I spend a fair amount of time on Youtube and other forum-y places yelling at people to be reasonable. Al Jazzera, because it is probably the world's best news agency at this moment, has stories that cover topics all over the world, with meaningful discussion on the issues of each country (from whether Taiwan's proposed establishment of red-light districts is good social policy to the meaning of democracy in Egypt).
It's tiring yelling at people to be reasonable. By yelling at, I'm more describing how I feel while doing it; at grumpiest, I tend to use heavy sarcasm rather than actually yell. Recently, there was a story on piracy from Somalia threatening Kenya's tourism industry by kidnapping vacationers.
People get very angry at pirates. I'm sympathetic to that anger, and would be happy with a show-no-mercy approach towards them. Unfortunately, reconciling anger and our need to be civilised is not an easy habit, and people out-of-that-habit suggested using nuclear weapons to eradicate the entire population of Somalia. I don't think many of my readers here would accept such an atrocity, and while engaging in such dialogue is exhausting, I did get a nice little pat on the back from a fellow commenter which made it feel all worthwhile, for today.
I think we've got morality in political dialogue all wrong. It's not about good and evil. There's no such thing as good or evil; they're rubbish ideas from myths, perpetuated by stories that want to give us an easy one side to cheer at and another to swing our graggers around at. I still hold that on the individual level, we're best off thinking of these things in terms of discrete values, frameworks synthesised from those values, and what we're willing to do for those frameworks. On the societal level though, we should consider, instead of good versus evil, two separate axes:
- Civilised versus uncivilised - How much we're aiming to uphold the values of civilisation. How much dignity and well-being our preferences are aiming for, and how well-performing our judicial and other institutions would be. This is a complicated matter of philosophy; balancing the good of society versus one's individual good takes good habits, upbringing, and careful thought.
- Craziness (I am looking for a better word for this) - How connected our policies are to reality, and how much structure, planning, and care we're willing to put into them
The first is a matter of upbringing; we need to be raised to hold the torch of civilisation high, and to keep pressing forward with it. The second is a matter of temperment; excessively high-strung personalities will seek catharsis in ways that make them crazy. (Julia Galef's discussion of rationality touches on this) I suspect high rates of social stress (polarisation in society or rapid social change) also contribute to high levels of crazy.