A Confession (of sorts) and a Radical’s Lament

Radical: Derived from the Latin radix, which literally means the root or base. In political terms it means penetrating beyond conventional explanations and getting at the root cause of a problem.

In her book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag puzzled over people who still express surprise about all the suffering in the world at human hands. She wrote, “No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence, of superficiality, to this degree of ignorance, or amnesia.” I would amend Sontag’s indictment to include people who’ve been afforded the luxury of time, resources and access to information that allows them to grasp how the world actually works — but fail to do so.

After being criticized by an opponent for changing his mind about a firmly held opinion, the iconoclastic British political economist J. M. Keynes reputedly replied, “When information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, Sir?” Keynes voraciously pursued information, new evidence upon which to test his opinions.

Of course, we can’t know more than we’ve been exposed to and some new information is almost impenetrably complex. But that’s rarely the stumbling block on many topics. In the past I’ve harbored a host of conventional opinions. Here are only a few: Defending indefensible aspects of the former USSR, evidence-free opinions about “human nature,” staunchly defending the Democratic Party (including being president of my college’s Young Democrats),…

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