavior and actions. In fact, once one does give an issue some thought, positions are more thoroughly vetted and openly discussed, the vast majority of Americans true beliefs rarely fall into either partisan category.
Regardless of whichever, if any, camp that one falls into politically, after this further discussion takes place there’s the clear indication that linearity is just simply not representative of the way nature works. Nature is a constant battle for balance, equilibrium, and homeostasis. Too much or too little of anything can be dangerous and retrogressive. The reality of nature is represented by thinking Mathermatically, and that make sense doesn’t it? Is that not in essence the purpose of math in the first place, to relate our actions and understanding of how the world works through a common language?
The key difference here is finding the distinction within the vast overlap between thinking Middle and thinking Mathematically. Thinking in the Middle means finding a compromise within each side’s position. It’s labeling energy policy as “Energy Security” rather than “Sustainability”, it’s advocating for “economic growth” rather than “responsible economic policy”. Thinking Mathematically is about turning a blind eye to the very concept of political bias in order to be fully objective, to be empirical in one’s approach, to question one’s results and assumptions, to place the logic for societal freedom over the avarice of personal preference. To think Mathematically requires that one starts with no preconceived notions of outcomes, without grouping one’s self into a particular predetermined mindset or group. It requires the we, as a society, as a community, as an ecosystem, define the very basic collective goals and shared values we have for our lives and then build policy on an objective basis from that foundation. Discussion, debate, conversation is to be encouraged, ill-supported rhetoric and hidden agendas are not.
The reason I bring all of this up is that, because so much of the bias and partisan underpinnings occur purely on the surface as mentioned earlier, much of these through processes therefore occur as a result of subconscious thought. Most advocates of political bipartisanship however, struggle because while they acknowledge this trend, they fail to recognize the implications of what that actually entails. They tend to instead fall into the category of thinking Middle. Their ideas, while well intentioned, tread along the linear portrayal of Sweedishness hoping to land the debate somewhere in the middle. They succumb to the current structural reality of partisan two party politics, praying that finding compromise, even if its largely unproductive, will at least pass some kind of legislation over gridlock.
Thinking in the Middle is one thing, but thinking, openly, objectively, logically, thinking Mathematically, that’s something else.