America’s Bad Marriage

Being wrong tends to lead people to become defensive.

Defensiveness and hostility, frozen in place in a person’s mind, leads to irrational stubbornness and intellectual dishonesty.

This is what happens in the demise of many marriages and relationships, or even business partnerships. What happens is: One or more parties become unconcerned with objective truth, and only concerned about “being right.”

People trying to be rational and benevolent, including a lot of psychotherapists, will often intervene by saying, “There is no right or wrong. Get past this idea that there’s a right or wrong and instead be selfless.”

Such advice, or such an attitude, is precisely what led to the problem in the first place — and precisely what expands the problem.

It’s accurate and actually helpful to assume there IS an objective truth. If honestly considered, the quest for the factual or objectively true can unite two parties, not divide them.

What’s the best solution to this business problem? Or our family finances? We have the same interest here. We have the same ultimate, objective goal: Mutual satisfaction, in the case of personal relations, and profit or success, in the case of business ventures.

I find that when people don’t perceive an objective goal or outcome, this is when their feelings take over. This is when it becomes about “My way or the highway,” rather than about, “What makes most sense here and how can I prove it?”

If people have two different outcomes as their goal, that’s one thing. That fact should be made explicit. However, in many cases of conflict I find that people are simply unwilling or (at the moment) perhaps unable to ascertain an objective outcome to guide the two parties through the conflict.

I realize that conflict cannot always be resolved. A crook who wants your money and you, who want to keep your money, have a fundamental conflict of interest. There’s no resolving it. However, in that case as well there’s a right and wrong. The crook is wrong, and has no objective claim to your money. You are right to want to keep it, and entitled to keep it from the crook. Anyone who claims there is no right or wrong in this context we’d correctly label a fool — or a politician.

In the more common situation, two people do have more or less the same goals, but they get caught up in their feelings and personal desire to be “seen as right” or “one up” the other rather than to get the objectively best result that both want.

Saying there’s “no right or wrong” is no way to resolve conflict. It removes objectivity and rationality from the situation and consequently makes it impossible to resolve anything. The minute you claim there’s no right or wrong — no objective truth — then you have left it all to the realm of emotions, pull, intimidation and even force. That’s where a bad marriage or relationship is, by definition. Neither party knows, believes or cares what the objective truth is. He or she just wants his or her way, because it’s his or her way. The error here is not in being too “selfish” or self-interested, because denying the existence of objective reality is not self-interested for anyone.

Our politics is in this state, and it has frightening consequences for our futures. Democrats and Republicans — the two who choose to compete for the seizure of power, mostly the power to rule people rather than set them free and leave them alone — are fighting over whose feelings will win. Democrats (subjective pseudo-secularists) scream there is no right or wrong, but stand ready to enforce their government edicts at the point of a gun and, increasingly, at the cost of free speech through intimidation and admonitions against daring to criticize “our President” (I hear this all the time from the hard core leftists I encounter.) Republicans are basically a shattered party who appear poised to move in the direction of religious authoritarianism since they are apparently unwilling or unable to make the case for a hands off, free market system as a genuine alternative to the socialism and fascism of the Democrats in power. One side claims there is no right or wrong, and then proceeds to put government leftists in charge to enforce what’s “right;” the other side claims God is right and appears ready to use government force to enforce their religious faith. Not a pretty picture at all.

Rationality and objectivity are the only means for resolving conflict (personal or professional) and the only way to uphold and preserve freedom. The absence of rationality and objectivity — including the demise of the assertion that there is objective right and wrong — is precisely why our social and political fabric is coming apart.