Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Acceptance of Differing Opinions, The Ignorance of. . .

Recently read an interview I did for some dude that lives in England for the first time. He wanted to interview me because he saw a band I played in one time- not because I am particularly interesting (which I certainly would not profess to be- just try holding a conversation with me)- but because I guess he thought the band was. While reading the interview, I came across something in particular that struck me as interesting. Being an editor for a “punk mag” he seemed to have a particular interest in politics. When he saw us play, it was prior to the historic election of Barack Obama. The question he asked me was, “What are your (the band’s) political leanings then? You were telling people the importance of voting at Fest 7, do you think that ‘ordinary’ people’s perceptions of the political process has changed since Obama won?”
I proceeded to spout a bunch of bull-shit, but the one line that caught my attention was, “I think when you feel strongly about your candidate (as we did with Obama) and see or hear in the media inaccurate or grossly exaggerated attacks against your candidate, you feel catalyzed to stand up for him. I think a lot of Obama supporters felt that The McCain campaign was personally attacking them, and their personal value systems with these methods. Probably a mistake on the GOP’s part. Preaching tolerance and rationality will hopefully turn into a winning combination in the future for all involved.”
The personal (and perhaps broader?) significance of this statement did not strike me until I made a joke on Twitter, about creating a specific group on Facebook attacking Sarah Palin’s (and in turn her followers’) value systems, and I realized that in doing so, all I would be doing is catalyzing them in a similar fashion. I realized that if we keep offering the Palinites the legitimacy of scoffing at their beliefs, all we will do is make them all the more fervent in said beliefs. I’d also be a massive hypocrite.
I have certain friends on Facebook who are what I call, “Palinites.” I do not mean this in a derogatory way. I mean simply that their belief system is, or has become, aligned with that of Sarah Palin, and those who support and agree strongly with her. Some of them periodically will post things that clearly relate to their Christian Conservative leanings. These posts have flared up recently with the recent medical reform. Often times the posts are clearly biased, easily proven untrue with basic research, and most likely derived from some form of public radio (which in one particular case was openly admitted.) Each time, I have taken it upon myself to question them (in a non-confrontational, albeit somewhat condescending, manner) regarding the information or content they posted. I would say it is safe to say that the vast majority of people responding also disagreed with them. I would also say it is safe to say the Palinites felt their values were being attacked.
Are we- people like me making similar responses regardless of tone, affect, rationality, or humor- catalyzing a Palin movement, much as The McCain campaign inadvertently catalyzed record numbers of non-traditional voters to turn out and vote for Obama? Are we not fueling a fire that could actually help to usher non-conservative candidates out of office?
It seems to me that the selection of Sarah Palin has been the impetus for a growing political divide in our country. This was probably not the intended effect long term, probably just during the election. Think about it:
“We are the McCain campaign, and we risk losing to a liberal Black Man with a name that sounds Arab. Let’s pick a running mate who is his opposite, in order to get the people who don’t traditionally vote that are not like him to vote for us. A White Female who will appeal to gun-toting Christian Conservatives and soccer moms.”
I do not say this to discount any credibility Sarah Palin may have had as a potential Vice-Presidential candidate. I say it only to point out that it was a choice of division. A choice that seemingly is carrying over beyond the election, to me in alarming fashion. No, political division and the derision incumbent are not new. I acknowledge this. But has it been this bad in recent history?
I am also not going to say that I think the Democrats and Liberals are innocent.
“We are the Democrats. The current President is a Southern White Male from Texas, with Christian Conservative leanings. He is immensely unpopular. Let’s choose someone who is his opposite to capitalize on this unpopularity.”
Again, I do not say this to marginalize Obama’s legitimacy as a Presidential candidate in the prior election, or to say that he was chosen, “because he was a Black Man.”
Obama was elected. He had to win primaries; he had to beat several other White Men in his own party to get to where he is. The Democrats did not truly just “choose him” based upon the way he served as a juxtaposition to the person he sought to replace. They could not have; he had to be elected. The McCain campaign, however, had the option of choosing an opposite. They must have recognized the way Obama’s differences from Bush served as a strength. Ironically, it could be argued that Joe Biden was selected based upon his relative similarity to John McCain.
The question I pose then, is how do we- as the self-proclaimed rationalists and realists- avoid causing our own meltdown by fueling the Christian Conservative fire? Traditionally, these sort of divides in values come to a head in confrontation. The Stamp Act, The Boston Tea Party, The Revolutionary War. Dred Scott Decision, Harper’s Ferry, The Civil War. Insert Liberal Agenda, Insert Conservative Response, Insert Conflict.
Am I saying this will happen? Absolutely not. And, I certainly hope it does not. Frankly, I appreciate those situations in which two sides of differing opinions are able to keep each other in check. The issue is the extent of difference between two the extremes are at this point. Conservatives- particularly Christian Conservatives- feel attacked. Their value systems are being questioned. I can actually understand to some degree why this would be so offensive to them, as many of these values are directly related to their interpretation of their religion. I believe it is safe to say that Americans are well aware of the extreme to which religion can catalyze people to hedge toward political extremity in some cases. It is why Osama Bin Laden attacked us (no, I am not likening Christian Conservatives to terrorists, only demonstrating the influence of Religion.) It is also why separation of Church and State was built into Our Nation’s Constitution.
What do I suggest, then? If you cannot find or invite into your life the positives of your political rival- ignore them. If you find something they say so outlandish that you cannot fathom how they can believe it- ignore them. To ignore them does not say that they are right. In fact, to ignore them lessens the perception of legitimacy you give their claims. Don’t make claims of your own about them, about their statements, do not directly confront their beliefs, do not play that game. It is childish, and rather than see what you consider the wisdom of your ways, they will only become further ingrained in their own. Instead, encourage acceptance and the value of differing opinions. Turn the other cheek if you must. A wounded animal is a dangerous thing indeed. Seek common ground, however small. Accept them for who they are. You know, the important stuff you learn in The Bible.

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others. – John F. Kennedy
Of all religions, Christianity is without a doubt the one that should inspire tolerance most, although, up to now, the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men. – Voltaire
Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict [slavery] might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. – Abraham Lincoln
Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd. – Bertrand Russel
The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with. – Eleanor Holmes Norton
It is the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically the scriptures of the world. If we are to respect others' religions as we would have them respect our own, a friendly study of the world's religions is a sacred duty. – Mohandas K. Gandhi
I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people that call others weird that are weird. – Paul McCartney
I tell them I have worked 40 years to make the W.S. platform broad enough for Atheists and Agnostics to stand upon, and now if need be I will fight the next 40 to keep it Catholic enough to permit the straightest Orthodox religionist to speak or pray and count her beads upon. – Susan B. Anthony (on Women’s Suffrage)
Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too. – Voltaire
Monsieur l'abbe, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. – Voltaire
It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races. – Mark Twain (Pudd’nhead Wilson)