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SICKNESS OF THE TIMES: People do not have to agree with one another, but can't they learn to reason?
WHITE is black, and black is white. Lawyers, says Lemuel to his maned master, can with amazing verbal dexterity prove this to be true.
But the stranded traveller is terribly unfair in apportioning credit. The disturbing events in recent days at Dataran Merdeka show that in truth, it is in the realm of politicians and chroniclers that this art of persuading perception is so perfectly mastered and executed.
On the broad and darkly menacing canvas of their cleverness and crudeness are wrought the abominable tentacles of an offspring, which we call partisanship.
Here and everywhere else, we have seen how this "child" works, crippling government and blinding judgment. Strangely, humans allow this insolence to grow in the landscape they call democracy.
Thus in America, too many Republicans who have very little affection for Romney and his ideas, but have much disdain for Obama, will necessarily make amends with the ex-governor come November. They claim to take offence at the Democrat's policies, but really, they just desire to put the GOP back in the White House, whoever or whatever the candidate is.
The Republicans will disagree. But I will not be troubled by this, for almost all who are always partisan will disagree, too. They are on the people's side, as is their cause, so they plead.
Can they be wrong? Indeed, for their incessant partisanship betrays them. To be sure, they are not darlings. Nancy L. Rosenblum, in On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship, wrote: "Disgust with parties as 'unscrupulous power groups' and moral disdain for partisans as 'little more than a Conspiracy of Self-Seekers' dominate the history of political thought, and contemporary thinkers have not dissented from that view."
In fact, the Harvard professor defends partisanship, quite adeptly too. But I cannot see anything except gridlock and logjams when the spirit of division is present in legislature and government, or when adherence to the party line becomes less a matter of discipline than a preservation of position.
In America again, these unhappy events are quite apparent. In the New York Times recently, Friedman unhappily details how partisanship is becoming "more venomous than ever" and how it is combining with several factors to "paralyse our whole system".
Perhaps the reason for this blight is because we cannot disown the legacy of the Tower of Babel, a divine act to "confound their (humanity's) language, that they may not understand one another's speech". Thus, whether we speak one language or more, we cannot see eye to eye, and if an elephant stands in front of us, we are bound to disagree that it does.
A long time ago I thought only politicians were infected with this infirmity, but in my wandering and wondering I have come to see that even the common folk are bending this way or that way, never willing and able to change how they think about others.
For them, being right is important. Alas, you are right only if you are on the right side, i.e. their side. Otherwise, you would be vilified as pro-government or opposition.
So, a senator is admonished not because he uttered what he believed to be right, but because he annoyed his party chieftain. And some are mocked and rejected not for the merit of their articulation, but for the fact they are in the employ of an organisation perceived as pro-establishment.
And so it is with the Bersih rally that unsettled so many. There are photographs and episodes enough to make for more than a few tales, but almost every acquaintance seems to be reading just one story and seeing one photograph, and thereupon coming to judgment. And it shall be said by them, over and over, "we are right and they are wrong".
Can any good come of this poisonous atmosphere? Must partisanship, which speaks of allegiance to individuals and parties and self-interest and madness, be our creed? Cannot we be genuinely and intensely loyal to ideals and ideas that put people above self?
Yet, in this great blue Earth, we are not to shy away from disagreement. Why, even King Solomon wrote: "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."
His purpose is vastly different from ours, though. In his great wisdom, contending minds will create new insights, new clarity. But too many people nowadays take delight in tearing into others only because "they are on the other side".
If a person is white as snow, then black as hell's spawn must he be painted. And if he is black, make him look like a saint. If his colour is unknowable, do what you must to make him appear as you want him to.
The rally and its misfortunes are but symptoms. The curse, as the horse in Houyhnhnm implicitly puts it, is in humanity's warped minds.