Cognitive Dissonance

While I generally consider myself a liberal (socially at least, even if I’m generally financially conservative), I enjoy reading about the opposition. Unfortunately, I get the impression that the opposing viewpoints will just never find compromise.

Take this article, for example. Summary: “liberals do not appreciate the seriousness of the terrorism threat”. And maybe we don’t. Sure, 9/11 was a terrible occurrence. But if you consider lives lost to terrorist attacks in the United States over the past 50 years (or whatever), it’s pretty insignificant. Somewhat ironically, we might find that the lives lost in our own retaliation for terrorist attacks (e.g., Afghanistan) might rival or even eclipse that number. (I’m not saying that’s the case; I’ve done no research on this topic.)

This article seems to miss the point on several of its arguments, however. I don’t view Iran as a terrorist threat. Sure, their government has a nuclear weapons program. But that has very little to do with terrorism, unless, of course, Iran plans to arm terrorist groups, an accusation for which I believe there is no evidence. Iraq also has nothing to do with terrorism. Saying you are against the war in Iraq has nothing to do with your stance on fighting terrorism.

So all that’s left is the attempt to make fun of the liberal mindset on preserving due process and civil liberties:

Liberals: Stop the illegal wiretapping and torture! Conservatives: Hah! Stupid bastards, we just prevented a terrorist attack based on what you call illegal wiretapping and torture!

Maybe liberals are just idealists? Maybe some liberals are willing to allow a couple attacks to succeed if the only way to stop them involves an unacceptable erosion of rights? It’s hard to draw the line. What if I were a passenger on one of the planes earmarked for destruction? Could I honestly say I’d rather die than to be preemptively saved through means I find reprehensible? I’m not sure I could. Would I, as a potential policy-maker, be willing to make that decision for others? I don’t know.

I’m often torn on the point of emotional detachment. On one hand, I feel like policy decisions should be made without regard to anything but the cold hard facts. Is A, B, and C an acceptable consequence of doing D and E, based solely on numbers and an objectively measured effect? In this case, are lost lives worth the preservation of what I consider essential liberties: reasonable expectations of privacy and due process? For me, the answer is a resounding yes.

But on the other hand, there’s always a human element. We are emotional creatures. An objective, emotionless response to a problem may seem neat and tidy from a logical perspective, but ignoring how people (including yourself) feel about any particular decision doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. People will have an opinion – often a stong emotionally-driven opinion – on any decision that has the potential to affect lives. Even if I can say that yes, I’d be willing to sacrifice lives for an ideal, that’s too abstract. What if one of those lives turns out to be someone I care about? But does that even matter? Greater good and all that?

I’m not sure where else I’m trying to go with this. Maybe nowhere.