Monday, August 08, 2005

Politics Run Amok

I love reading Pandagon. I’ve read them for several years and, in fact, plagiarized their words for several of my papers in college (just kidding). But sometimes they can be wrong. For instance, in this post, Jesse references an article about how long-winded, right-wing blogs often don’t understand the left in their writing.

He says:
But the world of the righty blogosphere sustains itself on the hearty fuel of self-absorption, the consistent and enduring belief that they're doing something just by existing. As such, their standards for excellence seem to be really, really low.

Jesse seems to feel that only those on the right are capable of stupidity. He seems to think that only those on the right fail to misunderstand their opponents. He should go back and read the words he used when he linked the article in question. People with whom you disagree seem much less intelligent because the mere fact that they disagree makes them inherently unlikable. This trait is seen on either end of the political spectrum. The reason is not because “conservatives are morons” or “liberals are idiots” but rather, “People are fucking stupid.”

In trying to claim that only people on the right are stupid, Jesse falls for his own trap. He fails to comprehend what those on the right, those who act honestly and intelligently that is, are really trying to say. He paints half the population with broad, stupid strokes; strokes which many do not deserve.

A good example of this type of thinking can be seen in the discussion of any hot button issue of the day. Take abortion for instance. The very names we use to describe our opinions shows our prejudices. Pro-life assumes that the only issue in the abortion debate is the life of the baby or the fetus. It assumes that those who disagree are pro-death and believe that killing babies is a good thing. Pro-choice assumes that the only issue in the abortion debate is women’s rights. It assumes that those who disagree are anti-choice and would like nothing more than to keep women barefoot and pregnant against their will.

Each side uses the negative terms “pro-death” and “anti-choice” in their rhetoric. You hear it all the time. But if you ask almost anybody in the pro-choice camp if they believe in killing babies, they’ll respond that they do not. Ask almost anybody in the pro-life camp if they believe women should be kept in the kitchen while the men do the real work, and they will say no.

Both sides paint with broad strokes, and both sides are wrong.

The truth of the matter is that abortion, like most political issues, is more complicated than any one angle or any one idea. While most of us, as individuals, are capable of understanding this, we choose to blind ourselves to this truth. We base our political decisions largely upon how much we like a person rather than the strength of their argument. That likeability is often dependent upon how much they agree with us. It then logically follows that we encamp ourselves with groups of people we like rather than those who challenge us, and then act unintelligently by painting our opponents with broad strokes not because what they say is necessarily wrong but because we don’t like them and believe them to be bad.

So when Jesse says things like:

The interesting thing is that much of the righty blogosphere tends to be completely unfamiliar with the left side of things, allowing them to speak as if the random Daily Kos outrages and cursewords from Eschaton stand in for every single thing the right has written. They also tend to fall back on old cliches (as Jay Tea wraps himself up in the old blanket of "conservatives think, liberals hate America feel"), and as the comments to this post prove, tend not to actually read liberal blogs. I can't tell you how many e-mails I've gotten from conservative bloggers and readers who, when I write or link to something that proves them flat-out wrong, come back with an attack on my cursing or a link to a post they did several months ago that proves their utter intellectual superiority to another post I wrote several months ago as a throwoff. Is this epidemic of the entire right-wing blogosphere. No, not its entirety. Just the entire core of it...and most of the outlying inspired blogs and writers. But other than that, it's a-okay.

he does exactly the same thing he criticizes in conservative bloggers. He assumes that he is always right, they are always wrong, and that if only conserva-bloggers would act more intelligently they would cease to be conservative and turn to the light of liberalism. At that point, of course, all badness would cease and everybody would be happy.

The problem is not conservatives. The problem is not liberals. The problem is how we, as people, approach discussion.

You see this kind of activity all over the place. I recently had a conversation with a friend about a theological issue (something to do with Catholicism versus Protestantism). I asked a challenging question and, without warning, he got mad. He said I hated Catholics, he called me an atheist, and he stopped short of telling me that I would end up in Hell for all eternity. He did this all because I asked him to explain his position. I said nothing of my opinion (I never got the chance). But if I had, I would have told him that I am, in fact, a devout Christian and that he and I merely disagree on this particular issue. And I would have stated further that I was quite willing to accept his opinion if he could give me a good explanation. But I never got that chance. He didn’t like me from that point on, and I became the enemy. I became everything against which he and his team had fought for centuries.

I became bad.

I recently took part in a web discussion about the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. I mentioned that I believed the most striking thing about him was that there was a lack of anything controversial or debatable in his past. And I said that even people on the right were saying this. I then quoted a conservative columnist. The response from several people on the website was not to tell me how my conclusions were incorrect (they never addressed my points, actually), but to point out that I was wrong merely because I had quoted somebody they disliked. This hampered later discussions on different topics. They would make a statement; I would ask for clarification (when I didn’t understand what they were saying) or an explanation (when I thought they conclusions were a bit far-fetched); and they would respond that, by merely asking questions, I was spouting Republican talking points and was therefore incorrect.

They disliked me, so they stopped listening.

I have engaged in similar conversations about baseball, movies, music, and, yes, even politics. Quite often, these conversations end with the same results. People think that their opponents are morons because first they believe themselves to be wholly correct when they are often only correct to an extent, and second because it is more comfortable to make this assumption rather than seek the truth. The people with whom they disagree are not very likeable, so it’s easy to make fun of them rather than address the issues at hand.

So when Jesse speaks of people who e-mail him with baseless criticisms, he is right to say that that these people aren’t acting intelligently. They refuse to the Truth of his arguments (or even address his points) and attack other aspects of his nature in order to retain the illusion that he is unlikable and therefore wrong. Jesse does the same thing, however, when he says that the core ideas of the right are at fault in the breakdown of communication and the loss of truth. In this instance, he is acting unintelligently. He assumes that, because of the few stupid people he sees, everybody on the right is unintelligent. The blog he quoted, Wizbang, also does the same thing but from a conservative perspective. They do this because they don’t like their opponents. And they paint with broad strokes so that they can continue to picture conserva-bloggers(in the case of Pandagon) or liberal bloggers (in the case of Wizbang) as toothless morons whose only purpose is to be ridiculed rather than listened to.

People refuse to listen to those with whom they disagree because they do not like to be challenged. They choose to take the easy route and claim that “everybody else” as incorrect because it is more comfortable to do so. People refuse to honestly accept the possibility that they are wrong because they do not like to be challenged. They choose to take the easy route and say that their opinions are always right because it is more comfortable to do so. People refuse to listen to the Truth because they do not like to be challenged. They choose to take the easy route and mask the truth as stupidity because it leaves them in a state of comfort.

And people crave comfort more than they crave Truth.


Uber_Tech said...

blink...i agree sorta


The Sasquatch said...

heh heh. You agres...sorta? That's like calling into a telephone survey and voting "I don't know." What's the point?

What exactly do you not agree with (or sorta agree with)?

Dylan said...

As the writer of the "as the comments in this post" post, I wanted to say a few things.

I totally get where you are coming from. There is an inability on both sides of the blogosphere to really look at the other side with any decorum. There is simply a "You are left/right and therefore you are wrong."

The post that initially sparked it, of course, was a righty blog (wizbang) saying that there are no lefty blogs that seem to be written by people who critically think. It was asinine, and I wrote the post blasting Wizbang because of it.

So, one asinine post deserved another (and another, and another... with, perhaps, my blog's stats the only beneficiary).

Blogs are simultaneously the best thing and the worst thing for conversation right now. The truth is, however, that no matter how "civil" we all want to be, all of us slip into passionate rhetoric which can sometimes go over the top. I'm still deciding if that is good or bad...

The Sasquatch said...


Now that I went back and read the guy's original post, I can see what you mean. He did kinda say that the right was "better" than the left, but at least he asked for some exaomples of the kind of writing he was looking for. That, at least, is good. Right?

I just hate it when people deride someone for their obvious mistakes on the one hand and then, in so doing, commit the same mistake with the other. It doesn't make sense and it doesnt' get us anywhere.

thanks for writing. I'll have to check out your site more often.