What three words are among the most difficult for anyone ever to mutter? Words that strike terror into the heart and tie the guts into knots? I don’t know. No, those are the words: I don’t know. If you spend much time reading newspapers or watching television or, especially, sitting in business meetings it’s a phrase you rarely encounter. Kind of ironic isn’t it when so many of the situations we face in life — especially the most challenging and controversial — are not open to easy solution. Last night, in an interview on PBS that Jim Lehrer had with Ben Bradley, Bradley said something interesting. Lehrer asked him if he thought all presidents lie. Bradley said that he did, but the reason he gave for it wasn’t the one you’d expect. I thought he’d say that they lie because it helps serve their political goals — no, he said they lie because they get into difficult situations without easy solution and cannot admit they don’t know what to do or feel the truth is too dangerous. So they lie.
Arianna is already [flogging] a book to come out this year about fear — she sees it as the root of most of the problems of life, both personally and politically. Hard to disagree. I see the effects of fear everywhere. Fear to really address the implications of challenging issues. When issues (or as Popper would say, societies) are too open, the temptation is to retreat to tribal keeps and time tested dogma.
Alas, the devil really is in the details. People seek stability by wrapping (ensnaring?) themselves in the doctrinal details of arguments over important issues because it keeps them from having to address the Big Scary Question directly. And so, we have people debating whether gay people are born or recruited — because we hope we will find in the minutiae of that argument an answer to the larger question of what it means to society for men to build lives without women and vice versa. Similarly on abortion, we try to parse the moment that a human life begins in hopes that we can somehow legislate away the real issue that has existed since the time of Medea: how does society deal with the fact that a child is an extension of a woman’s body, ultimately to do with as she pleases?
I don’t know.
I suppose that’s why I tend toward the conservative pole of the lightning rod when it comes to judicial or legislative remedies to vexing public issues — do as little as possible for as long as possible when complicated issues need time to work themselves out in an uncertain public mind.