In a recent local election–I won’t say exactly where or when, to protect the innocent–two candidates debated the virtues of allowing the importation of a certain commodity into the local port. One candidate’s position was rather simple: absolutely no importation should be allowed. The other candidate’s position was not so simple: perhaps we should study the matter first, determine the pros and cons of allowing importation, then make a decision when we have more information.
The “no importation” candidate won by a two-to-one margin.
So, what are we Spirited Reasoners to think? Was this election an example of our nation’s growing anti-intellectualism? Was it yet another example of our growing preference for knee-jerk reactions over thoughtful, reflective debate?
I’m not so sure.
I think the problem is that we’ve lost trust in those who claim the Spirited Reasoner label. Was the second candidate really a Spirited Reasoner? Or was he merely a pro-importation wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf the electorate could smell when it chose to vote for the first candidate? We’ll never know. But it’s instructive to wonder about the answer.
More importantly, we should be asking how we can move our debates back to the principles of the Spirited Reasoner without naively accepting any wolf who happens to wear the Spirited Reasoner label.
Perhaps the voters viewed the first candidate as the true Spirited Reasoner, the one who had done his homework carefully, then concluded that importation of the problematic commodity would be a bad idea. Perhaps they wondered why the second candidate, if he were truly the type of Spirited Reasoner he was claiming to be, had not already done the necessary homework when so many facts were already on the table. In other words, why call for a “study” when the relevant facts were already largely known?
The bottom line here, as indicated in the title to this week’s blog post, is that we, as Spirited Reasoners, need to build trust our motivations and methods before we put forward our agendas. Simply claiming that we will make our decisions based upon reason and reflection will not be sufficient to gain the votes of other Spirited Reasoners if they suspect we might use that claim to mask a hidden agenda.
Do we really, really mean it when we say we will base our policy proposals on the guidance we obtain from the best research? Have we really demonstrated that we can change our minds when the relevant facts change? That’s what it’s going to take to win this Spirited Reasoner’s vote.