To me, this type of thinking, expressed here by Ann Althouse, seems a little too passive and unmoored from first principles:

“That reminds me of the way Republicans turn off the socially liberal folks (like me) who would be receptive to the rest of what they have to offer. The 2 parties have corresponding strategies, including trying to scare people about how extreme the other party really intends to be. I don’t trust any of them.”

This is just one of the many types of the “split the difference” view, expressed quite often by many bright and capable people, and I really do not get why smart people with working brains and an Internet connection fall for this so easily. So I want to address it primarily from a logical point of view, to get people to think about the full range of consequences they are choosing by taking this view, as opposed to a political point of view, even though there are obvious points to make on that front as well.

Key Point: Just because both sides say the other side is wrong does not imply that they are both wrong, and it does not imply that splitting the difference is always a wise or acceptable choice. It depends on the positions they take.

Maybe they are both wrong, but in varying degrees in the same direction. Splitting the difference between two ideas that are wrong in the same essential ways is still moving in the wrong direction.

Which means you have to be informed on the issues yourself. Or, don’t take a position, because you are not well-informed. Either choice makes perfect sense. What does not make perfect sense: relying on politicians to take convenient extreme positions on an imaginary linear scale of “left vs. right” or “Democrat vs. Republican” or “conservative vs. liberal”, so that you can do little or no research and just split the difference. Nearly all policy discussions are just not that simple, and cannot be reduced so easily without losing essential nuances that can make a big, BIG difference in outcomes.

This is like using the stars to navigate – but instead of finding the North Star yourself, to start with reliable information to guide you and get you there the quickest, you rely on some other guy you don’t really know that well. Say this guy doesn’t have the same motives and goals that you do, and cares more about lengthening the trip for the free food than he does about getting there quickly. And so, you can plot various courses from that starting point, but all will be wrong (just by varying degrees) if the starting point is incorrect. You cannot navigate anywhere when you don’t know where you start from.

Or imagine that you are looking to buy a car. You end up at a BMW dealer because the ads appeal to you, but you never did any research on your own about car prices. So you buy a beautiful 540i that costs $57K, because it is cheaper than the 750iL at $86K but more than the 335xi at $42K. Hey, you split the difference, at least you didn’t buy the uber-expensive one! But you still bought something you can’t really afford. Because you didn’t do your own research. Your starting point was not really right for your own particular needs, and you were too trusting of those whose primary incentive is to sell you something.

Note the essential flaw there: implicit trust in someone whose primary incentive is to sell you something. This is almost always an inferior way to look out for your interests. And politicians are all about selling you something, right?

They know all the tricks to push your emotional buttons and give you fact-like claims that they insist are important and relevant – so to protect yourself and avoid being played for a sucker, you need information. Because nobody else is going to do it for you.

You need a starting point, a North star, the necessary background to make informed decisions. You need to weigh your first principles, your beliefs, your concepts of the right and wrong policies for our nation and our people against unfiltered bullshit in the media and from politicians.

But your principles, ethics, and policies should be backed up with the necessary, true, and relevant facts. It might be easier and less work to skip the fact-finding part, but if you believe what you believe just because you believe it, and have never really questioned your beliefs, then that is a faith system, a secular religion, more than a political belief. By definition. Even the faithful constantly question themselves and their beliefs – what is it about left-liberal politics that discourages questioning anything? How is that helping you?

For those who care about my own personal story, I discovered over the last 10+ years that many things I thought I knew were either completely untrue, or much less black and white than the popular mythology instructs us (any search of the Let’s Not Kid Ourselves tag on this site will show the details on that). This knowledge has pushed me in a more conservative/libertarian direction on many political, economic, social, military, and foreign policy issues, because I’ve seen more than enough evidence to convince me that is the right way to go. Before, I relied completely on the newspaper and news outlets like NPR and local news, and then I learned I was getting much less than half of the necessary, true, and relevant facts. I thought I was more well-informed than I was, and this is a somewhat dangerous place to be.

These lessons have just reinforced to me that you cannot trust any single source – you have to use your brain, and your computer, and the huge knowledge base that is the Internet, to decide which politician or party is at least closest to the truth on the particular issue you care about. Fact check their asses, in other words.

They are your issues, after all. You chose them. If you are too “busy” (substitute “lazy” if it applies, and it probably does) to do research into opposing viewpoints, then how can you even trust your own beliefs? Maybe you’ve been lied to for many years by political shysters and opportunists who don’t really care if you are well-informed, but sure do want your vote and your mind-share. How can you tell? How do you know whether or not you live in a self-reinforcing bubble of ideas until you get out of it and view your opinions from the perspective of others? I see the other viewpoints every day whenever I read any article in the media about politics, economics, unions and labor, education, race relations, diversity, gay rights, women’s rights, the list goes on, and on, and ON . . .

The bottom line is that by failing to educate yourself on the actual substance of policy arguments, instead of the politically-charged, dumbed-down versions, you are actively empowering politicians and their bullshit by disconnecting yourself from your civic duty to use first principles backed by facts to guide your decisions.

You are willfully withdrawing from the battle of ideas that exists above the political sphere.

You are abdicating to politicians what is ultimately your responsibility for making informed choices.

And thanks to your eager cooperation, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, both Democrats and Republicans have learned how to triangulate against you – even while talking a good game about “helping” you – by using your ignorance and apathy to progressively take more and more of our wealth, jobs, freedoms, independence, future, and quality of life.

Why on earth would you support that?

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