First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for the kind words, comments and discussion that my post before Christmas produced. I certainly DO intend to return top the topic of Gun Rights/Gun Control, and in fact I have a couple of ideas for posts in my head now.
But I thought I start the year by linking to this great column in the New York Times by Ross Douthat, who is almost always worth reading.
In it he urges us to read outside our comfort zone, to read those we disgree with and to read about stuff that isn't "our thing".
As a "Anglo-American", I'd especially agree with his urging people to step entirely outside their own national arena. As I settled into the USA, one of the first things I realised was just how innaccurate, and at times totally infair, the portrayal of certain things about the USA in most of the British media is. The same is true to some extent in reverse, though in the USA the problem is more often what Bill Bryson described as "a magic trick any foreigner in America can do - open a newspaper and watch your country disappear!" I also realised pretty soon that if I was going to take any interest in American politics that was both fair and serious, I would have to engage and grapple with ideas that simply barely exist within the spectrum of British political discussion. Personally, I feel doing so did me a world of good: it forced me to go back to first principles, to examine my fundamental beliefs about issues such as the nature of freedom, the role of the state, the way the law works, and so on. In my not-so-humble opinion, one of the major problems of modern political discussion is that we so very, very rarely go back to first principles. Most of our political debates have been re-hashed a thousand times, and we soon fall into pre-set lines, running down the train tracks of our party or ideology's beliefs, never really stopping to think. Having to grapple with radically new ideas forces us to do that - if we're being honest at all, that is.
So, if you're a progressive Brit, spend some time on National Review Online, being exposed to intelligent US Conservatism. Read Douthat, Hanson, Lopez... and when you find yourself inclined to shout "that's ridiculous you right-wing bastard!!!", THAT is when to stop and ask yourself WHY is it ridiculous? How would I explain why I disagree to a ten-year old? Assuming the writer is not an idiot, what fundamentally different belief about the world has caused him to reach conclusions I find ridiculous? What do I think about that belief? If its ridiculous, how would I prove that? If its not, can I see how his conclusions follow from his premise logically? Hmmmmm...
And the same, of course, the other way round. If you're a US Conservative, get thee over to the New Statesman and read some centre-left UK perspective. And when you want to scream "you delusional leftie!", ask yourself the questions above.
Here's to a more inquiring, more informed 2013...