Talking therapy

There is a good article in this week’s New York Review of Books, by Alan Ryan. He’s reviewing Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Ethics of Identity, and in the review, he writes:

No doubt there are some beliefs we ought not to subscribe to without the fiercest testing, but they are few in number. What is true of beliefs is true of our other commitments; most of what we want, hope for and think right or wrong we have to take on trust. […] We move from babyhood to adulthood by acquiring habitual allegiances to people., places and values, and that only when that process is accomplished do we have the ability to pause and reflect on which of these allegiances to retain or reject. If moral autonomy meant that all of our allegiances were adopted in the first place only after rational scrutiny, none of us would be morally autonomous.

Well, absolutely. At the moment, when every day is opinion polling day, it’s worth remembering that one of the greatest virtues of democracy is not the voting at the end of the process, but the discussion in the middle.

The BBC and other TV broadcasters come into their own in an election period. Detailed discussions of the issues, proper coverage of the different political parties, debates and public meetings. A lot of the best stuff flows from statutory requirements of impartiality, but let’s not be churlish.

All of this enables people to take part in the political process, and find out about the issues if they want to. It makes choices more rational at the end of the process, and makes the results of those choices better even for the losing side. Now can we have it more than once every four years?