The What and The Why (or Why I Avoid Discussing Politics Online)

Some may have noticed that, in general, I avoid talking about politics online. While I am sure you will find or remember instances where I have deviated from this, it is my general policy.

Online platforms are terrible places to have arguments and even worse places to find common ground.

The truth is that I have plenty of thoughts and frequent robust discussions in my offline life surrounding politics. I think people are sometimes surprised by the breath of political views I welcome engagement with among my friends. I have plenty of friends on the far right and the far left. I have friends who are vehemently pro-gun and vehemently no-gun. I have friends that are pro-choice and pro-life. I have friends who vote exclusively left and others exclusively right. And, of course, I have a fair amount who are decidedly middle.

People are often shocked to find that, though I don’t believe I’ve changed much, where I was on that spectrum twenty years ago is far different than where I fall today. Like many who consider themselves independent, I argue that it is the spectrum that has moved, not me. But, like most things, I’m willing to admit that it is likely a fair bit of both of these changing.

But, I find discussing politics online requires a sort of one-to-one that few venues are conducive to. It certainly can’t be done well with 280 characters at a time. It can’t be done well in comments sections with others chiming in. It can’t be done well in blog posts back and forth. Those forums are great for spouting ideas and hot takes but terrible for genuine discourse, mutual respect, and understanding.

It might be able to be done well between two people on a video call. There you can read body language and facial expressions. You can see the genuine humanity of the person with whom you are conversing. You can get a sense of where they are coming from. What might lead them to a certain perspective or understanding.

Because the “why” is far more important and interesting to me — to our ability to even agree to disagree — than the “what”. I’ll give you an example…

  • What: Taxpayer-funded Universal Healthcare (especially for age 21 and under). I support it.
  • Why: One reason? One of the primary responsibilities of government at the federal level is national defense. To defend the country well, it requires healthy, young, strong, troops. Therefore, it is in the best interest for our national defense that all of its citizens receive free universal healthcare so that they may be healthy and ready to serve when the country calls upon them to do so.

The “what” is a view that would normally be aligned as “left”. The “why” is a view that would normally aligned with the “right”. Some on the left would be satisfied with the “what”. But, I might be able to find a bridge of understanding and agreement with someone on the right with the “why”. Why? Because, in general, humans want the same things, have the same fears, and similar dreams. They want to feel safe and secure in their homes and their country. They want what’s best for their children. They may disagree on the details of how much it will cost and who will pay for it. But, we can probably agree on the broad strokes of the “why”.

The “what” is generally what separates us. I believe what ultimately unites us is found in the “why”.

Online discourse is very good at focusing people on the what. It is generally terrible at allowing discourse and agreement around the why.