In the lecture “The Age of Uncertainty” given by Emma Bonino she was asked more or less the same question four times. The question asked in each case, at least from my understanding, was “How do we convince those against the EU to change their minds?” In each case she answered the same. Paraphrased she said “be proud to believe in the European project and do not be shy in showing it”. I know that for at least some of us in the room this answer was inadequate. No one challenged her on the matter likely because of her authority and apparent reverence among Italians and pro-Europeans. And in her defense, perhaps she is not the person to ask.
Why is this answer inadequate? We know that nowadays people have an essentially unlimited access to information. Nevertheless, most are woefully uninformed on every public issue, there is widespread distrust of information, and yet our beliefs have, in contradistinction, become further solidified on a foundation of subconscious emotions. And how is it possible that standing unflinchingly in your beliefs could ever convince another whose beliefs are mutually exclusive from yours and furthermore, the other even has information, real or not, to justify their views and delegitimize yours? Everyone has been standing for their beliefs with more and more rigidity these days. And if Trump made one thing clear, it is that standing for a belief is all that is needed for them to also be legitimate.
How can the pro-EU camp or the Left (or even their opposition) expect to make gains by using the discourse strategy of “I believe [insert belief] because [insert ideological/transcendental reasoning]”? In my opinion, politics desperately needs to professionalize beyond this vulgar approach of finding the loftiest, most aspirational, and ultimately most meaningless concepts and then identifying them with ‘humanity’ or large demographic concepts (e.g. white, black, immigrant, native, right, left, nationalist, etc.).
A Philosophical Consideration
In philosophy and anthropology there is a school of thought that can be broadly called pragmatism. The school is characterized by the absence of description using ideology or transcendental reasoning. It focuses on symbols and values that people have, but does not claim that any is right or wrong or could ever be proven one way or the other. Pragmatism is fatalist in the sense that one will never prove their beliefs to be true. But this frees one from focusing on right and wrong and the moral concepts that are associated with each judgment. Instead, pragmatism looks to create solidarity not through the battle of ideologies and moralities, but through other means. Its political implications are exemplified in the following text from Richard Rorty, a pragmatist philosopher:
Convinced that there is no subtle human essence which philosophy might grasp, they do not try to replace superficiality with depth, nor to rise above the particular in order to grasp the universal. Rather, they hope to minimize one difference at a time – the difference between Christians and Muslims in a particular village in Bosnia, the difference between blacks and whites in a particular town in Alabama, the difference between gays and straights in a particular Catholic congregation in Quebec. The hope is to sew such groups together with a thousand little stitches – to invoke a thousand little commonalities between their members, rather than specify one great big one, their common humanity. –Richard Rorty, 1999.
I think that this methodological shift makes for a good starting point in creating a useful political dialogue. It is not focused on who is right and who is wrong, what policy is right and what policy is wrong, but merely attempts at looking what banal but real things we agree on that may make us tolerable of our differences.
This article is the first part of a series of philosophical articles on political discourse by our contributor Jed Eix. The next part will present more concrete examples of forms of political discourse as well as real-world approaches.