"In the rest of the world, the two things that you can't talk about are religion and politics. In Ireland the only things we talk about are religion and politics."
- Larry Mullen Jr., the drummer for U2
Well, that little gem explains why I love U2 so much. As a practicing Christian who is generally interested in the outside world, I find that the music and the message put forth by U2 inspire me in a way that no other band's work does.
I could ramble on for another couple hundred pages about how wonderful U2 is, but instead I'll lament the fact that it's really hard to have meaningful discussions about politics and religion. Actually, I'll probably just concentrate on political discussions here, since other issues come up when one wants to discuss religion.
In short, it seems like many people (myself included, sometimes) have a very difficult time dissociating individuals (including their own selves) from the opinions that these individuals hold. Disagreements about a particular policy or course of action usually result from the different weights two individuals might give to a given set of priorities or a different interpretation of a given set of circumstances, but they end up being extrapolated into attacks on character. Sometimes such attacks reach the point where both sides end up disagreeing about basic facts and end up calling each other liars. (Big Media seems to be a popular target -- liberals believe that the media are conservatively biased, and conservatives believe that the media are liberally biased. Go figure.)
The last paragraph was awfully abstract, so I'd better illustrate it with an example. We'll use everyone's favorite topic, the war in Iraq.
There are, I hope, a number of things on which we can agree:
- Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath party were a bunch of tyrants who could only be deposed by force.
- The total casualties, civilian and military, during major combat operations were remarkably few.
- Much of Iraq's infrastructure (physical, economic, social) is in shambles, and the country as a whole faces a long rebuilding process.
- As evidenced by protests and continuing attacks on troops, there are some people on the ground who don't want the US there.
There are other things that are not clearly known, such as:
- Are the protests and attacks on troops indicative of popular sentiment, or are they the last-gasp actions of marginalized groups of Ba'ath party remnants and other extremists in Iraq?
- How long will the reconstruction of Iraq take, and how much will it cost?
So one could argue, as I do, that the removal of Saddam and the reconstruction of a liberal society in Iraq were a moral imperative. On the other hand, one could argue that cultural and logistical difficulties in rebuilding Iraq, combined with the possibility of further blowback in the war on terrorism, made it unwise to invade Iraq. These and other arguments can then be debated on their foundations.
But instead we have been polarized into two distinct camps -- the imperialistic, brutish, bloodthirsty conquerors versus the cowardly, naive appeaseniks. Such is the level to which intellectual discourse has sunk in our age.