Non-Partisan Thinking

The term “partisan” can refer equally to someone who believes in a particular ideology or cause very strongly, or someone who arms themselves and hides out forests, caves, abandoned buildings, or other tactically significant locations to take pot shots at their perceived enemy.

This etymological parallel is no mistake, as ardent support of a cause can lead to the literal or figurative militarization of belief.

Over time, our sincere convictions can become distorted into something we didn’t intend for them to become, each step making sense in isolation, but the eventual outcome unrecognizable to our former, non-radicalized selves.

Non-partisanship, in contrast, is a balance point somewhere in the middle; in the no man’s land between extremes.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean believing nothing and it doesn’t mean giving up what you believe, or pretending to believe something from “the other side.”

Being non-partisan on a subject like Brexit or Trump or climate refugees doesn’t mean—if you voted Remain—to decide that you must also believe that leaving the European Union is a good idea. It doesn’t mean, if you voted Leave, to pretend that you think Remaining is also a good idea. It just means allowing yourself to be aware of nuance, of good arguments from the perceived other side, and to incorporate that awareness into your words and actions.

Rather than falling into lockstep with your chosen group, only chanting platform-approved slogans and repeating party talking points like some kind of automaton, being non-partisan means having beliefs, but being open to information that contradicts those beliefs. It means allowing yourself to consider that information and then either reaffirming or changing your beliefs appropriately.

Non-partisanship means, quite often, being willing to argue your point of view, but also seeking out and understanding the best arguments from the perceived other side of things. It means steelmanning the opposition rather than strawmanning them, and it means changing your mind if the facts or your understanding of the facts changes, and to then adjust your actions, if warranted.

This doesn’t imply you should ignore horribleness or justify behaviors or ideas you consider to be repugnant: if anything, acknowledging nuance allows you to become more aware of the specifics of such ideas, cognizant of why others might consider them to be valid, able to see the world from that alternative point of view, and thus, more capable of combating such ideas and behaviors appropriately.

Non-partisanship means recognizing that your perception of the other side, both the ideas that are held and the people who hold them, is shaped in large part by circumstance. And however much knee-jerk disdain or disbelief you might feel about how they see the world, they almost certainly feel the same about you and your ideas.

Non-partisanship is about allowing yourself to perceive the meta-reality of the situation whenever possible—what life looks like outside the boundaries of this one ideological conflict—and then integrating that knowledge into the conflict itself, maybe even changing the previously understood nature of the conflict, as a consequence.

Every single one of us is massively more vulnerable to manipulation when we’re riled up: our emotions are leashes by which other people can lead us wherever they like.

If we can be made to feel outrage, to feel love for those who seem to share our opinions and hate or pity for those who do not, we can be convinced to do a great many things that do not align with our personal values. Partisanship can cause us to lose ourselves as we become part of a tribe, discarding what makes us distinct—including our sense of morality and values—in the process.

Being non-partisan does not mean having weak beliefs or no beliefs: it means being more aware of the full spectrum of possible beliefs, less biased overall, and more willing to accept that the truth of most matters will be cluttered and imperfect, rather than cleanly black and white the way so many ideological entities would have us believe.

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