Thursday, October 13, 2016

Always, Never, Least, Most

We are in the grip of an Election, so it is not surprising that rhetoric is intensifying and people are getting carried away in their claims.  I keep seeing that Obama has endured the most criticism, or has been the least something-or-other.*  That we have never had a political candidate like  Trillary/Hump, or that the Republicans have always been Friends of the Devil or Protectors of Virtue or whatever.

The first level of hoping people will just calm down is to say that we will all come to our senses shortly, and even if we don't change our minds we will at least be less insufferable after inauguration day, and get back to being unified Americans, all pulling together for the common good.  The implication is that the wisest, most gentle response is to just mildly state our own opinions, wait out the excitable and passionate friends, and take a sort of resigned detachment.

I think that view is dangerous. What is the evidence that this is true, other than cowardice? The evidence over the last seven election cycles,  or perhaps twelve, is that these bleed over into the following years, and are cumulative.  We are not calming down, we are becoming meaner.  We increasingly nominate candidates who don't refrain from polarising, but actively embrace it. (I don't think there is anyone who can be blamed for starting this, yet I think there are clear inflection points downward in my lifetime.) In marital therapy, the counselor is trained to be especially alert to the person saying always/never. It signifies a person who has stopped thinking rationally and wants only to punish the other. That is the partner who wants to win, not arrive at the truth, or any kind of negotiated arrangement.  I don't see things as all that different in political discourse. I don't think it is merely being emphatic, stating your opinion, speaking truth to power, being forceful or prophetic in warning or whatever. I think it's evil.  If you doubt that, you might reflect that there is a Commandment, one of the Big Ten, about bearing false witness against a neighbor.  Or perhaps recall the specks and logs.

You said I was stupid. You pretend you were talking about those others, but that's just saying I'm one of the good niggers. I won't bring it up again, but I'll remember.  You accused me of hypocrisy (because I am in that group you called hypocrites) even though I'm the person who buys lunch more often and has a better track record for putting in the time and money.  You insulted me and my people at work while I was standing there. You left me with two choices: challenge you and be seen as the source of contention, or suffer in shame.  

 I also don't think it is mere inattention, a technical mistake, or cultural/literary convention. I believe that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Both Luke and Matthew record this from Jesus.) People are scandalised when challenged on the point, because they don't think of themselves as divisive, accusing people. They think it is those other people who are the problem.

Trust me on this, folks are deeply insulted that you say they are being insulting, when they think of themselves as the gentle, peaceful ones.  They double down pretty quickly.

*I keep thinking that one-word - one-name - answers should not only bury those claims, but make the person who said it ashamed to even speak up again. Nixon? Johnson? Reagan? Lincoln? Hoover? Clinton? Are you serious? Which other presidents/candidates were you talking about, exactly? 


james said...

I've had a little fun (e.g on Facebook) correcting some people parroting extreme statements about presidents. "The worst president we've had in this land was Jefferson Davis."

There are a couple of True Believers who will still assert that "W" was worse, but most normal folk seem to calm down a notch.

Christopher B said...

I'm a bit surprised by that, james, since it seems to be an article of faith that the previous Republican (and Democrat) presidents or candidates were the 'good ones', not like the evil people nominated this time around.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Christopher B - still too early for W, though we are on the brink. Dole has made it to the good guy list.

Christopher B said...

The half life is getting shorter. Reagan had to die, Dole and GHWB are pretty solid, McCain is back in good graces, and Romney is no longer a pariah. W is even getting encouraging words

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I give the Dems credit for being more forgiving than I. I can't think of a one of them I like any better all the way back to McGovern, and that's only because he learned some things after he tried to run a business and repented of some of his earlier ways.

Jonathan said...

"We are not calming down, we are becoming meaner."

Since the members of the set "we" change over time, it might be interesting to track changes in the opinions of specific individuals over time. IOW, if we are becoming meaner, is it mainly because individuals' views are hardening or because younger voters are meaner than older voters?