Agree on process, if not substance
Sep 26, 2010

Agree on process, if not substance

The simple reality of our world is that we are never all going to agree. Nor should we! However, in the pursuit of peacefully coexisting it is imperative that we attempt to resolve and ameliorate our differences.  The point I wish to make is that while we may disagree on substance we ought to try and at least agree on the process of resolving our differences. I submit that agreeing in process is a much easier problem to solve than that of substance, yet we are seeing in particular in many political issues a lack of any attempts to even deal with issues of process.

Our society has several excellent well established processes for resolving differences among politicians and lawmakers. This process of adversarial review is multifaceted and consists of submitting ones views to the various checks and balances of executive, legislative and judicial review but also to adversarial review by the media and ultimately the public. This adversarial review is at the very core of liberal democracies and provides a defined process for resolving complicated issues with substantial disagreement. Unfortunately, what we see is a willful subversion of this process and attempts to place certain issues outside of this process.


Case in point is the issue of executive powers. Obama's Department of Justice recently has been attempting to pressure a case being dropped that could raise questions about presidential assassination hit lists. Now, there are clearly (at least) two sides to a debate on the merits of executive powers. However, regardless of which side one is on we should hopefully agree that this question should be submitted to the full process of adversarial review available if needed. Part of that process is letting courts examine the issues and rule on the extent of these executive powers. With regards to black sites, rendition, suspension of haebus corpus, etc., one can disagree on their justification but we should find it much easier to agree on the need to submit these issues and many more to full adversarial review. The Obama administration has followed the Bush administration in both using all of these tactics (despite campaign promises to the contrary) and making sure to keep them outside of the purview of both domestic and international review processes. The same is true in Canada to a more limited extent where the so called Afghan detainee political issue involves attempts by the Harper administration to prevent adversarial review of this issue. In general the catch all excuse that submitting to adversarial review could endanger people through releasing classified info is used whenever possible even when this is a blatantly spurious claim. Take for instance the recent wikileaks event regarding Afghanistan where the establishment repeatedly asserted its dangers despite that the NYT, Wikileaks and others involved spent enormous effort to meticulously redact any such possible info.

This idea has some merit in resolving moral issues by taking a certain level of relativism. Acknowledging that a fundamental moral disagreement exists and moving forward to amelioration given the assumption that the moral disagreement itself won't be solved is often a far more realistic a goal. As an easy example consider religious relativism. Most adherents of any given faith are convinced of their exclusive veracity yet the process of freedom of religion has in many places ameliorated this conflict. For a harder example, take the highly contentious issue of abortion. Chances are for many people entrenched in this issue that changing their core moral beliefs simply isn't going to happen. However, one needs to ask the question: Given that there are large groups with a disagreeing moral position how best do we ameliorate this situation. I would submit that choosing to let each group act according to their moral beliefs is the appropriate process and not having one impose their belief on the other through strength of numbers or political will. I say this is a "hard" example because the resolution process I outlined directly supports one view, the prochoice view. That said, the process - letting disagreeing moral groups act independently and not imposing ones view on another - is both a good process and one we all use in many other situations such as with religious relativism and as such should we agree on its legitimacy as a process in general its application to abortion in specific should follow.

The spirit of this point extends of course far beyond the above example considering political or moral disputes and has practical implications I think even in day to day life. Simply agreeing to processes such as "talking it out", localized democratic actions (at a home owners association, say) or submitting to authoritative adjudication such as a boss or courts are all things where we can agree on a process to resolve the substance we do not agree on. Far too often we become entrenched in our views and only agree to process when we have preconceived that the process will support our cause. We ought to agree and support the process for its own sake - beforehand being ideally - in order to ameliorate our differences.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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1 comment:

agmk said...

Check out Jon Stewarts speach at the Rally to Restore Sanity. Very similar in theme.

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