Keep politics from getting personal

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Personal belief is a horrible basis for making laws.

The problem with personal belief is that it is individual.  We don’t all think alike; American society has always been structured around this notion of individual freedom — including the freedom to think for yourself.

Any policy based solely upon one’s own personal feelings, beliefs or moral code is only going to appeal to those who share similar beliefs.  If your belief system forbids tea or coffee, a ban isn’t going to go over well with others.

Personal belief is a horrible basis for making laws.

The problem with personal belief is that it is individual.  We don’t all think alike; American society has always been structured around this notion of individual freedom — including the freedom to think for yourself.

Any policy based solely upon one’s own personal feelings, beliefs or moral code is only going to appeal to those who share similar beliefs.  If your belief system forbids tea or coffee, a ban isn’t going to go over well with others.

This is not to say that one’s personal beliefs must not play a role in our national discourse.  We are not robots, after all. Debates do get heated and emotions run high. The question is, to what degree should we allow our beliefs and emotions to enter into the discussion?

Years ago, political strategists discovered that fear was an extremely strong motivator to convince people to vote a certain way.  Just find the right fear and play on that — fear of crime to get people to support more police, more jails, stiffer penalties and more guns; fear of invasion to get people to support military action, military spending or security measures.

Of course, fear is frequently not reasonable, logical or sensible. Unfounded fear can trick a person into making poor decisions. That is one pitfall of relying too heavily on gut feelings and personal belief.

Fear often goes together with racism, another potentially powerful political tool. Like fear, racism is negative — it can only lift one up by pushing everyone else down.

Racism is also 100 percent emotional. It has zero basis in biology, anatomy or factual logic.  The same goes for sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia or any other kind of bigotry you can name. We’ve seen where legal bigotry leads — “whites only” signs and other blatantly unfair systems.

If we want to add personal belief to public debate, we should be prepared to back it up with cold, hard facts and logic.

For example, I personally believe that smoking is a disgusting habit.  However, I can point to plenty of studies which show that it is not only disgusting, but dangerous to human health — and not just directly dangerous to the smoker, but indirectly to others. If that’s not enough evidence to back up smoking laws, there’s also the fact that smoking-related diseases are a burden on our health care system.

The environment can evoke powerful emotions. We want to protect birds, butterflies, polar bears and apes.  People like the natural environment and find beauty in our forests, mountains, streams, deserts and oceans. That’s all well and good, and it can fuel a campaign, but there’s a better argument.

We are the environment. When we dump toxic trash into our water, we are poisoning ourselves.  Every gallon of gasoline that we pump adds to the smog that we breathe. The facts of global warming and climate change are backed by years of research. The proof is in the atmosphere, in carbon dioxide levels, in smog levels, in sea level rise and more.

Fixing this mess will not be cheap. It will require wind and solar alternatives to dirty coal; using that energy to power clean, electric rail; and dozens of other changes. But the cost of doing nothing is even higher.

When faced with “inconvenient truths,” we can try to ignore the evidence. Or we can deal with the facts.

James Fujita is a former GVN news editor. He works as a copy editor for the Visalia Times-Delta in California’s Central Valley. Fujita can be contacted at jim61773@yahoo.com

Keep politics from getting personal