Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Conservative, a Liberal, and a Libertarian Walked into a Bar

You already know this is a joke and that it will not end well!
      For one thing, Conservatives, liberals and libertarians don’t go to the same bar. Heck, they don’t even live in the same zip codes. If they did meet in a bar and would decide to actually speak to one another though, they would soon discover they speak different languages.
     So their conversation would soon descend into a black hole. They might keep talking but their words would no longer connect with anything.  
            Its like that old joke about a ball player named Who. Every time the announcer informs the audience that “Who is on first base,” his listeners think he is asking a question: “who is on first base?”
            If the audience doesn’t understand that the first baseman is from another country, they won’t know what the sports announcer is saying. If they are close enough to actually speak with that announcer, they will tell him they don’t know who is on first base. But the announcer will simply repeat what he said the first time, perhaps with a touch of frustration, “Who is on first base!”
Once again his listeners will repeat that they don’t know who is on first base. And so on.
It doesn’t take too much of that kind of misunderstanding to bring people to tears or blows. At very least, they will each walk away thinking the other is not quite right, that he perhaps took too many drugs in college or something.
            This is why Aristotle said the first step of a productive conversation is to define our terms.
            The conservative, liberal and libertarian might begin their conversation by asking one another to define “liberty,” “government,” and “common good,” for example.
The same process might help Catholic, Protestants and Orthodox Christians.
            As in political discussions, most arguments about theology and scripture would end before they began if each party would simply stop to define their terms.
            Understanding another's point of view requires getting under the hood of the different way we use language. Undoubtedly, a conservative, liberal and libertarian have real differences. But some of these apparent differences are really about language, not about actual concepts. Once we discover the different ways we use language, examining our other differences can actually be interesting. Sometime, we even learn something by examining a different perspective.
            This works for movies and books too. Once we identify the core principal of a work we can profit from spending time with it. 

When we read a book -- including the bible, by the way -- none of us just read what's there. Before we open the pages of a book, we have already been shaped by the opinions of our family, friends and culture.  Meanwhile, our neighbor, opening the very same book, has already been shaped in a different way. This means we may each read the same book through entirely different grids. Trying to converse about what we have read without understanding the nature of the different grids we read it through dooms most conversations.  

           We end up shouting, “you idiot – WHO IS ON FIRST BASE?????”
And our opponent storms out of the room, mumbling about our mother’s ancestry.   
            So if a conservative, liberal and libertarian actually do decide to converse about something, perhaps national security VS individual rights, they better stop for a moment to define their terms.
            And for God’s sake they must not drink.
            Someone will get hurt.

            It may be poor Mr. Who who was just innocently hanging out on first base. 


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