Black and white in a world of gray

The problem with political correctness - even if I subscribe to some of its core beliefs, especially making damn sure that opportunity is truly equal for minorities - is that PC's most-rigid followers misread the world with their blinkered view, just as surely as those who follow an allegedly conservative bent in their natures to the exclusion of other viewpoints.

One of the major problems with following any ideology is that you often can't see the variety in the forest for the darkness of the trees in the aggregate.

I was telling a friend the other day about a conversation I had a couple of years ago at a Seattle party. Another partygoer, a young woman, grew more and more exasperated with me during the course of our initially convivial chat.

We had been talking about abortion and had agreed that we were both pro-choice. Somehow the death penalty came up soon after, and I said that after working closely with convicts for two years in the state of Washington, I'd become a limited advocate of the death penalty in some, not all, cases.

The look on her face said plainly that I'd transgressed.

After a brief argument, based on her feelings, not on facts or her personal experience, she stamped her pretty, well-shod little foot and said, "You CAN'T be pro-choice and pro death penalty!"

Our conversation ended shortly thereafter, and as I recounted the failed chat the other day, my mind flashed back to when I was laboring as the county bureau chief for a chain of Kitsap County newspapers in the mid-late '90s. I was based in Port Orchard, because that's where the county courthouse is. There I'd befriended a few cops and prosecutors, in the midst of covering countywide crime.

At a neighborhood tavern one afternoon, I spoke with a young lady who worked for the county's law enforcement team.

She'd asked me what I thought about a recent trial she'd seen me covering, after which a Kitsapper criminal had sworn to appeal his death-row sentence. (He'd been convicted of brutally killing a teenage girl he didn't know.)

I think she expected a liberal (commie?) response, since that was my reputation over there, where centrist Bill Clinton was perceived as some wild-eyed radical, and even Gen. Eisenhower wasn't totally trusted once he warned people off the military-industrial complex.

I told her that if the evidence was solid and he had really done those things he was accused of, which included more than brutally snuffing out a promising young life, I had no trouble with the state planning his early demise.

She sniffed at my qualifying statements about the validity of the evidence, but she was surprised. As is often the case in these benchmark discussions, abortion soon reared its controversial little head. She was against it in all cases. I was for it, in most cases. But not all.

I added that my solution to the county's unemployment woes, an ongoing problem since the Bremerton shipyards started sending much of its work to Everett, would be to hire hundreds of the unemployed to sit on abortion and death-penalty commissions, handling each case separately.

Just as there are many criminals who should not be executed, there are some abortions that shouldn't be approved.

She seemed appalled and later told other people that "he had to be kidding."

American life, of which we here in Seattle are a part, like it or not, is riddled with problems caused by a seemingly inbred desire for simplistic solutions.

Trust in Jesus.

Trust in the state.

Trust in President Bush.

Trust in Governor Chrissie.

All of these divergent views share one troubling characteristic. None of them truly admits an opposing viewpoint within its narrow, hidebound parameters.

Scott Fitzgerald once said that a primary sign of the adult mind was its ability to hold two opposing viewpoints at once. This is not something we as a culture understand, much less advocate. Many people not only refuse to see the gray in issues, they will not admit that maybe I can see them, either.

I think it is why many of my right-leaning critics always capitalize the word Liberal in their screeds.

But it isn't just them.

I've been accused of being a shill for the Evil Ones on the Right, almost as often.

My heart, it is true, leans left of center, but my brain, fading and battered as it is, flutters mostly right above the net, where the view in either direction is often quite frightening to my gentle soul.

I still believe, though, despite naysayers, that (for example) you can hate the war in Iraq and yet support the troops stuck fighting there, and also totally sympathize with the poor damaged Iraqi population on the ground, being decimated from both sides now, to echo an old folk song. These are hard things to do sometimes. But they are not impossible.

There are always two sides to every story, and usually the third and fourth side, not having the money or the pulpit, haven't even been heard from yet.

Everything except death is a gray area.

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