THE PROBLEM OF IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

The Issue

Consider the following, James Young (author of the SkepticalObservor) response to Eric’s comment (here).

I am constantly amazed by those who endorse the nonsensical notion that there is no such thing as irreconcilable difference. Even more amazing is their unjustified attitude of moral superiority, when a more apt posture would be one of moral indifference. (from here)

When somebody insists upon having things their own way and another person vehemently objects, those people either have to find a compromise or one of them has to give way. When neither party can agree upon any such resolution, we consider their differences irreconcilable.

Irreconcilable differences are the province of our legal system. When we are unwilling to settle our differences without the aid of lawyers, we turn to the courts. In “civil” disputes, we sue. In “uncivil” disputes, policemen investigate, make arrests, and book suspect(s). Prosecutors then seek convictions, and judges sentence the “guilty” — all because someone would not accept the fact they could not have things their own way.

Differing Perspectives On Irreconcilable Differences

When a man burgles your house, he knows that burglary is illegal. His resolution to that problem is to avoid getting caught. Your resolution is to call the police.  A judge brings “peace” to this conflict by using force. He sentences the burglar to jail time.

Similarly, political entities have irreconcilable differences. Israelis have one view of the Middle East conflict and Palestinians have another. Unless, both parties can agree upon a resolution acceptable to the other party, military force provides the only viable means of resolving the conflict.

Civil war occurs when a culture war within a society escalates to the point of violence — when verbally sparring, frustrated participants can no longer agree to disagree. About 150 years ago, our Civil War became uncivil. Because the North and the South had different views of and on slavery —  irreconcilable views — they fought over slavery.

Today we argue over the purpose of government. Conservatives fear the overreaching power government, the same government Liberals see as the solution for many social ills. Will that difference in world views escalate into violence? We can pray it will not, and we can work to reconcile our differences. Nonetheless, just as the issue of slavery involved moral imperatives, so does today’s culture war.

A Failure To Communicate

We live in the midst of a culture war. That is, we do not all uniformly share the same world view. We have differing understandings both of how things do work and of how things should work. Hence, when Conservatives and Liberals discuss politics and religion, our discussions often involve four-letter words. Because we see the world and our problems so differently, we cannot agree what to do. That is, we have irreconcilable differences.

Consider the root difference between Conservatives and Liberals.

  • Conservatives believe we have inherent rights given to us by our Creator. Conservatives believe government exists to protect God-given rights.
  • Liberals believe we enact laws to define the rights we want. Liberals believe government exists to give us rights granted by Law.

Thus, when Conservatives and Liberals talk about rights, we use the same word to mean different things. Hence, we talk pass each other, and that is only one example.

Since Conservatives and Liberals too often do not use the same words to mean the same things, we often fail to communicate. Hence, we cannot resolve our differences.

Can Conservatives and Liberals surmount this communications problem?  Yes, of course we can. Unfortunately, merely communicating does not guarantee resolution. So long as the root difference remains, then the reason for the conflict remains. So long as neither side of a dispute wants to compromise or give way, their differences — our differences — must remain irreconcilable.

6 thoughts on “THE PROBLEM OF IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

  1. Tom,

    Again, I think the world is moving past your simplistic black or white comparisons. There are many, many ways to define the terms liberal and conservative and the fact is that it is the fringe minority (albeit vocal and politically influencial minority) that fall into your broadly generalized labels of Conservative and Liberal. Furthermore, there are many shades of gray in between what you view as their irreconcilable positions.

    You would likely consider me a liberal but there are several positions I hold that a left winger may consider me to be conservative. I DO admit to lean more to the left than the right but I know MANY, MANY people with which I largely agree on most issues who admit to leaning more to the right.

    The fact of the matter is that most HUMANS do NOT have irreconciable differences and most humans CAN and DO use open and nonconfrontational communication to come to an agreement on their political differences or at least come to the understanding that they have more in common than they thought and the differences are unimprotant after all – no matter what those on the fringe say on the matter.

    The issue that you and those that see these differences as unreconciable have is that you fully define yourselves as human beings by your political stance/position and not on your own independent definiton of self. To you there is only “us” and “them” and no “me” and “you”. This is a sad thing, imo.

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    1. Eric – Because you cannot define either “Conservative” or “Liberal”, I am not allowed to use the terms?

      The point of the post has to do with its title, not defining you or anybody else.

      What you have done is illustrate one reason why our differences can be so irreconcilable. You have an agenda that matters to you. When we have an agenda that matters too much, we seek to make what we want to happen happen at any price.

      Look back over history. Up to a point, we humans can get along. Yet war is a common occurrence. Corrupt, authoritarian societies remain the norm, not the exception.

      Even our own nation began because of irreconcilable differences and nearly ceased to exist because of irreconcilable differences. The American Revolutionary War happened because King George insisted upon more authority than the American colonists were willing to concede. The Civil War began because the South insisted upon slavery. Yet from its founding, our nation spent decades trying to avoid conflict. Read the Federalist Papers. The Founders justified the Constitution as a means of avoiding conflict. Nonetheless, in spite of their best efforts, and the worthy efforts of their successors, civil war eventually erupted.

      Like it or not, sometimes people will not accept a compromise, and it does no good to pretend people have reconciled their differences when clearly they have not.

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      1. I am humbled, Tom, that you found some much to say about my rather brief comment.

        The real problem today is that there a cohort which still holds dear the Constitution and its guarantees and processes, and one which does not, the latter, mostly as a product of our pathetic system of civic education.

        I am less sanguine than you about our changes of avoiding armed conflict.

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  2. Tom, In the end, it is usually the extremists that find their positions to be irreconcilable with the position of others. The problems come in when those extremists try to convince others (sometimes successfully) that their more moderate positions are also irreconcilable with moderate positions held by others and that the only recourse is violence – something you alluded to in your original post.

    Radical/extremist positions are the work of darkness and should be held up to the light whenever possible.

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    1. Eric – Extremists? Radicals? No. Most of the wrong done in this world is done by ordinary people. For example, villages, tribes, nations, and alliances make war, not radicals or extremists.

      Unfortunately, it takes too little effort to persuade people towards evil. Without ever being taught, we learn to rationalize. And many we honor as our leaders — they will happily assist those who follow them through graduate school. Thus, many ordinary citizens well know how proudly justify that which they rightfully should consider hideously repugnant.

      Look carefully at our history. Is it not full of stories of how men exploited their neighbors, their families, even their own children. And what does our society call progress? Because we still to some degree honor the concept of liberty, we call it progress when some people escape enslavement (at least to some degree) by the ruling class.

      Are rulers extremists? Only in the statistical sense. Are they radicals? Of course not.

      Why do you want to believe the enemy of “progress” is a radical or an extremist? Why do you want to believe most people are good? Because I once believed the same, I think I know. Without such a belief, you cannot easily support your belief in the perfectibility of man by men. Without such a belief, we cannot justify forcing and pressuring others to believe what we believe — so they too will be perfected.

      Listen to our great ruler, Barack Obama. When he campaigned for the presidency, didn’t he offer to transform our society? An yet he has found progress so very difficult? Why? Is it not because of the great numbers of extremists and radicals who oppose his plans?

      Because it teaches men cannot perfect man, that is one reason so many Utopian dreamers reject the Bible. The Bible teaches that we have an evil nature need redemption. The Bible also teaches that Christ Jesus has already redeemed us. Therefore, to be saved, what we must do is accept the salvation He offers us.

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  3. James — It was a good comment. I am just pleased you enjoyed the post it inspired.

    Am I sanquine about avoiding armed conflict? Well, I might be less sanquine. Because I am concerned about current trends, I have categorized some of my posts with the word “unraveling”.

    Thanks to the bad leadership we have elected, we have made a mess both of our domestic and foreign policies. So, given the lessons of the past, I expect a major armed conflict of some sort. I just don’t whether we will see a foreign conflict, an internal conflict, or — heaven forbid — both.

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