I’d like to introduce you to an obscure but commonsense statement about human nature. It’s called Miles’s law, and it’s contained in a single, simple sentence: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” It originated as an observation about behavior in bureaucracies—that bureaucrats often defend their agencies’ narrow interests over the common good—but it works as a description of how we all tend to form our positions and join our tribes.
French is someone who is a self-described classical liberal, Christian, and conservative. In addition to this, French has been critical of individuals and groups/trends that adopt the label conservative.
I can’t even begin to tell you the number of conferences I attended where at least one person argued, “Conservatives appeal to reason. Progressives appeal to emotion.” And we’d all nod along. Then someone would say, “Conservatives appeal to opportunity and possibility. Progressives appeal to identity.” And we’d applaud.
It all seemed right until it was proved wrong.
Without even realizing it, I had let my experience shape too much of my worldview. Bit by bit, year by year, it had colored my perceptions until I couldn’t see what others could plainly perceive. I had grown so comfortable where I sat that it had made me too secure in where I stood.
I knew racism existed, but like many conservatives I underestimated both its individual prevalence and its systemic effect. I knew angry populists had a persistent presence on the American right, but I underestimated the extent to which their furious spirit had captured Republican hearts, and when push came to shove, the party would choose anger over ideas.
It’s a humbling thing to be wrong. But it’s also eye-opening. It taught me that understanding this nation requires understanding where people sit before we can even begin to debate where they stand. It requires, as much as possible, trying to sit in different spaces, with different people.
I'm pointing to this here on [S][J][P] because not that long ago, I wrote about how it is important to listen to people who don't share one's opinions. I think French is someone who is on the "other side" from me politically. I'm afraid I disagree with many of the things he writes and says, but I think it is important to read/listen to him.
Additionally, I think many people on the left could benefit from adopting French's capacity for being critical of the ideology he subscribes to and emulating his capacity to be critical of individuals and groups/trends on the left that go too far. I also think people on the left could be critical of fellow leftists (generally centrists) who don't go far enough.
I say this because I've seen French be critical without being a blow-hard jerk. He is exceptionally civil. French allows others to speak, and when he responds, he does not reply with scorched Earth vitriol. He is, I think, a model of how one can disagree in ways that are far more likely to be productive than the ways most people disagree in what passes for public discourse today.