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Friday, March 4, 2011


No doubt most members of Solipsist Nation have seen this image before, but, if you haven't, what do you see? A young woman turned away from the viewer's gaze? Or an old lady in a shawl? If you can only see one, here's the explanation: The young lady's "ear" is the old lady's "eye"; the young lady's "jawbone" is the old lady's "nose"; and the young lady's "choker" is the old lady's "mouth." Apparently, they can both afford a fur coat.
When people first look at the picture, they see one of these two images. Indeed, it can sometimes be tricky to see the "other" image at first. We suppose psychologists have some theory about what one's initial interpretation of the picture says about the inner life of the observer, but that's not what interests us here. We're more interested in the fact that, whether you see an old lady or a young one, you're right! This picture is both at the same time.
It's an interesting metaphor for much of civic discourse. When two groups debate a social problem, each side is firmly convinced of the correctness of its position. Abortion is the taking of life; abortion is a personal choice. Unions are vital to the ability of workers to maintain their rights against the forces of capital; unions are a drag on the economy, forcing business executives to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of workers' preferences. US troops should get out of Afghanistan; the US has a responsibility to stay in Afghanistan until the country is able to stand on its own. Each side firmly believes in the rightness of its position and cannot convince the other of its consequent "wrongness."
What if both sides are right? This is not to say that one must agree with everything. But wouldn't more problems get solved if each side of a debate could recognize that--to some extent--their opponents are speaking in "good faith," out of firmly held beliefs that are, in fact, correct. That while some see an old lady, the picture is that of an old woman, and vice versa. If we start from a recognition of each others' facts, then maybe we can achieve some sort of common understanding of each others' opinions. And maybe we can achieve some solutions for the seemingly intractable problems society faces, as long as we recognize that everybody--everybody--is operating from sincerely good intentions.
Well, y'know, except Republicans.

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