Jun 30, 2008

we, me, you, and James Dobson

Recently James Dobson took umbrage with Barack Obama's notion that a person of faith, in a democracy, has to offer claims in support of her position without appealing to exclusively religious arguments. Dobson was blasted, and rightfully so, for twisting Obama's words into a claim that people of faith were somehow barred from introducing legislation offensive to nonbelievers.

The brouhaha illustrates the difference between democratic means and ends. For Dobson, democracy is not a value. It is a tool, effective or no, for producing valued ends. The pluralism held dear by those who value democracy in itself is, for Dobson, an unfortunate aspect of a messed up world. Thus, it's no surprise to me that Dobson would fundamentally (and some say maliciously) misinterpret Obama's words.

Two letters to today's Olympian illustrate Obama's point. Daniel Shaw, in the first:
Our national consciousness must rise above the "me" and start thinking in terms of "we." By voting yes for levies, you vote for the collective "we" and the world of tomorrow. By voting no, you vote for more intellectually challenged leaders who will run, control and decide your future.
Debra Brown, describing a road rage incident where no one stopped to help:
Here's the kicker: According to authorities, not ONE person called 9-1-1 to report the incident; not ONE person stopped to assist her, and it all happened during the morning commute!

What has this world come to?

When you see someone who needs help, PLEASE do yourself a favor and pay it forward.
Emphasis added in both examples.

Whether they're conscious of it, each writer is making a communitarian appeal couched in self-interested language. It's good for all of us won't sell it; It's good for you will. After all, if both writers are correct in their assessment that American society is fundamentally selfish, there's no other way.

1 comment:

Scott Overpeck said...

Great insight. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Not every difference of opinion is a difference of principle."