This, says my friend Henry, is where my “grasp of the obvious” kicks in: People who look at the world from the bottom up have a very different view from those who look at it from the top down. Despite my empathetic efforts to do so, I don’t know what life looks like from the bottom, and that may explain why I am always losing political arguments with my friends. For to us, life presents a series of rational choices. We may disagree on particular solutions: whether to build a fence along the Rio Grande or offer citizenship to undocumented immigrants; whether to address unemployment or the deficit. But we seek rational and coherent solutions because we know that when reason breaks down, chaos results.
But my arguments founder on a world that refuses to cooperate. In Burma, the generals end 50 years of unholy repression that pitted neighbor against neighbor, and now in the city of Meiktila rampaging Buddhists (itself an oxymoron) slaughter their Muslim neighbors; while today in Detroit, a state-appointed manager, whose independence from community stakeholders is supposed to make him impartial, tries to resuscitate a city near death.
For the people in Meiktila and in Detroit, the big picture, the rational solution, is often hard to see, when what they are trying to do is survive. So when we ask them to understand the long-term benefits of whatever plan we impose, we need to do all we can to understand the pain it will inflict