Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rail-Splitter Logic

It would appear my last few posts have been serious. Perhaps a bit too heavy.

I've felt compelled to speak on issues like the Confederate battle flag controversy and recent changes regarding same-sex marriage because these are both issues on which I've found my point of view change over the course of the past decade. Not too long ago I would have described myself as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and conservative. Now, I have a hard time describing where I am politically. I'm not a Democrat. I'm not an independent. I don't really see myself as consistently liberal or conservative as one goes from issue to issue.

There are times when I wonder if my shifting opinions on great political matters indicate that I'm not firm enough in my convictions. There's a chance that is true of my political convictions. I have, for instance, become someone who shamelessly votes my job. There was nothing ideological about my support for the winner of Pennsylvania's most recent gubernatorial election. Perhaps that becomes somewhat ideological when I vote for school board positions in the district where I reside. I guess over the course of my 30s I've learned that I can't simply wait for someone else to look out for my interests. I need to look out for my own.

But what about issues that don't directly affect me, such as the two third-rail issues with which I started this post?

An author of a Lincoln biography I heard back in 2009 spoke about Lincoln's "Rail-splitter" approach to politics. One doesn't merely swing an axe and watch wood come apart with that one swing: splitting rails involves repeated hits of the axe, or the combination of a sledge and a wedge cutting through the wood. On a stubborn piece of wood, the initial split isn't much. But eventually the momentum, the slant of the axe head, the repeated blows split the wood. By extension, on stubborn political dilemmas, the logic of the superior or victorious point of view won't be evident at first, but eventually it ends up carrying the day.

For proof of this, one can look at Lincoln's evolving position on slavery. In his last speech, he called for suffrage for black veterans and other "intelligent" blacks. If we look past our 21st-century notions which would see the inherent white supremacy in this comment we can see a man whose political viewpoint evolved significantly from the early days of his political career when he supported the re-colonization movement.

And along the way, he talked of how a "house divided cannot stand."

Rail-splitter logic.

There have been times in history when stubbornness has been vindicated. Winston Churchill's pre-war stubbornness about Hitler's intentions comes to mind most readily. Yet we often talk in history of individuals whose stubbornness, or apparent stubbornness led to ruin.

I'm aware of my own tendency toward stubbornness. It may take a few years for the logic of a point of view to work through some layers of opposition for me. As I've said before in posts, the quip from John Maynard Keynes that "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" resonates quite a bit with me. Perhaps blogs like this exist as a place for me to verbalize my opinions, even as those opinions shift. And it can also be a place where I articulate the things on which my beliefs have deepened, such as my faith, my affinity for Lutheran theology in particular, how I feel about the nature of kids and how to work with them, what I value as a parent.

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