lundi, septembre 01, 2008

Election Tips

Election time is usually a period of storm and stress for people of good sense. A time to run or hide from idiot partisans and ideologues until the whole ugliness blows over. This is to be mourned. Like the ridiculous taboo against discussing religion, the idea that people of divergent political views cannot discuss such is worse than preposterous. In the country that invented freedom of speech, no one should have to live in fear of expressing their opinion, no matter how stupid it is.

That said, let us first discard the idea that one is bound to accept or respect someone else's opinion based on some insane concept of automatic fairness. You have to accept that they have an opinion. You have to respect them as a fellow human. But you are NOT bound to respect any one's opinion if they can't back it up with reasonable philosophical argument. EVER. It is OK to disagree! If we could arrive at a point where we could question a bad opinion without calling anything else into question, we might have a substantive discussion or two. All of the really smart people I know have good friends with whom they passionately disagree. Think about that. Our society has arrived at a point where stupid people stay stupid by surrounding themselves with friends who never question them, because of some idiotic notion that a friend is someone with whom you agree, and anyone who is not in your ideological camp is an enemy. We have, by and large, lost the ability to disagree with civility. There might not be a worse tragedy, or a clearer harbinger of doom for our political system.

As paralyzing and hopeless as that may seem, for the time being, all that can be offered as a remedy are the following tips for the minuscule minority (people with sense and decorum) to tough out the election season.

1) Avoid discussions with people who have deflated the tires on either the left or right side of their intellectual vehicle. They are more easily identified than you might think. One big indicator is the economy. People who seem to have a deep, personal investment in declaring how totally screwed up it is are simply not capable of a reasonable discussion. They are, in fact, worse than people who go digging around for positive economic news for the sole purpose of claiming credit for their particular party. If you try to point out one of the hundreds of positive economic indicators currently in play, and the person with whom you are conversing can't accept it in anyway, simply change the subject and talk about sports. I don't know what these people get out of constantly harping about how f*cked up everything is (while they and almost everyone they know enjoy a level of prosperity unheard of in the world's history), but I do know that none of them have ever advanced the debate. And while they will absolutely deny this, I know with absolute certainty that when someone they like is in power, they find something positive to hang their hat on. IT SIMPLY ISN'T POSSIBLE IN AMERICA FOR A POLITICAL PARTY OR PRESIDENT TO TOTALLY SCREW UP THE ECONOMY. THERE ARE ALWAYS BIGGER FORCES AT PLAY. IT IS ALWAYS GOING UP AND DOWN. IT ALWAYS HAS POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES. FURTHERMORE, IT IS ALWAYS A LITTLE WORSE THAN THE PARTY IN POWER WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE, AND A HELL OF A LOT BETTER THAN THE OPPOSITION WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE. It has always been that way, and people who try to convince you otherwise are a waste of words. Don't waste yours on them, or waste your time listening to theirs. Find out if you like any of the same television shows and talk about those.

Another red flag to watch for is raised by the "dirt diggers." These people who spend their time digging up Internet dirt in the history of the people with whom they disagree. They can have a certain value, but they must be vetted. If someone approaches you and says they have anything resembling dirt on any candidate, simply say "And what's the dirt on your guy?" If they don't have any, change the subject or run. Either they are living in a world where they actually believe that only the "opposition" has shady elements in their past, or they are willing to turn a blind eye when it is politically expedient. Are these people with whom you could possibly have a worthwhile discussion? Enough said.

As for people who have taken it a step further, and are deeply, personally invested in one party or the other, who derive any degree of personal/emotional satisfaction at the idea of the demise of the republicans, or the defeat of the democrats, to hell with these mental midgets. Even if they have an opinion that makes sense, it is invalidated by their bile. You'll have to fall back on the old Mr. Rodgers Rule. Simply find something to like about them and focus on that until they shut up.
2) Avoid certain hot button issues. Number one is abortion. It is, technically and rhetorically, impossible to have a debate on a subject where the two sides have never once talked about the same idea at the same time. Even the labels are misleading: "Pro Life" people have chosen that designation to disguise the fact that they do indeed want to (justifiably or not) restrict certain currently held freedoms. "Pro Choice" types have chosen that description of their position so as to avoid thinking or talking about the reality that the "choice" involved means the literal and brutal destruction of a miniature human being. In this sense, both sides are equally useless and vile. You will never find a pro-choiceketeer willing to chant "I support a woman's right to suck the baby out of her womb with a vacuum or tear it to pieces with forceps!" And you will never find a pro-lifeketeer with a sign that says "whether you have your baby or not is OUR decision!" As soon as the issue is brought up, both sides change the subject. My own dear son asked my dear sister-in-law her position. It wasn't two seconds before she was talking about unwanted kids born to abusive or neglectful non-parents. My son got sucked in, and asked "I know a man who was raised in an abusive environment by parents who didn't want him. He's one of the most inspiring people in my life. Are you saying he should have been aborted?" There is no answer for this if you are pro-choice, but it was her fault for not answering the question in the first place. And had she asked this teenage boy if he had a right to tell an abused, cracked-out mother of 6 to bring the 7th spawn of her drunken, shiftless husband into the world, he would have had no answer. Until both camps are ready to face the ugly sides to their position, a substantive discussion is impossible. Frankly, with the precious little moral common ground the factions have left, "the Sanctity and Infinite Potential of Human Life vs. the Sanctity of Liberty and the Scourge of Unwanted Pregnancy" might not be a conundrum we can resolve.

Other useless topics to avoid for similar reasons: Whether or not the news media are biased; Global warming; Big tobacco; Matt Damon vs. Ben Affleck; Mooseknuckles; the merits of Dr. Phil; Reality television; Gay marriage; and anything about New Orleans except the Saints.

3) Stop thinking about a debate as something to be won. In the first place, since partisans and ideologues literally cannot be argued with in the best sense of that word, you weren't going to win--even in a world where it was OK to try. In the second place, tearing down someone else's beliefs does not constitute victory. Finally, if you can truly convince yourself that every discussion is simply an exchange of ideas between two people with more in common than not, it will not matter what a mindless, one-sided, or starry eyed, or pig headed, or bleeding hearted, or stodgy old fashioned wonk the other participant is. Unless you are getting paid, no one you talk to is your opponent. She or He is your fellow American. That idea alone should be the grain of salt which, when taken with all opinions and comments, makes this election season bearable.

1 commentaire:

.när'sĭ-sĭz'əm. a dit...

i should put these on a shirt and wear them to work to fight off the pretentious and self righteous masses that come with working at a cafe in borders.
le sigh.

kids today. and their politic virginities. and the old folks with their buttons.

what a world.

people no longer with hearts, but candidates and opinions, on their sleeves.