When I visit my grandparents this Thanksgiving, I already know one of the questions they’ll ask me: “who are you voting for?” But when they ask me that question, they’ll probably be surprised by my answer: “I don’t know.” For a long time, I made a point to have opinions on everything. I would collect political positions like Pokemon, and try to figure out a clear answer to every question. In retrospect, I was trying to get an easy answer, without regard to whether it was the correct answer.
Of course, I got called out on this. I found that when arguing with other people, my views were often disproven, or worse, I won the argument but came away from it aware that my beliefs were flawed. Instead of addressing these flaws, I pushed them aside; I choose convenience over the truth.
Eventually, I realized this was wrong. I couldn’t keep running away from hard questions. When I dug into them, I realized how truly complex they were. Everything I debated had layers of complexity far beyond what I had seen before. Take, for example, the presidential election. One of the biggest issues in this campaign is health care. To figure out which health care policy is best, a hopeful voter would have to look through studies of other health care systems and how they differ from each other, both in design and in results. They’d have to apply those differences to the US; we can’t assume that all countries have comparable economies. They would have to look at all the different plans proposed and compare them on a level beyond just “how left they are.” If we want universal healthcare, how will it be funded? What will it cover? How long will we take to phase it in? These are questions that can be answered, but not easily, and that’s only for one topic!
It takes time and effort to educate yourself, and most people, myself included, don’t put in that effort. They shouldn’t be judged for that, but as a society, we need to acknowledge how complex the world really is, and how often the best answer can be no answer at all. Of course, this line of thinking can lead us down a dangerous path. If someone abstains from acting until they know enough to be sure, their knowledge isn’t doing anyone any good. The end goal of politics isn’t to be right, it’s to do good. If trying to be perfectly correct impairs your ability to do good, it’s okay to be wrong sometimes.
So where does this leave all of us? Once again, I don’t know. All I know is that it’s easy to think about politics in an oversimplified way that reduces complex issues to talking points. That’s easy, but it can lead to very wrong conclusions.
We can do better by thinking before we act and making sure that what we fight for is the right thing to fight for.