Friday, September 16, 2005

Taking Stock

I started this blog, in part, because I could no longer talk politics with people who shared my genetic material and were raised in the same house. So when one of those family members writes to tell me that I am being “dismissive of contrary points of view and patronizing toward those who hold them,” I figure it’s time to take stock.

I don’t expect to convert my brother, who was smart enough to pass through Harvard around the time of John Roberts and, presumably, has only gotten smarter. But neither do I want to turn him off, or people like him, because they are our only hope in reversing a tide of selfishness, absolutism and self-righteous in American political life.

This is not strictly a mortal conflict between smart and stupid, liberal and conservative, or even good and evil. Although I know which side I’d like to be on in each of those dualities, I don’t believe there are only two possible combinations. There's an ample supply of stupid liberals and good conservatives, for instance. To my brother, however, it seemed my recent writing unfairly equated stupid, conservative and evil.

Posting and commenting is not the same as listening and discussing face-to-face, so even the most careful writer will provoke misunderstanding. In this case, the misunderstanding may also owe itself to our somewhat different political and social frameworks (he lives in the conservative mecca of Colorado Springs) and the fact that we were competitive with each other as kids. We often see what we expect to see. But I also must admit my own concern that I was becoming too shrill to be heard across the divide. As a writer, I am trying to be entertaining and topical, but there are more important things to be and do. And if I am losing people like my brother, I am not doing them.

Political labels aren’t very useful here. In fact, they hamper what I'm trying to accomplish, because they set up the red team/blue team competition that can obliterate what we have in common. We put on the jersey, forget the people underneath, and proceed to try to murder each other. My brother and I played hard that way, and I guess we still do.

The discussion with my brother that followed helped me clarify for myself what I must continue to state clearly for my readers. Though it looks like Red vs. Blue, I am mostly trying to write about a struggle between the have nots and the have lots, savers and wasters, healers and destroyers, lovers and haters, those who see narrowly and short term and those who see widely and long term. My affiliations here should be clear, and my judgments admittedly will be more dismissive, but with the acceptance that I will be wrong at times, and willing to correct it.

I am more interested in understanding something than being right about it. I don't believe in God, but I write about faith and morals. I rail against deception, but self-deception is more interesting to me because we can do something about that. I think we can also do something to bridge the differences in how we see the world.

Thanks for reminding me, Bror.


Anonymous Lars O. said...

I'll admit it is important not to alienate the other side of the divide. But this exchange exemplifies a trap that too many on the left fall into, far too often.

It goes like this: We point out reprehensible actions, views, policies, or opinions on the right. We use strong language. We rough the other side up.

Then a reasonable member of the Red Team cries foul. "You're being unfair, dismissive, arrogant, disingenuous, [fill in the blank]."

As conscientious liberals, who value open discussion and genuine debate, we feel bad when we hear these kinds of comments.

"Am I being a jerk? Am I not giving them a fair shake? What the hell's the matter with me?"

Inevitably, we apologize. Which is all fine and good, but we have to keep one thing in mind: the other side rarely affords us the same courtesy.

Strong language, fiery rhetoric and sweeping generalizations from the right are accepted as normal. They all play into the tough-talkin' no-nonsense stereotype.

But if we ever cry foul after a verbal ass-whupping, what do we get?

"Liberals! Always whining! Grow a backbone!"

Today's outspoken conservatives -- politicians, pundits, journalists, bloggers -- have cornered the market on dismissive and patronizing, and are gaining ground on irrational and shrill. Examples are relentlessly abundant.

In other words, sensible, calm and even-handed are not the rules of the game right now. So you reasonable Red Teamers will have to forgive us if we're reluctant to turn the other cheek. Tell your own side to dial it down, and then we can talk.

2:14 PM  

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