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The opposite of opposite 

We can be complementary to one another

In response to John Donegan's column, "Hate" (Oct. 22), I would first of all point out that it is not liberals who scare the hell out of him, it is how liberals are depicted by Fox. I would also like to assert that scaring the hell out of people is a two-way street, with many liberals being terrified of conservatives.

The problem is, TV news-tainment long ago figured out that appealing to people's fears is almost as effective as appealing to their more prurient interests. Fear attracts eyeballs—a strategy that has been wildly successful in the more technologically recent employment of "click-bait" on the web.

In recent years, the concept of media bias has been much discussed, with each side (conservatives and liberals) accusing the other of such bias, and of creating "fake news." Until we own up to the fact that both sides are correct, we will continue to be stuck in the nightmare analogy Donegan describes of "two people stuck together in a car fighting over the steering wheel ... ."

While hyper-polarization of our politics has become much worse under the current administration, I would assert that its immediate roots can be traced back to Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America" following the midterm elections in 1994. While the eight "reforms" identified in the contract were quite reasonable, the 10 bills proposed had almost nothing to do with those reform goals. More importantly, the tone of political discourse became more adversarial under Gingrich's leadership.

The situation took another significant turn for the worse under Barack Obama, when Mitch McConnell said (in 2010) that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Instead of focusing on passing legislation for the good of the American people, he was focusing with singular purpose on opposing the opposition party.

However, lest the reader think that I am placing all the blame on the Republicans (or conservatives, as the case may be), I want to make it very clear that I think the roots of our polarization go yet much deeper. I would assert that the fundamental problem we are facing is that as a nation, we have totally succumbed to the notion that politics is necessarily adversarial. I don't know exactly what proportion of our leaders and politicians have been lawyers, but I'm pretty sure it is significant. And here's the rub: Our system of justice is fundamentally adversarial. We speak of "opposing counsel" and of "winning" or (god forbid) "losing" a case. Additionally, our elections are a winner-takes-all affair. Rather than having proportional representation, so each faction has a proportional voice, the losers are effectively silenced.

Can we imagine any other way? Let's take another look at Donegan's car-fighting analogy. I am not a lawyer. Both my husband and I are engineers. Engineers have a completely different way of looking at the world compared to lawyers. We are accustomed to dealing with extremely complex so-called "real-world" problems. Practically all of the problems we tackle are big enough and complex enough that we must form a team to tackle the problem together. We cooperate. We split the problem up into smaller pieces and assign responsibilty, based on each individual's skills and proclivities. And—here's the kicker—we have to respect reality. If we choose to ignore reality, it will come back and bite us: The computer won't run, the rocket won't launch, and the steering wheel we're fighting over will steer us right over the edge of the cliff. Not particularly adaptive, is it?

Donegan also contrasts logic vs. emotion in his somewhat condescending example of Spock (logic) vs. Kirk (emotion) from the original Star Trek. Well, as you might guess, being engineers, both my husband and I have been Trekkies since the beginning. While Donegan apparently thinks that the message of the series was that emotion is superior to logic (an assertion he ridicules), I would contend that the message was rather that both logic and emotion are fundamental aspects of human nature (and Spock's nature, by the way), and that it is the combination of the two that makes us as successful as we are.

And while we are on the subject of science fiction, I confess that I still consider it far and away the best of the entire Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, because it is fundamentally optimistic and benign in its world view: a diverse assortment of beings (including an alien or two) engaged in Exploring the Wonders of the Universe. As the franchise progressed through Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, etc., the weltanschauung shifted from benign exploration to The Fight of Pure Good Against Monstrous Evil. I do not think that progression is accidental.

Regardless of who wins this election, we will most certainly continue to face the same forces of hate and conflict, of fearmongering and power struggles, and as long as we fail to recognize how each and every one of us is complicit in that, we will continue to fear and hate our adversaries, and fail miserably at solving the very real problems we are all facing.

We need to recognize—at long last—that we do not have to be opposites. We can choose to work together, as complementary members of a single team. The opposite of opposite is complement. Δ

Judith Hemenway is from Atascadero. Email your resonse to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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