“Consensus building” is the rallying cry of the day lately. It is a blanket buzzword. It begins all political discussions; it ends all arguments. Most everyone has caught the fever and appears unflinchingly, unquestioningly aligned with this grand new mission of creating consensus. But I must be one of the dull ones, for I still harbor doubts.
My doubts originate not so much from the failings of any particular political plan, though there are many. Rather, it is this silly and childlike preoccupation with consensus building – no matter, it seems, what the particular issue or plan that is being debated – that troubles me.
Far too frequently, I meet grown adults who happily maintain this curious conviction that consensus building must be our central focus, for without this blessed, sublime unity we have no hope of escaping our country’s current dilemmas.
I have begun to wonder whether certain adults are not more like children than they realize. Many appear to believe that dear Santa will come and give us all the presents and jobs we want (and deserve) if we all just believe hard enough in the magic of unity. Of course, people like me, who haven’t embraced the holiday spirit are the most despised crowd at this time of the year. After all, it is our lack of simple faith which, by all reason, prevents Santa’s joyful arrival, right?
While I hate to think that I or any other sullen soul would be accused of keeping Santa at bay, I fear my condition is quite irreversible. My feet are stolidly cemented in the rude elements of reality, and, as a result I (shockingly) believe that there are several other aspects to be considered when assessing the potential success of a political endeavor; things like viability, rationality, budgetary and ethical constraints, etc.
When did majority belief and affirmation become a necessary requirement for a political plan’s success? Consensus seekers seem more concerned with consensus than they are with the actual plan itself. Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse? Isn’t it wiser to first subject political proposals to public scrutiny and debate and then, after several concessions and revisions, perhaps argue for consensus?
My thoughts on this aren’t overly obstinate. I simply want the merits of any proposal discussed openly in a climate of speculation, caution and even hostility. Is that too much to ask for in the marketplace of ideas? Or has even this modest standard of reasoning fallen out of popularity?
Maybe I should simply accept that debate is dead and meaningless, that the marketplace is no longer one where ideas and values are discussed and argued, measured and weighed. In one sense, those who argue for consensus above all else and seem utterly unconcerned with arguing the merits or demerits of various proposals are perfectly justified. For there is only one idea which seems to penetrate the fog of today’s mainstream market, and that is whether or not the government should solve our crisis in this manner or that.
Forgive me, but as an independent thinker, I consider this to be a rather limited menu of choices. And if you will find it in your hearts to pardon an even greater sin, perhaps you won’t judge me too harshly for holding fast to the singularly mad and unorthodox (but wholesome) view that the government is not the solver of all problems.
My argument is quite the opposite: I believe the government to be the multiplier of problems, the builder of burdens and history’s chief instigator of strife and sorrow. I further believe that the principal playwright of our present woes should not be entrusted with the oxymoronic task of now relieving our suffering.
Perhaps some sunny day I will be able to enlighten you upon the merits of my political philosophy, but I’m afraid that elementary step is far from being reached. Presently, I’m still preoccupied with pointing out what a tremendous roadblock lies on the highway of progressive and enlightening discussion, this blind obsession with consensus building.
The more nonsensical chatter I hear about consensus building, the more convinced I am that the roadblock grows steadily larger and larger, and soon I fear, all meaningful argument will be barricaded against further movement.
Jeremy Hicks is a 2008 political science graduate, the founder of the Cal Poly Libertarian Club and a Mustang Daily political columnist.