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The Virtue of Pragmatism: Rational Politics in an Irrational Age

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In an atmosphere dominated by radicals and reactionaries, pragmatism is often derided as being nothing short of the greatest of all evils.

From an objective viewpoint, it is difficult to see exactly how the practice of emphasizing practicality by assigning greater importance to facts rather than sheer emotionalism or infeasible ideals is a bad thing. Indeed, most level heads would consider this to be quite the opposite. The problem is that the American body politic has a permanent infestation of sorts with those who choose to perceive its intricacies in a wholly subjective manner. As they pin their own fears and frustrations onto essentially every political happening, they cannot rationally evaluate what is occurring before their very eyes and, in turn, jump to fantastical conclusions about what might otherwise be considered mundane or manageable. It is the repercussions of their flawed decision making which lead to widespread periods of turbulence, such as the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and, over two hundred years before that, Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts.

It is no easy task to realize that one’s preferred outcome in any situation simply will not come to pass. However, if pragmatism is not utilized to reach a point of agreement acceptable to those concerned, then serious problems are not far off.  A strong argument can be made that the all-or-nothing mentality which many harbor while negotiating is one of the most enduring, destructive forces facing mankind. Should one believe that he or she cannot afford to give an inch under any circumstances, even if there is much to be gained from doing this, then futility is guaranteed. In the case of partisan politics, this is far more destructive than in any other medium, because the daily lives of millions are affected by the decisions of a few. If the few in question negotiate with blind dogmatism and hefty egos, as opposed to logic and open mindedness, then we are all sure to pay the price for their misdeeds.

Pragmatism should be the method of choice for problem solving. While it is sure to leave everybody feeling a bit damper, as none are allowed to have their cake and eat it too, it serves an immensely valuable purpose: resolving immediate quandaries and rooting solutions in reality over theory. As solutions of this nature tend to be sustainable ones, and these are all-but-extinct in modern politics, it is quite hard to ask for anything more.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    Great article, and its point is one that I wish that more of us could agree upon!

    From a purely partisan standpoint, I’m glad you aren’t running the Republican party…for if you were, you’d draw most of the moderates that are presently Democratic-leaning.

    I strongly agree that unwillingness to negotiate, to even give an inch for the sake of doctrine or dogma, is a very, very dangerous political trait…for in the past, such has quite often led to utter tragedy.

  • Cannonshop

    The problem is incrementalism, each ‘pragmatic’ step leading to another compromise until the radical outcome has occurred, but nobody knows HOW.

    The obvious example is the firearms debate-the “Gun community” (loosely termed) gave, and gave and gave, there isn’t much ground LEFT to give before the 2nd Amendment becomes a vestigal organ without meaning to anyone. Likewise with free speech issues-terms have entered teh political lexicon such as “Hate Speech”, and even in places entered the law-the definition of which is so broad and murky, that virtually ANY speech in opposition can be smeared as “Hate Speech”, or “Sedition”, after a certain point in the game, there’s no more room LEFT to be pragmatic and giving, those two are just the most obvious, but there are others, such as 4th Amendment rights, which are constantly being threatened with “Reasonable” restrictions based on “National Security” or “Law Enforcement Needs” (PATRIOT act, Omnibus crime bill of 1988), the right of Habeas Corpus (the requirement that the prosecution prove that a crime occurred, suspended under PATRIOT ACT), and others.

    Point is, you have to wonder if the pragmatic compromise of today, isn’t leading to further erosions and suspensions of individual liberties to-morrow, through equally (at the time) ‘pragmatic’ compromises.

    I guess my point of view here, is that there comes a point where you just have to say “NO”.