As I’ve gone through the LTG archives for the “ten years of blogging” series I’ve been pretty surprised at how much I used to write about politics. And now I almost never do. Which got me to thinking about why that is.
One obvious answer is that I really didn’t have anything unique to say; others had already made the arguments much more articulately. So it was getting to be an exercise in posting a link and a “what he said” type thing. I also became painfully aware that a blog post was never going to change anyone’s mind irrespective of the facts, logic, or common sense rightness of your argument. And that’s fine as well I suppose. Sometimes it’s all about the debate–the back and forth of having your views challenged, being confronted with new ideas and concepts you might not have considered, and coming away with at least a better understanding of your opponents position.
Except these days that almost never happens. Instead, if you express a contrary viewpoint you are simply labeled and put in a box with those “others”. Sometimes it’s extreme. I posted a comment on a blog challenging the concept of “settled science” as it relates to global warming and the response was “I have zero respect for you people and I hope you all contract cancer and die painful and slow deaths.” Alrighty then.
Want to talk about limiting the power of the federal government and/or tax reform? You’re a filthy teabagger. Have a policy disagreement with President Obama–you must be racist. Question campus rape statistics and your are a misogynist rape denier. If you want to call evildoers of the Muslim faith to task for their atrocities? You must be an Islamaphobe. Hell, you can be the President of the United States, but if you call out a senator from your own party over a policy dispute–yep, that’s sexist. Anyway, you get the idea. There’s no such thing as having reasonable contrary opinion, your motivation for disagreeing is always suspect. Of course, as a white male my feeling this way is most certainly a failure to check my privilege. For those not in the know, being told to “check your privilege” translates to “shut up, I don’t want to hear what you have to say”.
What this really is all about is an attack on the diversity of ideas, or more precisely, an attempt to eliminate free speech. When simple disagreement on a topic becomes “hate speech”, free speech ceases to exist. You see this manifested most often at those bastions of open-mindedness–universities. Stray from the accepted way of thinking, no matter how small the transgression, and face banishment. Just ask these uninvited commencement speakers.
Someone should write a book about this. Oh wait, they did. In her book aptly called The Silencing, lifelong liberal Kirsten Powers laments the “Left’s forced march towards conformity in an exposé of the illiberal war on free speech. No longer champions of tolerance and free speech, the “illiberal Left” now viciously attacks and silences anyone with alternative points of view.” As you might imagine, the response from her fellow travelers was as swift as it was harsh. So much for speaking truth to power I suppose.
By now you must be thinking, why are we being subjected to this diatribe? I go days and days without posting and then I start in on this post and don’t know when to stop. Well, I’m getting there. But I’ve actually been thinking about this topic for quite some time now. And I started thinking about it when I read this post over at Kevin Kim’s blog. The topic was the Supreme Court hearing regarding gay marriage rights. Kevin took issue with his friend Malcolm’s post basically saying the court should leave the matter for the state’s to decide. Both made good and reasonable arguments, and it appeared to be a situation where they would agree to disagree and move on.
But then something all too familiar happened in the comments. After Malcolm thoughtfully responded to Kevin, a commenter named “Tony” weighed in with the nuanced view that Malcolm was a homophobe. Malcolm responded politely by saying he was not taking a stand on gay marriage per se, only on whether this was an appropriate case for the Supreme Court. Kevin defended Malcolm as well, saying he knew for a fact that Malcolm had no personal bias against gay folk. To which Tony responded “nope, he’s a homophobe”. Kevin eventually just shut down comments on that post.
Which I guess just goes to prove that the “othering” tactic works pretty much as intended. I don’t even bother responding to all the silly political memes on Facebook anymore for the same reason. Sometimes I actually start, and then I think, no, what’s the point? It will just end up in name calling.
I do want to note that while I have pretty much given up on the internet as a viable forum for political debate, I have not been completely silenced. I will on occasion engage with lefty friends and acquaintances in person. This too has it’s frustrations. One friend always insists that I’m just regurgitating Fox News talking points. Which I find funny because I don’t recall the last time I actually saw a Fox News broadcast. Anyway, I’ve had several beer fueled discussions with so-called liberals that were actually quite enjoyable and stimulating. The odd thing is that once we move past the stereotypes and get down to the issue, we almost always find points of agreement on the problem, if not the solution. The point is when people actually talk to each other as opposed to at each other, it often turns out that we are not as far apart as it may otherwise seem.
I’ll take whatever comfort there is to be found in that.