Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Facebook discussion on politics

This was a recent Facebook discussion in which I rambled on so long that I decided to bring it over here to preserve it.

Me: On being in a room full of Republicans/Conservatives...I hate the fact that I can't always articulate answers to their statements or get my valid points across even though I can with people of a similar mindsets. I fear that politeness is misconstrued as agreeing or yielding. L'esprit d'escalier.

Me (in response to some short posts): I agree about parties and that a conservative would feel that, but I was talking specifically about my own ability or inability to come up with answers/facts/arguments on the spot even though I can think of a long list of points later. For example, a woman here rattled off some stats from one of those sourceless things that roam the internet and I was 99% sure that I had checked Snopes and found out it was rubbish but I wasn't quite sure enough to challenge.

A: I read George Lakoff's book Moral Politics a number of years ago and it changed my whole way of thinking about these types of discussions.

Me: It's not that I want to be right or that I think I'm going to change their minds, but I enjoy a good discussion and think that I'm open to seeing other sides esp. coming from a conservative background. What I am afraid of when I don't speak up enough is that it will be thought that I am not passionate about my beliefs or that they are not well thought out.

J: I'm the same way. If only we could stop time, figure out what to say, then push start again.

M: I'm interested in that Lakoff book, too. Intriguing.
And I think agreeing to disagree is often one more way we perpetuate bad behavior - some things you can disagree about (The Steelers vs. the Browns. vs. the Jets) but some things just make people bad human beings (human rights issues, etc.).
Novel - just be careful you don't fall into the trap of wanting to sound like (and argue/debate like) people who get all their news from pundits and wingnut radio wonks.

T: Hey Loann,
Speaking as a conservative and a libertarian, and whatever else you may want to call me, I am all about dialoging with anyone, honestly and calmly, and I don't have all the answers, and I don't like to argue just for the sake of winning an argument. What I don't like is the vicious name calling that comes from both directions. This is not dialogue. We go nowhere this way. I think all the talk and hype and vitriol may start in the political arena, but it ultimately goes beyond politics and ends up dealing with world views and philosophies and beliefs. And that gets ouchy. We all have to be willing to take what we dish out.

Me: Wow, this has provoked more discussion than I expected. Especially since I meant it more as a personal musing on what I perceive as a personal failing.
A--took a glance at the description of Moral Politics (also wandered into a good online quiz on which I scored slightly left of center and my husband scored way to the left, no shock there) and I definitely agree with the premise. In fact, I wrote something like it when I was in college based on Kuhn's idea of the paradigm shift in science (for which I have been scolded by my scientist friends for taking hard science and using it as a metaphor for sociological behavior)--in essence that it is impossible for people in one paradigm to even discuss issues with someone in another, because they are almost literally in different worlds and even their language is alien. For Kuhn, it was the idea that once Einsteinian physics had developed, it was impossible to continue to speak to a purely Newtonian physicist. And likewise Einstein could not discuss Quantum theory.
I believe that liberals and conservatives (note I don't use parties) live in two different worlds, where words mean different things. Only personal experience will change a person--for example, having a gay relative. That I went from someone who could win an Ayn Rand essay contest at 15 to where I am today has to do with my life experiences and observations. Most financial conservatives, including those at the conference, believe it is because I have never had any wealth to protect.
T--I absolutely agree that senseless name calling is unproductive in any sense, but unfortunately, like stereotyping, humans have a desire to group things as a way to process information and to see patterns so that we are not constantly having to create our perceptions from scratch. Politics are absolutely as complex and as heartfelt as and often tied to one's faith.
I don't think I'm Keith Olbermann or Lewis Black yet (smiley face). But, seriously, one must challenge racists or be complicit.
Here's the example from the Summit...
A man was talking about being on the town council in his New York town and how they didn't get stimulus money to build a civic center while the town next to them received money to restore sidewalks. I personally believe sidewalks are more important than civic centers, but I didn't say that because I don't know the details (did the town want sidewalks in non-traffic areas, etc.). He said that it was because his town is primarily Republican and the next town is primarily Democrat.
I did say, "Shouldn't you, as a Republican refuse stimulus money on principle?" He said that the way he views it, it's his tax money and he should get it back any way he can.
What I wanted to say was that in the Ayn Randian sense, all Republicans/Libertarians/conservatives should refuse stimulus money if they believe that it is a corrupt idea. That Bobbie Jindal (sp.?) is a hypocrite to say that big government programs are bad and then demand major help when things go bad for his state.
But I didn't. I also didn't say that Snopes says that the stimulus money was distributed equally between red states and blue states contrary to an internet trope.

Another example for which I am a little more ashamed was a woman ranting about how her hard-earned money goes to people who don't work and pop out children, etc. I wanted to say that conservatives see only the undeserving poor, while liberals think that saving the deserving poor (having been a deserving poor) is worth the supporting of the undeserving poor. In the same way many (and I should point out that I am generalizing--as above we stereotype, profile and shorthand to break things into manageable bites. Neither liberalism or conservatism, right or left are homogenized and most people hold positions on both of what is perceived of as this side or that) liberals believe that letting some bad people go unpunished by the death penalty is better than killing even one innocent man. Some/many conservatives also hold this view but disagree in others. Instead of speaking up I just slipped away from the conversation.

The funny post-script to this is that the first man came up to me at the end of the summit and said that he admired how I hadn't challenged the woman and made a scene but had quietly removed myself from having to listen and that he had heard from a co-worker that I was capable of a careful and rational discourse wherein I heard and understood the feelings that led to both opinions. I may not agree with conservatives, but I think I understand why you might think what you think, that homosexuality or abortion is a sin if you believe that the Bible says that, that you believe in a strong military and fighting any hint of communism/socialism as my father did because you lived through the cold war, or that you would believe in the death penalty if you or anyone you love was attacked. I cannot even say that such experiences would not change my mind. The old saying--a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.

On the financial side, if I were paying 50% of my income for which I worked hard and dragged myself up by the bootstraps for to support people I perceived as being lazy I might be resentful. The two things I have real trouble understanding are a) being against big-government--isn't that why we have a government? and b) nationalism based on a random function of birth--that being part of the human race should trump country allegiance in the grand scheme of things, although I understand and am proud of accomplishments of the United States and the "American" spirit.

So, in returning to my original point it seems that I am better at defending my positions and stating my strong beliefs without being antagonizing than I thought. Which makes me feel better about myself.

And a final thought regarding sides. I have many friends up here who consider themselves fiscal conservatives and social liberals. That is they believe in smaller government, less handouts and more personal responsibility or some variation thereof, but believe in gay marriage and an end to "Don't ask, don't tell," strong separation of church and state, human rights for all, etc. In truth I rather believe some of that as well. There is a strong trend in this country to equate capitalism with democracy and morality, and socialism with anti-Americanism and degeneracy. An economic system is not in and of itself a governmental system, nor is it a moral system.

And finally, finally, in 100 years universal health care will seem no more socialist than free primary/secondary education for everyone does now, despite the fact that this was viewed as destroying the social order and leading down the path of socialism 100+ years ago, when it was first instituted as many things were that we now take for granted such as regulation.

I hope that my Facebook friends have followed me here and that we can have an interesting and civilized discussion amongst ourselves.

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