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The humanity has been reduced to nothingness.
August 11, 2014 1:20 PM   Subscribe

"The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they're truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen."
Andrew W.K. (previously applauded advice columnist) offers advice to a guy who reduces even his own father to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to him.
posted by dios (631 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whenever I hear apologia like these, I repeat my previous assertion.
posted by lalochezia at 1:26 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


Whenever I hear apologia like these, I repeat my previous assertion.

There is a way to make sure that your family is protected from the ignorant actions of others and yet not demonize those others at the same time. That's what he's getting at.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:31 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


The man is a national treasure.

(A year or so ago, I had the opportunity to work with Andrew on an event I was putting together. He's completely genuine, what-you-see-is-what-you-get and a delight to deal with. And I kid you not, he signed all his emails to me "Love, Andrew.")
posted by jbickers at 1:32 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


I'm just going to reprint what I commented on my personal FB account in response to this advice, because I think it's a different aspect of this issue that W.K. inadvertently gives short shrift. Often, the political is just a convenient proxy for the personal, in my opinion, and people complaining about these kinds of "political" disconnects with relatives may sometimes be using the language of politics as a way of approaching deeper issues from a less personal angle. In those cases, I think W.K.'s advice could potentially be harmful, as it reinforces cultural attitudes that can discourage people from extricating themselves from serious, legitimately abusive relationships:
I wanted to make a few remarks about this Andrew W.K. advice making the rounds today because it concerns a topic very close to my heart. I've often described my own father as a right-wing asshole, and in fact, that's how he sees himself now. In the 70s, when he and my mother were too busy getting kicked out of communes to parent me, leaving that chore to my grandparents, he would probably have identified as a hippie. My father was a physical and emotional abuser who got himself discharged from the military by shooting heroin in front of his commanding officer. I watched this man violently berate and abuse my grandparents for years over money he believed they were secretly keeping from him. He was once jailed for sexually assaulting a hitchhiker, and though the case was acquitted, I have good reason to suspect it shouldn't have been. Not only did he physically and psychologically abuse me on several occasions, the last time I heard from him, he called me on the anniversary of 9/11 claiming to miss me and want to see me, only to start insisting he needed to borrow money. He contributed to my grandparent's financial ruin near the end of their lives by repeatedly suing them over exaggerated disability claims stemming from an occasion when my grandfather gave him a job because no one else would. For people like me, who are on the receiving end of "helpful advice" like this on a regular basis, I find Andrew W.K.'s advice here to be tone deaf and insulting. Don't imagine you can peer into other people's lives from the outside and tell them how to fix them. Life is more complicated than glib, feel-good homilies like this article reflect. It's hard enough breaking free of abusers as it is, without people lazily reinforcing cultural stereotypes about the importance of family bonds to shame those of us just trying to survive and not let our dangerous relatives drag us down with them.
Generally, I get where W.K. is coming from here, and agree, but I do think he should have at least included some discussion of the possibility that sometimes "you don't get to pick your family" is the wrong message to be broadcasting.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:32 PM on August 11 [95 favorites]


Oh man. I already got in an argument with someone on Facebook who thought W.K.'s response was beautiful or something like that. You know what? The world is not being hurt, in the first instance, by people who have the audacity to point out that members of one political party are acting in ways that are not so nice—that, for instance, one party seems more interested in suppressing the vote than others.* It is being hurt, rather, by the people actually suppressing the vote, and it's not really a bad thing to point out that many who believe that suppressing the vote is a good thing are acting on that belief and that it has downstream effects and to adjust the way one interacts with them accordingly. Admittedly: one can adjust too much, or in the wrong direction, or whatever, but W.K.'s response reads an awful lot like pox-on-both-your-houses can't-we-all-just-get-along everyone's-equally-wrong civility-over-all-else sanctimony.


* yes I know that on many scores neither party is very great; that doesn't really help W.K.'s point. And I'm confining myself to the US context because that's the context of the writer of the letter.
posted by kenko at 1:33 PM on August 11 [35 favorites]


If everybody has a valid point...
and everybody thinks the opposing side is actively trying to destroy the world...
then everybody is actively trying to destroy the world!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:34 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


but I do think he should have at least included some discussion of the possibility that sometimes "you don't get to pick your family"

Why do you think his advice is limited to just familial relationships? This applies to all personal relationships. The occasion that gives rise to this just happens to be a father-son relationship, but this is true for all relationships and communities.
posted by dios at 1:35 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The people committing the genocide are wrong... but in some way, aren't the victims of genocide equally responsible?

Can't the cop that shoots an innocent teen, and the teen who gets shot by a cop for doing nothing but being black in America on a sunny day, just agree to meet in the middle?

Partisanship is destroying this country! We must learn to compromise!
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:36 PM on August 11 [163 favorites]


then everybody is actively trying to destroy the world!

Oh shit. They're on to us!

(Stupid world. Y U so hard to destroy???)
posted by yoink at 1:37 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


W.K. is fun at all, but yeah, back to the intellectual shallow end, Andrew.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:37 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The people committing the genocide are wrong... but in some way, aren't the victims of genocide equally responsible?

Can't the cop that shoots an innocent teen, and the teen who gets shot by a cop for doing nothing but being black in America on a sunny day, just agree to meet in the middle?


Don't be obtuse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


The Godwinized retort to Andrew W. K. practically writes itself.

Yes, love is the answer. And, yes, you really do have to love your enemies, and that is very, very hard.

But sometimes love requires that righteous anger be forcefully expressed. If you want to preach love, you can't be politically disengaged, and this sort of "both sides do it" advice positively reeks of disengagement.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:40 PM on August 11 [65 favorites]


It may be trite but I think it's a good reminder, that people with different political beliefs are not necessarily the worst people in the world. I mean, "I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all" is pretty hilarious hyperbole, and convincing that particular guy to calm the hell down and view his dad as a real person who probably doesn't actually want to destroy the world is not a bad thing. I'm friends with a really really conservative guy who is really really intelligent and a nice person and I sort of view him as an interesting window into a world I can't understand.
posted by something something at 1:41 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


Why do you think his advice is limited to just familial relationships? This applies to all personal relationships. The occasion that gives rise to this just happens to be a father-son relationship, but this is true for all relationships and communities.

Sure but sometimes the relationships in a community really are unhealthy and dysfunctional and politics can be one of the ingredients in that nasty stew.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:41 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


I always get such a kick out of people who take politics to such levels of hyperbolic absurdity.

Americans are particularly prone to it, and I think it has to do with our poor school system and a real lack of studying any history that isn't American History.

For example, Spain was ruled for 35 years by a man who was so inbred, his family tree going back 5 generations is comprised of about 23 people. You thought 8 years of Bush was terrible. And yet, despite this, and all that surrounded it, Spain still exists. If you were a farmer outside of Madrid, you lived your day to day life in much the same way before he began his reign as you did after it.

And yeah, some things sucked. But, in the main, not much changed because of him.

History is long, and American memories are short and they can't see beyond their noses anyway.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:41 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


I think people can argue about Obama vs Hillary without descending into family-destroying feuds. But people who go around loudly supporting the ignorant, selfish, hateful message of the 2014 Republican party can go fuck asphalt on a sunny day. The mere fact of one's views being wrapped around an organized political party doesn't absolve a person for holding and promoting abhorrent beliefs.
posted by crayz at 1:42 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


I don't see where he's being obtuse. It gets really, really old to constantly see people try to repackage serious, deep disagreement as "a difference of opinion". And it's worse when doing so serves to hide how damaging and harmful the actual viewpoints really are.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:45 PM on August 11 [28 favorites]


the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world

That, and unregulated greenhouse gas emissions. But mostly the greenhouse gas emissions.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:47 PM on August 11 [67 favorites]


I don't disagree entirely, but I think it's naive of the author to put family feuds on the same level as sectarian strife. Not taking sides, radiating love and compassion for your political and religious enemies is a luxury many do not have.
posted by peripathetic at 1:47 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I think what helps is being able to see things from each of the points of view: the son's, the dad's, as well as the columnist's. For each there are aspects one can give credit to and aspects one can criticize. Learning to manage the complexity of multiple viewpoints is an important first step, and goes hand in hand with the author's appeal to empathy and/or love.
posted by polymodus at 1:48 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but disagree about whether to drop a bomb on a bunch of innocent people isn't merely having 'a difference of opinion'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:48 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


what the hell is wrong with you people that you think a person's humanity can be stripped away just because you disagree with their political views? This is toxic ideology and I truly expected better of metafilter. Respecting a person and trying to exist in a friendly way with them is essential for a healthy community and society. Instead, you are engaging in exactly the same vitriol and hatred that you claim to oppose. While Metafilter leans left, it is not a home for hatred against *anyone*.
posted by rebent at 1:48 PM on August 11 [46 favorites]


The last paragraph was a good answer to the question. The rest of it... well. The problem with the whole thing boils down to Andrew W.K.'s use of quotation marks around "right" and "wrong." After some deeper inquiry it could turn out he has some sort of consistent view about metaethics, but I doubt it.

And the part about "this is what's keeping us all alive" falls apart when, you know, not all of us are being kept alive.
posted by papayaninja at 1:49 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


people with different political beliefs are not necessarily the worst people in the world

People who think a woman should be forced to carry a child because she's a dirty slut who had a condom break are high on my list of worst people. Same with folks who think someone who loves their own gender is going to hell and doesn't deserve the same rights as anyone else. Same with those idiots on Facebook who post "funny" cartoons of Obama as a monkey and demand he goes back to Muslimtown.

I like Andrew WK a lot and I think his advice column has some great stuff, but there are some things that my life is a lot better without and that includes hatred and bigotry.
posted by jess at 1:51 PM on August 11 [45 favorites]


what the hell is wrong with you people that you think a person's humanity can be stripped away just because you disagree with their political views?

Quite the opposite, actually. I think hate, selfishness, and proud ignorance are very human things. No one is stripping anyone of anything.

Oh except Republicans. They're stripping black people of the ability to vote and women of the rights over their body.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:53 PM on August 11 [38 favorites]


That, and unregulated greenhouse gas emissions. But mostly the greenhouse gas emissions.

Yeah, the actual destruction of the world happening right now was a huge blind spot in his article. And I think it's quite fair to think poorly of people who prioritize destroying other people's lives or otherwise dehumanizing them just because they were born with different skin, or love or are or want to be the "wrong" gender for them, or any of a number of things. Sad to see that he fell victim to the same stupid "both sides are equally wrong in any given argument" that is the basis for politics today.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:54 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world

That, and unregulated greenhouse gas emissions. But mostly the greenhouse gas emissions.


Yeah, maybe the original letter-writer is completely over-reacting. On the other hand, maybe his dad is, for example, one of those "Prius Repellant" assholes who is literally "turning ... into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?"

People should absolutely be evaluated on their actions, and if those actions stem from political views then those views are absolutely up for debate as well. Political views do not exist in a context-less vacuum that have no effect on the world around them.
posted by muddgirl at 1:54 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


I don't disagree entirely, but I think it's naive of the author to put family feuds on the same level as sectarian strife.

The only people I've seen "put family feuds on the same level as sectarian strife" are people in here.

That was Andrew W. K.'s entire point. The kid who wrote the letter is basically equating his father with a genocidal maniac simply because of who his father votes for. Andrew W. K. is urging him to approach the situation with a bit more nuance, precisely because, as you put it, a family feud is not on the same level as sectarian strife.

People who think a woman should be forced to carry a child because she's a dirty slut who had a condom break are high on my list of worst people. Same with folks who think someone who loves their own gender is going to hell and doesn't deserve the same rights as anyone else. Same with those idiots on Facebook who post "funny" cartoons of Obama as a monkey and demand he goes back to Muslimtown.

Okay, but how about people who are just flipping the "R" side of the voting booth and otherwise leaving things alone?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:55 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Well, if you ever hear me bitching about my "right-wing asshole" father, please know that I am not exaggerating the asshole part. He never had a girlfriend for more than a couple of months without giving her a black eye as far as I can recall. Also, in his case, it's always been pretty clear none of his politics are really about deeply held beliefs or ideas. He's a spiteful man who picks his political priorities based partly on who he wants to spite and partly on what self-serving ideas he wants to encourage. At last check (several years ago now), he was a neo-confederate who resented Mexicans for taking jobs he would never be able to keep anyway. I'm sure I'm not alone in having a relative of this particular, deeply resentful and hateful political species. I think W.K. might be underestimating how many of his readers' politics are informed by similar personal circumstances that make it much more difficult to cleanly cleave political attitudes apart from deeper, more personal issues.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:55 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


NoxAeternum: It gets really, really old to constantly see people try to repackage serious, deep disagreement as "a difference of opinion".

MisanthropicPainforest: Sorry, but disagree about whether to drop a bomb on a bunch of innocent people isn't merely having 'a difference of opinion'.

Original article, CTRL-F "opinion." No hits.
posted by yoink at 1:55 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


So, rebent, are you going to hold everyone to that standard? Because my problem with these arguments is that they usually wind up becoming a stealthed means of forcing other people to tolerate the intolerance of other people. Asking someone to stand behind their words and beliefs is not dehumanization.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:56 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Don't be obtuse.

When we anticipate with ferocious glee the next chance we have to prove one angle "obtuse" and another "acute," all the while disregarding the vast complexity of almost every angle -- not to mention the universe as a whole -- we are reducing the beauty and magic of life to a "theta" or an "arc," or worst of all, a "degree." This is the power of geometry at its most sinister.
posted by RogerB at 1:56 PM on August 11 [28 favorites]


what the hell is wrong with you people that you think a person's humanity can be stripped away just because you disagree with their political views?

Because those political views often deny the humanity of others. The Hobby Lobby decision, fighting against universal healthcare, blaming rape victims, etc etc. There is a particular political party endorsing and doing all that and it's insane to worry about their humanity while they plot and plan to shit on everyone in the name of rights or religion or 'fuck you, I got mine'.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:56 PM on August 11 [44 favorites]


just consider 'opinion' to be functionally indistinguishable with 'belief' 'value' or 'views'
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:59 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Okay, but how about people who are just flipping the "R" side of the voting booth and otherwise leaving things alone?

I think we have to evaluate how much hatred someone is spewing in our lives and act accordingly. But to a certain extent yeah, if you (collective you!) regularly vote for policies that oppress me then I'm going to be extremely reluctant to trust you or have you in my life in more than a very superficial way.

Actions have consequences.
posted by jess at 1:59 PM on August 11 [28 favorites]


what the hell is wrong with you people that you think a person's humanity can be stripped away just because you disagree with their political views? This is toxic ideology and I truly expected better of metafilter.

Look carefully at the entire thing, including the letter of the advice-seeker. AWK pretty much frames the letter writer as being dehumanizing (even though he makes it clear that he loves his father), and then proceeds to talk about how bad that is. You, in your own cri de coeur are going along with the framing, as if anyone here is gung-ho about dehumanizing people. AWK's response is long on inspirational poster platitudes, and short on advice that really is going to help this person deal with a very difficult father whom he loves.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:02 PM on August 11 [20 favorites]


Because those political views often deny the humanity of others.

Totes. It is completely wrong of them to deny the humanity of others they disagree with. Fuck to the core people who deny others humanity; they're worthless, right?
posted by dios at 2:03 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


FTFA: "But the truth is, the world has always been and always will be on the brink of destruction. And what keeps it from actually imploding is our love for life and our deep-seeded desire not to die. "

But the world is much much farther away from the brink of destruction than it ever has been, and its not because of love. Its because of the UN, Human Rights norms, economic development, treaties, economic integration, the spread of democracy, peacekeeping missions, shit like that.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:03 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I guess one easy part of being trans is not having to listen to "advice" like this because I can't do anything with it. I don't have any socially conservative friends because the few socially conservative acquaintances I had all dumped me after I came out. People like that literally will not gender me correctly, let alone deign to get to know me.

Like, not wanting me to be able to get married is technically a political stance, but what am I supposed to do with people like that? This isn't academic for a lot of us, though it may be for Andrew WK. Would he have the same response to a gay kid whose asshole dad just kicked her out of the house?
posted by Corinth at 2:05 PM on August 11 [47 favorites]


Some of the worst people have the best political views...
posted by johngoren at 2:05 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


So we must protect and respect each other, no matter how hard it feels. No matter how wrong someone else may seem to us, they are still human. No matter how bad someone may appear, they are truly no worse than us. Our beliefs and behavior don't make us fundamentally better than others, no matter how satisfying it is to believe otherwise.

I think Andrew WK went a little too broad here. No beliefs? No behaviors?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:05 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Actions have consequences.

Yes, actions have consequences. Membership in a group doesn't always translate into action, however.

I mean, what if the reason your Dad voted for the Republican candidate in a local election was because the Democratic candidate was someone who drove drunk and killed a kid and got away with it? Would you still shun your father because "you voted Republican! Unclean!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:05 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Fuck to the core people who deny others humanity; they're worthless, right?

People who deny the humanity of others are animals, I tell you!
posted by mondo dentro at 2:06 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Totes. It is completely wrong of them to deny the humanity of others they disagree with. Fuck to the core people who deny others humanity; they're worthless, right?

No, they're just assholes. And I'm tired of being told that I should make nice just because there's a faction that's fetishized fencepost sitting.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:07 PM on August 11 [31 favorites]


Totes. It is completely wrong of them to deny the humanity of others they disagree with. Fuck to the core people who deny others humanity; they're worthless, right?

Of course they aren't worthless, they're still human beings, who love their friends and family and are in turn loved by them.

But I am under no obligation to make that truth the main focus of these various political battles. If they're going to repeatedly fought tooth and nail to deny the humanity of others and suppress their rights, then it makes zero sense to constantly worry about how human they are. They simply need to be defeated on the political battlefield or at least have their power severely diminished.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:10 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


AWK announced on Facebook that he's going on Glenn Beck's show right about now.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 2:10 PM on August 11


I mean, what if the reason your Dad voted for the Republican candidate in a local election was because the Democratic candidate was someone who drove drunk and killed a kid and got away with it? Would you still shun your father because "you voted Republican! Unclean!"

Don't be so fucking obtuse.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:10 PM on August 11 [29 favorites]


Pointing out how people support the violation of the rights of their fellow humans is not stripping away their humanity. It is asking that actions detrimental to human well being stop.

I've always appreciated James Baldwin's thoughts on this line of argument:
I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:10 PM on August 11 [31 favorites]


short on advice that really is going to help this person deal with a very difficult father whom he loves

Don't talk politics ?

I mean, my father has turned into right wing asshole and as long as we don't talk politics, we can get along. So we don't talk politics.

I'm currently watching my friends from HS turn into reactionary dittoheads and on the one hand, I have nothing but disappointment for them. On the other hand, I know that they are otherwise decent enough people who are just trying to meddle through life and have bought into the RightWing Hype Machine.

Neither group is Destroying The World. They're more Apple Fanboys than Goosestepping Brownshirts.

I rather wish they were less stupid and more insightful, but, well, they aren't.

So, we don't talk politics and things are good. I'm not interested in being an evangelist anyway - so what if I get them to change their minds ? If I do that enough, do I get a free toaster oven ?

Life's too short. I'd rather take the dog hiking.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:11 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I completely agree with the gist of your comments, as general truths. If this guy was writing in to just say his dad is an asshole because he's a Republican, then they'd be a propos. But my read of the letter writer is that it goes way beyond that. There's a lot of conflict, leading to the loss of the entire father-son relationship that has occurred over time. This is a great source of pain. And instead of any kind of discussion of that, AWK says the guy shouldn't dehumanize his father. Full stop. I just find that not only unfair, but not even helpful.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:14 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. This needs to not become a referendum on Metafilter itself. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:17 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


the ignorant, selfish, hateful message of the 2014 Republican party

It is not yet built. They are, however, inviting opinions on what it should be. You can toss in your two cents here. No cost, no obligation!
posted by IndigoJones at 2:19 PM on August 11


It's probably just coincidence that it's a wealthy* white male who thinks that political differences between right-wing assholes are unimportant and it's *political difference itself* which is the problem....

(* I'm just assuming Famous People are usually wealthy. Could be wrong about that one.)
posted by edheil at 2:20 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Pointing out how people support the violation of the rights of their fellow humans is not stripping away their humanity

No, reducing them to a caricature "right wing asshole who is destroying the world" is. Again, nobody is saying "don't disagree with your father" or even "don't ever enter into political arguments with him in which you tell him quite specifically what you see as the damaging consequences of his political beliefs." It's simply not to just write him off as a fundamentally lesser human being because he disagrees with you about matters of political policy.

I've known many people who have all the "right" political ideas who are complete assholes in every aspect of their lives and people whose political beliefs scare the bejesus out of me who are nonetheless loving, caring and considerate in all their dealings one-to-one with other people in their lives. People are complicated, messy, often not very good at seeing all the implications of their political beliefs. It's one thing to say either "Dad, I just can't see how you could vote for X...don't you see that the consequences of the policy she advocates would be A, B and C" or to say "Dad, you know what, we just can't talk about politics without getting into a pointless shouting match--so let's just drop the subject." But it's another thing altogether to say "my Dad's a right wing asshole who is DESTROYING THE WORLD and I refuse to sully the purity of my pristine correctness-about-everything by even talking to him." Unless he's actually building a space-laser that will literally destroy the world, that's simply absurd and dehumanizing.
posted by yoink at 2:20 PM on August 11 [25 favorites]


There are human beings right now in the world trying to change the law at multiple levels to invalidate my marriage.

I acknowledge their humanity. I also acknowledge that they wish, in a very literal sense, to disassemble my life as I have chosen it.

I have done no harm to these humans. Most of them don't know me. To most of them, really, my marriage is a tuft of astro turf in the stadium in which they would play at gladiators.

And you would tell me that the fault is mine, for thinking that these human beings are pretty shitty?
posted by PMdixon at 2:23 PM on August 11 [56 favorites]


It's simply not to just write him off as a fundamentally lesser human being because he disagrees with you about matters of political policy.

What if you are gay? Or trans*? And those 'matters of political policy' are your dignity as a human being?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:23 PM on August 11 [20 favorites]


Either some of you all didn't read the article or just don't care what the guy's point is. He didn't say you have to agree with those who you disagree with. Nor did he say you have to compromise with them. Nor did he say that you have to accept opposing viewpoints as reasonable. All the guy is saying is not allow yourself to strip people of humanity and demonize those who you disagree with.

That sounds like a somewhat more wordy set up to the Hitler joke that goes along the lines of "sure he had a bad patch there where he invaded some countries and holocaust and stuff, but did you try his potato salad?! Marvellous I tell you, he's not all bad that guy! DON'T YOU DEMONIZE HIM!"

Sure we shouldn't demonize people.

And

when people turn themselves willingly into devils, we should then not lie to ourselves and minimize what it is that they turned themselves into.

I mean, the guy was trying to destroy the world. He did his darndest. And that's not a manner of speaking. I'm talking about those last weeks in the bunker, where he essentially went nihilistic, and was willing to see the whole world go up in flames.

Yes, Virginia, some people are trying to destroy the world. But on the other hand, that potato salad...

If the shoe fits. The shoe fitting, is not the fault of those who observe and remark on that fact.
posted by VikingSword at 2:24 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


If the dad was a pedophile and a racist, the advice "Maybe you shouldn't demonize him just because he has different beliefs than you" would be called out as shitty advice. Everyone has their own line in the sand where other people's beliefs stop being hypothetical things that aren't going to hurt anyone and start being potential things that could mess your part of the world.

If the person writing to Andrew WK feels that his dad is enough of an asshole that he needs advice on it, I'm going to give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that the person isn't wrong about the dad being an asshole. Yes, it's bad to demonize people you don't know based on who they vote for, but I have no problem with a person calling his dad an asshole and a monster. Maybe the person writing the letter is right: maybe his dad is a real grade-A asshole.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:25 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


It's probably just coincidence that it's a wealthy* white male

Wow.

So the author says "When we lump people into groups, quickly label them, and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, how they look, where they come from, etc., we are not behaving as full human beings..." And you respond by trying to strip the author of his individual humanity and going ad hominem on him based upon labels and assumptions you attribute to him being rich and white (and even acknowledging that you are making a baseless assumption about his wealth).

That's like a performance art level of irony there.
posted by dios at 2:26 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


What if you are gay? Or trans*? And those 'matters of political policy' are your dignity as a human being?

And, again, nobody is saying you have to agree with their point of view or support their political program. Just about every person in history that you admire who wasn't born in living memory would have opposed affording you the rights you (rightly) demand as a gay or a trans person. Does that mean that 99% of the human race was evil assholes it's not worth considering as human beings until just the last few decades of history?

People can hold beliefs we find morally offensive without that making them inhuman monsters. It's a bit bizarre, frankly, that a piece arguing nothing more radical than "you need to remember that the people you disagree with are still human beings" is being held to be so shocking and controversial here.
posted by yoink at 2:28 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


Folks, coming up with possible scenarios for how horrible the asker's father could be is lazy. Let's not do that, but instead do the hard work of dealing with the situation actually described, where he's a Fox-besotted jerk who insists on inflicting it on his family.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:29 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


And you respond by trying to strip the author of his individual humanity and going ad hominem on him based upon labels and assumptions you attribute to him being rich and white (and even acknowledging that you are making a baseless assumption about his wealth).

lotsa stupid stuff her so bear with us.

No one is trying to strip Andrew WK of his humanity.

Ad hominem is attacking the person, then saying that that person's argument is wrong based on that attack. That's not what is going on here.

There is no assumption. We know that Andrew WK is a white male in a comfortable financial situation.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:29 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


It's simply not to just write him off as a fundamentally lesser human being because he disagrees with you about matters of political policy.

Considering the sort of actual dehumanizing crap that gets sanitized with that phrase, I tend to see the term "matters of political policy" as being rather weasley. When someone thinks that someone should be a second class citizen just because of their orientation, or that women should be denied basic health care, they're assholes, and no amount of "difference of opinion" can cover that up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:29 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Charles Krauthammer:
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:30 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


Ad hominem is attacking the person, then saying that that person's argument is wrong based on that attack. That's not what is going on here.

There is no assumption. We know that Andrew WK is a white male in a comfortable financial situation.


You realize that ad hominem arguments are a fallacy even if the specific charges leveled against the person are true, right? The fact that Andrew WK is both white and "comfortably off" doesn't suddenly make "his argument is wrong because he's white and comfortably off" not an ad hominem argument.
posted by yoink at 2:31 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Just about every person in history that you admire who wasn't born in living memory would have opposed affording you the rights you (rightly) demand as a gay or a trans person. Does that mean that 99% of the human race was evil assholes it's not worth considering as human beings until just the last few decades of history?

They had an excuse.

It's a bit bizarre, frankly, that a piece arguing nothing more radical than "you need to remember that the people you disagree with are still human beings" is being held to be so shocking and controversial here.

That's not all that it argues. It says, in addition:

"The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. "

" No matter how bad someone may appear, they are truly no worse than us. Our beliefs and behavior don't make us fundamentally better than others, no matter how satisfying it is to believe otherwise."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:32 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Does that mean that 99% of the human race was evil assholes it's not worth considering as human beings until just the last few decades of history?

Maybe or maybe not, but if Abe Lincoln tried to take my wedding ring from me I'd still kick 'im innis nads.
posted by PMdixon at 2:32 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


The fact that Andrew WK is both white and "comfortably off" doesn't suddenly make "his argument is wrong because he's white and comfortably off" not an ad hominem argument.

Uh, literally no one is making that argument.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:33 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

I mean, it's Krauthammer, so this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but... conservatives say liberals are evil all the fucking time. Do we even have to go past the caricature of Barack Obama as evil incarnate, or how they treated Nancy Pelosi?
posted by tonycpsu at 2:33 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


Neither group is Destroying The World. They're more Apple Fanboys than Goosestepping Brownshirts.

See, this is where I think we go off the rails. No. Some people are actually destroying the world. What do you think the real Brownshirts were? All raging psychopaths? Not at all. Isn't this what we mean when we speak of "the banality of evil"?

Now, we can say "forgive them Father, they know not what they do", at the same time that we ask forgiveness for our own shortcomings. And then we can struggle to deal with that. But the actions we take, or avoid taking, have consequences. Sometimes those consequences can be dire.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:34 PM on August 11 [29 favorites]


and I refuse to sully the purity of my pristine correctness-about-everything by even talking to him

The letter writer doesn't indicate that he's going to shun his father. In fact he's asking for advice on finding some way to engage him. Even so, I'm going to have to disagree that choosing to cut contact, even an immediate family member, because of their support for policies you find objectionable is dehumanizing.

Not talking to them is certainly less an affront to their humanity than supporting policies that legally impede human rights like MisantropicPainforest says above. I don't see anything in the letter writer's description, yes including the hyperbolic "monster," that gets close to "dehumanizing" or reducing his father's humanity "to nothingness."
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:34 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


My go-to pop culture reference in this situation is the original TV series "V", the 1983 version. This priest shows up saying how the people of Earth should try to reason with the Visitors and find common ground. Surely we could all come together and love one another? He gets an invite and goes up to the mothership.

Result: the aliens eat him.
posted by gimonca at 2:34 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


No one is trying to strip Andrew WK of his humanity.

When you respond to what the guy said as an expected viewpoint because of the color of his skin and his perceived wealth, then yes, you are stripping him of his humanity and treating him as a member of a group, along with all the assumptions you make about that group. You view him as a group member who possesses those assumptions, and you have destroyed his individual humanity.

Ad hominem is attacking the person, then saying that that person's argument is wrong based on that attack. That's not what is going on here.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:29 PM on August 11


That's exactly what was going on in the comment to which I was responding wherein edheil rejected Andrew WK's argument based upon an irrelevant fact about the author--the definition of ad hominem.

Are you sure you want to go to bat for that ridiculous comment?
posted by dios at 2:36 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


The fact that Andrew WK is both white and "comfortably off" doesn't suddenly make "his argument is wrong because he's white and comfortably off" not an ad hominem argument.

I feel horrible for how abused the poor ad hominem fallacy is. The point is that that being able to say "hey, we should see everyone as unique individuals" is a luxury granted by privilege.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:37 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


I mean I am sorry that meditating on the fact that people who cheer the idea of me being disenfranchised, up to and including internment, are human and at base my brothers and sisters has not been at the top of my priority list, OK? It's been a busy quarter.
posted by PMdixon at 2:38 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


It's a bit bizarre, frankly, that a piece arguing nothing more radical than "you need to remember that the people you disagree with are still human beings" is being held to be so shocking and controversial here.

That's not what the piece is all about. It's littered with comments about worrying about "seemingly" important or life-or-death problems, that it's wrong to see certain things as a "threat to survival." The problem is that for instance, a lot of the hateful positions being taken very much are important, life-or-death threats to survival. Maybe not in the sense of biological death, but certainly as a viable expression of one's personhood.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:38 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


dios, do you seriously think you're evading the same sort of behavior you're attempting to call out?

If you think AWK is on the money, tell us why. That's how a non-dehumanizing discussion works.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:39 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


You know, I read this article (after years as a MeFite tiptoeing gingerly around political threads on the Blue) and thought, this guy gets it.

Gets how so much of political discourse these days is just angry strawmanning and clinging blindly to stereotypes about opposing sides.

Gets how unwilling people are to accept any level of nuance in addressing their pet issues, or to admit information that complicates their worldview in the least.

Gets (maybe) how insanely frustrating it is to be someone who holds a well-informed, logically rigorous minority political position without being an asshole, without in any way possessing slut-shaming or dehumanizing or angry hateful puppy-kicking world-destroying views of other people, but just by virtue of wanting to make the world a better, saner, safer, more loving place, like everybody else... but then is utterly unable to explain the logical nuances of that position to anybody, because the room is full of people screaming LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU, DIE YOU WOMAN-HATING POVERTY-PROMOTING ENVIRONMENT-DESTROYING BITCH. Gets, independently of that frustration, how damaging in a human and intellectual sense it is to refuse to accept the possibility of anything but pure evil in the worldviews one disagrees with.

Then I thought, boy, I bet that thread in Metafilter is full of people saying, "But Republicans aren't human!!!!" And darn if I wasn't right!
posted by yersinia at 2:39 PM on August 11 [24 favorites]


Then I thought, boy, I bet that thread in Metafilter is full of people saying, "But Republicans aren't human!!!!" And darn if I wasn't right!

Link?
posted by PMdixon at 2:40 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


Fuck to the core people who deny others humanity; they're worthless, right?

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Anyway. Call me crazy, but I miss the old Andrew WK. The big question unanswered here is when will Andrew return to the studio and record that balls-to-wall cover of Up With People's "The World Is Your Hometown" that we all know lies within him?
posted by octobersurprise at 2:40 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The letter writer doesn't indicate that he's going to shun his father. In fact he's asking for advice on finding some way to engage him.

Exactly. Andrew gave completely shitty advice when she should have said something like this: "Look, your dad probably isn't going to change. He's 65 and will be dead sooner than you'd like. Stop trying to talk politics with him or convince him he's wrong. Go fishing. Enjoy movies or ballgames. Find a couple of comedians you both like and watch them on tv. In short, have fun and enjoy the time you have left together. Because it's running out."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:41 PM on August 11 [53 favorites]


Are you sure you want to go to bat for that ridiculous comment?



This is the ad hominem argument in question:

It's probably just coincidence that it's a wealthy* white male who thinks that political differences between right-wing assholes are unimportant and it's *political difference itself* which is the problem....

The above isn't 1) an argument 2) doesn't say that Andrew WK's argument is wrong because he's wealthy, white, or a male
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:41 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Then I thought, boy, I bet that thread in Metafilter is full of people saying, "But Republicans aren't human!!!!" And darn if I wasn't right!

But...you aren't. There's a difference between dehumanizing someone and saying that you don't have to respect arguments with a metric fuckton of evidence pointing to them being hateful.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:43 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


Then I thought, boy, I bet that thread in Metafilter is full of people saying, "But Republicans aren't human!!!!" And darn if I wasn't right!

Link?

Many times, people aren't quoting what other people are saying - they're quoting what they are hearing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:43 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


When someone thinks that someone should be a second class citizen just because of their orientation, or that women should be denied basic health care, they're assholes

And, again, I'm sure there are lots of people who you don't actually think are "assholes" (or don't think that that's a reasonable absolute summation of them as people) who hold some form of those beliefs. Was Nelson Mandela an "asshole" until he was eventually talked around on gay rights? Was it not worth even thinking of him as a "human being" until he adopted the position you (and I) approve of?
posted by yoink at 2:44 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


That's like a performance art level of irony there.
posted by dios at 4:26 PM on August 11 [1 favorite +] [!]


Yeah, we stupid metafilter liberals are all hateful, terrible people and you right-wingers are all wonderful human beings who just want to get along. We get it!
posted by goethean at 2:46 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


If you think AWK is on the money, tell us why.

You mean regurgitate what he said? I think his points are all excellent. What more do you want me to say. Or are you looking for me to delve in deep moral philosophy or talk about how innocent children never dehumanize those that are different? What are you looking for here? I agree with what the guy says. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and when they do things I disagree with, I respond to the things I disagree with, not the person. Not sure there is a why much beyond that, so I don't know what you are calling me out to do.
posted by dios at 2:46 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


To the extent he [Mandela] acted on it: Yeah, sure.
posted by PMdixon at 2:46 PM on August 11


Ok, I'll make an argument.

The call for political comity benefits the privileged and those who already have power. It's easy to say everyone should just get along, be polite, recognize our differences are unimportant when you're either part of the ruling elite or part of the most privileged demographic. Because you benefit from such a situation.

It's a tool of the powerful to maintain power and to keep the disenfranchised disenfranchised.
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on August 11 [98 favorites]


Was it not worth even thinking of him as a "human being" until he adopted the position you (and I) approve of?

That wasn't in the comment you're responding to, so what was the point of including it here?
posted by zombieflanders at 2:47 PM on August 11


Folks, coming up with possible scenarios for how horrible the asker's father could be is lazy. Let's not do that, but instead do the hard work of dealing with the situation actually described, where he's a Fox-besotted jerk who insists on inflicting it on his family.

I think it's lazy to not assume that the person writing the letter knows what he's talking about. And I'm not coming up a scenario where the dad is building bombs in the basement or anything, I'm just thinking of a dad who watches Fox tv constantly and who wants to constantly talk to his family about his hateful opinions on everything. Calling a person like that an asshole or a monster is fine by me.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:47 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


The point is that that being able to say "hey, we should see everyone as unique individuals" is a luxury granted by privilege.

I agree, but to play devil's advocate, then it follows that since the father's words are so damaging and dehumanizing to his son and others, it must be the case that it is the father who lacks the requisite kind of privilege. (Why/how? Because of his upbringing, the societal environment he himself was subject to, etc.) And we understand as well that we should strive to treat those who lack privilege with a sort of empathy and respect. (And even this isn't really playing devil's advocate, rather it's more taking your assertion—which I perfectly agree with on a level, just to be clear—to its logical end, which raises further questions).

No one said this stuff is easy.
posted by polymodus at 2:47 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I think the left could use more anger. It's what motivates people to get out and vote.
posted by Justinian at 2:49 PM on August 11 [21 favorites]


rebent's comment isn't so bad if you take it as ironic performance art ... YOU MEFITES
posted by aydeejones at 2:52 PM on August 11


You know, I read it, and it sounds really nice, but I don't know if it actually meant anything. The writer already said "He's my dad, I'll love him no matter what," so I'm not sure what AWK's exhortation to love him accomplished. He loves his dad; he is just having a hard time with the political and moral stances his father takes, which he sees as monstrous and destructive.

I mean, what if he's right? What if his dad is in fact believing in something monstrous and destructive? Does AWK's chastising, feel-good, we're-all-the-same response actually help him at all?

Here's what I think the response should have covered.

1. It's good that you still love your dad. Try to remember those things you love about him when you talk to him.

2. See if, from what you know about your dad, you can see how he came to be this way (assuming he wasn't always). Is he actually better than his dad was? Is he angrier and more bitter than he used to be? If so, are there reasons (like maybe he's house-bound, or has health issues) that therapy and/or meds and/or more time with you might help?

3. If you want to help, and are able to, then find ways to interact that are positive, like doing things you used to do together, or ignoring/redirecting his tirades with nonsequiters. Much of the time, the stuff people get from Fox or hate radio they just repeat verbatim, without any follow up. If you change the topic, or get them off of familiar ground, they can be distracted from the hate-response. Maybe you can have a real conversation.

(all of this assuming dad isn't and hasn't historically been an actual abuser to him)

There are ways to be loving to your relatives who hold destructive views (the way mine are homophobic and racist, for example) without some handwavey, blur-the-lines mumbo jumbo. I still think homophobia and racism and environmental degredation are bad things to support, and have real consequences; people do actually die from these things, Mr. WK.

But I have gotten pretty good at sidestepping/redirecting conversations headed that way into more compassionate ground; at the very least, I plant seeds of doubt and questions, if I can. Or sometimes we just talk about skeet-shooting. Ironically, I see my goal as reminding my relatives that I am human. Because Fox News tells them all the time that liberal feminist non-Christians aren't, not really. But here I am sitting in the sunshine with them, listening to their hunting stories. Not accepting their bullshit, but opening the door, again and again, for them to come out of that dark place that hate radio wants them to live in, and sit here with me, who is feminist and liberal and not scary at all. I hope to remind them that they didn't always live in that dark place, and they don't have to now.
posted by emjaybee at 2:54 PM on August 11 [51 favorites]


Once again, "asshole", "monster", and "human" are not mutually exclusive categories, and trying to make them out to be is nothing more than rhetorical legerdemain.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:54 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the "Metafilter" tag. Was this Andrew W.K. fellow directing this advice to little ol' us?
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:54 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I mean this isn't fucking Byzantium where we're picking sides based on sports teams. There are large numbers of people who wish to literally destroy my marriage.

The reason there is so much anger in reaction to the article is that it basically takes the tone that for some reason people get all het up about these things and that's a bummer and we should stop. It's a festering carbuncle of both-sides-do-itism.
posted by PMdixon at 2:54 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


This is getting silly.

I think some people are wrong. I think some people are assholes. I think some people are literally destroying the world. And I think all of those people are deserving of the same rights and respect as as everyone else. And furthermore, I am pretty sure that all of us agree on this.

But all too often, people use the argument "we're all just people with different opinions" to hide from criticism. And criticism is not dehumanizing. Quite the opposite, in fact.
posted by Nothing at 2:55 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


For my part, I just wish his advice had at least acknowledged that sometimes you do need to get family members out of your life because our culture is very good at beating the drum when it comes to messages that might make people more reluctant to confront and deal with abusive people in their own families. All I wanted from the piece was some acknowledgment of the fact that while this sort of advice might be sound in some circumstances, there are also cases where, no, full stop, you just need to move on and leave even close relatives behind for your own good. The culture is already full of messages promoting the idea that family obligations are more important than personal feelings. We don't acknowledge as often as we should (IMO) that people have the right to escape abuse and shouldn't feel bad about it. This column could have been an opportunity to help that idea reach someone who needed it, but that opportunity was missed. The advice was just too shallow and didn't really take the question seriously enough, from my POV. That's my only beef with it, speaking for myself.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:55 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Then I thought, boy, I bet that thread in Metafilter is full of people saying, "But Republicans aren't human!!!!" And darn if I wasn't right!

Link?


Ahem:
But people who go around loudly supporting the ignorant, selfish, hateful message of the 2014 Republican party can go fuck asphalt on a sunny day. The mere fact of one's views being wrapped around an organized political party doesn't absolve a person for holding and promoting abhorrent beliefs. (Could there possibly be any explanation for the various points of the Republican party platform besides sheer Hitlerian hatred of humanity?)

Oh except Republicans. They're stripping black people of the ability to vote and women of the rights over their body. (Could there possibly be any reasoning to support reforming voting policies or oppose mandatory employer birth-control funding, besides deliberately wanting to disenfranchise black people and reduce women to chattel slavery?)

And so forth.
posted by yersinia at 2:55 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


I think the left could use more anger. It's what motivates people to get out and vote.

This is an important point that gets overlooked in these discussions. "Asshole" isn't rhetoric intended to diplomatically win over an opponent. Its audience is, often, one's own side and used to motivate, and such rhetoric often uses hyperbole. I mean, I don't think the giant blow-up rat at labor protests means that union members think management are literally vermin who should be exterminated.

Obviously there can be a spill-over effect wherein a dehumanizing message is read (sincerely or propagandistically) when not intended or where the cheer-leading contributes to polarization, but that's an inevitability where you have multiple arguments targeted toward multiple audiences for multiple purposes.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:55 PM on August 11


It seems like a weirdly abstract answer about people as a concept, adressed to one particular person who clearly has decades of experience dealing with one other particular person and is asking about the day to day interactions with that one particular person. It is not very good, overall.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:57 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


People can hold beliefs we find morally offensive without that making them inhuman monsters.

So what does this mean, exactly, then? If I say (for instance) that the American evangelists who are (for instance) encouraging various African countries to pass kill-the-gays laws - if I say they are assholes, is that dehumanizing them? If I call what they're doing inhuman, unChristian bigotry, is that dehumanizing them?

Do we have a common definition of "making them inhuman monsters"? If so, what is it?
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


performance art level of irony there

Well it gets kinda confusing sometimes, yeah. Probably, in a lot of cases, deciding somebody's an asshole based on their political beliefs is a bit hasty. You'd want to know why they hold them, and observe both how they express their beliefs in particular, and the way those beliefs inform their lives in general.

On the other hand, and I see this on the internet a lot for some reason, people who hold certain political beliefs come to the conclusion that they are being persecuted for their beliefs, rather than that they are being treated like assholes because they act like assholes.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:57 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


It seems that this whole thread is a projection-fest. (Not by me, of course! :-P)

I think a lot of people like the general sentiment expressed in Andrew W.K.'s response. I totally get that. There are a lot of lovely sentiments expressed in what he wrote.

But those liking his words seem to be inclined to see any critique of it as some sort of endorsement of mindless hatred of the political Other. You've really got to ask yourself where that's coming from, because I don't see it in what's actually been said in the thread.

People are not saying that love is bad and Othering people is good. They're saying AWK is being a bit glib in addressing a real problem the person has. He doesn't urge him to love his father while acknowledging the possibility that he has some legitimate issues with his father's behavior. No, he minimizes the writer's problem and lectures him for being a dehumanizer, and tells him he should just stop it.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:58 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


People can hold beliefs we find morally offensive without that making them inhuman monsters. It's a bit bizarre, frankly, that a piece arguing nothing more radical than "you need to remember that the people you disagree with are still human beings" is being held to be so shocking and controversial here.

Oh come on, the article argues far far far more than what you're saying here. The pullquote already makes a far stronger position than what you're saying.

(Which, BTW, is practically meaningless. Human beings are all human beings. Great job. Got it in one. Now what?)
posted by kmz at 2:58 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


To the extent he [Mandela] acted on it: Yeah, sure.

But you've slipped from "condemning the person" to "condemning the action" there. And, for the umpteenth time, no one is objecting to you condemning actions you consider to be unethical or improper. They're just saying "remember that the person committing those actions is a human being and merits respect and even love on those grounds."

That wasn't in the comment you're responding to, so what was the point of including it here?


Mandela fits the criteria for "someone"--which was the word used in the comment I was responding to. I chose Mandela simply because he's an example of someone not likely to be easily and glibly dismissed with a "sure, he's an asshole!" He is, then, a useful limit case. If your global proposition is "every person opposed to my definition of appropriate rights for gay people is simply and irredeemably an asshole" then we only need to cite one case of someone you don't think of as simply "an asshole" who--for most of his life--did not support your vision of gay rights to suggest that the world may be a little more ethically complex than that.
posted by yoink at 2:58 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


That's like a performance art level of irony there.

Speaking of which ... tip o' the hippo, dios. You still know how to rile the punters.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:00 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


The problem here is the double-dealing in a statement like "don't dehumanize" your political opposition. Because what does "dehumanize" mean in this context? It cannot be that you think the agent of genocide, who is preparing to execute you, is literally not a member of the subspecies of homo sapiens, the homo sapiens sapiens. You are perfectly aware of his biological status. So what does "dehumanize" mean here? Asking to acknowledge that a mass-murderer or Pol Pot executioner is a nice family man, vegetarian and great pet owner, surely is deeply insulting at the very least. Because you, the victim - and there millions, for millions die in planned genocides, should mention in the long list of crimes that are being committed by these criminals, that they are good pet owners? No, something else is being demanded of you, and that is where subterfuge is involved. The subterfuge is in saying something that is trivially true "even genocidal criminals are human beings" and attempting to trade on that for an easement of the monstrosity of the crime. Because otherwise it makes no sense to ask not to dehumanize - in the literal sense, nobody is dehumanizing anyone (excepting those who believe in lizard-people). We have the right - indeed the obligation - to point out that genocidal policies lead to the destruction of the world, certainly the world of those who are being exterminated. And there is no lack of those who if only given the tools and the chance would happily literally obliterate the world (see any number of bring-about-the-end-of-the-world cults) - it is by pure luck that so far they have not had those tools. Yes, there are those policies which will objectively lead to the destruction of the world. And we not only should not shy away from pointing it out whenever it occurs, but indeed we have an obligation to do so. The humanity of the agents of destruction is not the issue - their actions are. And for those there is sometimes no other answer than a fight to the bitter end, to the last room in that last bunker.
posted by VikingSword at 3:01 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


Yoink, you might take note that the "simply" and "irredeemably" parts of "simply and irredeemably an asshole" are your words alone.
posted by Nothing at 3:02 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


emjaybee FTW!
posted by mondo dentro at 3:03 PM on August 11


Agreed. Maybe emjaybee should have an advice column.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:06 PM on August 11


The best thing here is how we all apparently agree that somehow "humanity" is intrinsically good and important and worthwhile, and that no matter what shitty things you do or say or think, the fact that you're human at all still makes you valuable. Jesus.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:07 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


But you've slipped from "condemning the person" to "condemning the action" there.

Who died and made you my metaphysician?

I condemn the person because of the action. What other grounds could there be?
posted by PMdixon at 3:10 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Dios seems to think that "stripping of humanity" involves calling out accurate descriptors. No. You strip humanity by denying humans rights that we have specifically as human animals a step above our primate brethren. That's a weak straw man when one side of every issue seems to be actively stripping people of actual human rights including clean air, water, health care, marriage, etc.
posted by aydeejones at 3:10 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


This is a good time to remind everyone that not all of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant America's contributions to the world are evil or banal. WASPs also gave us the ideal mechanism for processing differences in family politics: you just swallow that shit down and change the fucking subject. Y'all feel free to confront your folks on right wing assholery if you like. Feel free to overlook all of it and paper the whole thing over with love. Knock yourselves out.

Me, I'm going straight WASP on this shit and ignoring it like it isn't there. You think maybe immigrants should shut up and learn English, Uncle Mike? You know what I think? I think Cousin Tom's new camper is awesome. Have you seen that shit? You could live in that thing.

WASP conflict swallowing may cause ulcers. Check with your doctor if you are taking psychoactive medications before practicing feeling swallowing. Pregnant women and seniors over the age of 75 may find that feeling swallowing exacerbates certain gastrointestinal conditions.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:10 PM on August 11 [25 favorites]


Could there possibly be any explanation for the various points of the Republican party platform besides sheer Hitlerian hatred of humanity?

Maybe, but that's irrelevant to someone disrespecting their beliefs, which is again not dehumanization.

Could there possibly be any reasoning to support reforming voting policies or oppose mandatory employer birth-control funding, besides deliberately wanting to disenfranchise black people and reduce women to chattel slavery?

Apart from the fact that, yes, pretty much all the voting policies in question have been determined to be proposed and applied in a discriminatory fashion, there is yet again nothing in there saying that to hold those (in many ways themselves dehumanizing) beliefs makes one inhuman.

And so forth.

So you've failed to turn up anyone calling for dehumanizing Republicans, you want us to do the work for you?
posted by zombieflanders at 3:13 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


It's almost impossible for human beings to see other human beings as having complete, nuanced psyches. Other people seem flat and unreasoning until we know them very well indeed. It's a perceptual illusion.

It's especially difficult in politics. Both sides view the other as holding ill-founded, evil views, almost for the sheer satanic delight in holding them.

Moreover, genuinely inhabiting the views of the other -- without defensiveness or caricature, genuinely feeling as the other feels -- risks loss of self. So a minuscule few among those I know can actually do this.

Imagine your worst regular-type ideological enemy -- not Goebbels, not a child molester -- and give your best accounting, from within, of what that person might believe and why. Not a dismissive caricature, but as if this were a reasoning and rounded human being. Is this possible? Imagine how they see you. Where do they see you simply endorsing evil, point-blank?

I don't know anyone who can truly do this for long. I'd like to be able to.
posted by argybarg at 3:20 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


It is an enduring mystery to me how lefties are simultaneously moral relativists whose open-minded multicultural ways indicate that they believe in nothing, and, at the same time, closed minded haters incapable of seeing things from another's point of view.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:22 PM on August 11 [20 favorites]


I find the term "Troll" to be very dehumanizing!

(Also, on a more serious note, if someone finds themselves needing to use scare quotes in nearly every sentence, that person should, perhaps, rethink their comment.)
posted by muddgirl at 3:23 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Other people seem flat and unreasoning until we know them very well indeed.

It's a son writing about his father
posted by Greg Nog at 3:23 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


[Folks, if this needs to go in a let-me-tell-you-about-Metafilter direction you know which part of the site that goes on and it's not the blue one.]
posted by cortex at 3:24 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


if someone finds themselves needing to use scare quotes in nearly every sentence

Think of them as shout quotes.

'Have' 'A' 'Nice' 'Day!'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:26 PM on August 11


It's a son writing about his father.

You've never had that shock of realizing you've viewed your parents as caricatures, never seen them for the first time as the full human beings they are? Even people who are intimate to us can be remote to us at the same time.
posted by argybarg at 3:26 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


During the heyday of the apartheid era, there was a U.N. meeting where people were giving speeches. It was customary for the delegates to address each other as "the right honorable". At one point, a young representative from India, came to the podium and gave a blistering speech against apartheid wherein he criticized in the strongest of terms the representative from South Africa who gave a speech before him, and who sat in the audience. The audience was stunned by the vehemence and directness of the speech, wherein he listed the long list of crimes and evil inhumanity that the apartheid system and its representatives - such as the one sitting in the audience - caused. And how countless victims, persecuted to death had nobody to speak for them. Throughout that impassioned speech, the young Indian got carried away and forgot to address the SA rep as "the right honorable". Coming back to his chair, he realized his mistake - or maybe, I speculate, Andrew appeared at his side and whispered in his ear - so he raced back to the podium and calmly said into the microphone "I want to add that I was talking about the RIGHT HONORABLE representative of South Africa as being that agent of evil".
posted by VikingSword at 3:27 PM on August 11 [27 favorites]


I mean, what if the reason your Dad voted for the Republican candidate in a local election was because the Democratic candidate was someone who drove drunk and killed a kid and got away with it? Would you still shun your father because "you voted Republican! Unclean!"

I think this and the response to the question are conflating having issues with people's voting habits with people who actively spew hateful things that it's hard to sit there and accept and have any respect for yourself. If someone spews racist, homophobic, or other views of that nature, I don't think I have any obligation to respect you or tolerate that, even if you are a family member. And at some point there is an issue of self respect where you don't want to be complicit in agreeing to these points of view by showing respect for the speaker.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:27 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


Talk about missing the point.

Keep on fighting the good and right fight, people…
posted by Pinback at 3:30 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The whole thing feels like a giant "tone" troll here. Either that or cluelessness. People's literal lives are at stake, and perhaps they scream as they're being persecuted, and some gent stands up to complain about tone and noise levels.
posted by VikingSword at 3:32 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


You've never had that shock of realizing you've viewed your parents as caricatures, never seen them for the first time as the full human beings they are?

I guess I haven't? Did you used to think your parents weren't actually human?
posted by Greg Nog at 3:33 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Well, congrats then.
posted by argybarg at 3:35 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Mandela fits the criteria for "someone"--which was the word used in the comment I was responding to.

I was talking about the "human being" part, which wasn't.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:37 PM on August 11


Well, whataya know... I just looked up what audi alteram partem means.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:38 PM on August 11


Also this thread makes it clear too few people have internalized Arendt. How do evil things happen? Human beings caused them to happen. "Evil" and "human" are not mutually exclusive categories.

I'm happy to agree that they're frequently unhelpful categories.
posted by PMdixon at 3:38 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


Did you used to think your parents weren't actually human?

Just that once, when I caught them trying to plug each other in.

The best thing about this thread is the opportunity it gives everyone to feel just a leetle superior to everyone else (Yes, this is my judging face). In that respect it's not unlike the dog who chased his tail so fast he ran up his own asshole.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:45 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


The point is that that being able to say "hey, we should see everyone as unique individuals" is a luxury granted by privilege.

Wow.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 3:47 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


The point is that that being able to say "hey, we should see everyone as unique individuals" is a luxury granted by privilege.

Wow.


Is it less objectionable to say that the person talking about the rough upbringing of the bully mostly isn't the one getting punched? (And sometimes they are and that's great and wonderful but that's called sainthood-in-the-micro and should not be considered a standard factory option.)
posted by PMdixon at 3:50 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


I was talking about the "human being" part, which wasn't.

The "human being" part comes from the linked article. It is what the argument is about.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on August 11


Metafilter: mostly made up of people with only the standard factory options.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:52 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


PMdixon: if it's all as simple as bullies beating the innocent, then your model works.
posted by argybarg at 4:00 PM on August 11


The call for political comity benefits the privileged and those who already have power.

yes, but so does the call for political hostility, revolution or rebelliousness - don't believe me?

there's a shitload of people making money hand over foot from this - rush limbaugh and glenn beck are perfect examples - more examples can be found in the cd racks of fye or the stuff sold in hot topic

in fact, i'd argue that comity is less profitable and less beneficial than straight out ranting because it gets so little attention compared to raging assholeness - not only can one get more followers by screaming but by encouraging screaming opposed to your establishment in a safe and profitable way, you can use it as a safety valve that will prevent REAL social change

so a lot of things benefit the privileged - that's part of what privilege means
posted by pyramid termite at 4:00 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


PMdixon: if it's all as simple as bullies beating the innocent, then your model works.

It turns out a lot of times it basically is, if I may sub 'innocent' for 'weak.'
posted by PMdixon at 4:01 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


You've never had that shock of realizing you've viewed your parents as caricatures, never seen them for the first time as the full human beings they are?

I did. With my dad, whom I had always literally believed to be Superman as a kid. Once I saw the real person, it turned out he was a terrible one. Surely, that side of the story should be told, too?
posted by saulgoodman at 4:02 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I mean, there are a lot of people who are basically shitheads for various reasons and either have no problem with or actively enjoy causing harm to others for gain to themselves or wevs. And yeah we should talk about the various reasons and maybe try to reduce them. But once there is an actually existing shithead in front of you, you need to deal with the shithead and stop them hurting people. Especially if the person he is hurting is you! And bullshit Catholic "doctrine of double effect" aside, knowingly assisting the shitheads is to a zeroth order approximation the same as being a shithead.
posted by PMdixon at 4:06 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Saulgoodman: sure. He sounds like an awful man.
posted by argybarg at 4:06 PM on August 11


So are we agreeing we should have a one-party system, then?
posted by argybarg at 4:08 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Saulgoodman: sure. He sounds like an awful man.

Well, he's not the only one, and I just wish W.K.'s advice had acknowledged how often these domestic political disputes have deeper issues beneath them
posted by saulgoodman at 4:12 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


So are we agreeing we should have a one-party system, then?

Yes. That is exactly what this is about.

How about "We are responsible for the impacts of our effects on others, and if we have really negative effects on people we should not be surprised when they are reluctant to treat us in the full flowering of our specialness, and in fact more concerned about stopping our negative effects on them than anything to do with our feelings."?

Or possibly, "If you have systematically made a group of people Other, Unclean, and Outside, you should maybe not expect a birthday card from them."
posted by PMdixon at 4:12 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


So are we agreeing we should have a one-party system, then?

it's perfectly possible to have a two party system where people aren't at each others' throats
posted by pyramid termite at 4:13 PM on August 11


I did. With my dad, whom I had always literally believed to be Superman as a kid. Once I saw the real person, it turned out he was a terrible one. Surely, that side of the story should be told, too?

Sure, those stories should be told, but they're not "the other side of the story"--they're a completely unrelated story. The whole point of this column was that the guy's complaints about his father had nothing at all to do with any personal maliciousness that the father had directed against him. The issue that the writer is addressing is one of dismissing a person out of hand for their political beliefs and for no other reason. That really has nothing in common with your (very sad) situation with your father.

Imagine for a moment that your father espoused exactly the same political beliefs he does now, but had always been a kind, thoughtful, loving and supportive father. Believe me when I tell you that, bizarre as it may seem, there really are such people in the world--many, many millions of them. Would you say that that should make no difference in your attitude towards him or your assessment of him as a person? "He believes the wrong things! If political policies based on his proclaimed beliefs are enacted exactly as he claims to want, real people will be hurt--that's exactly the same as if he'd walked up to each of those people in person and ripped the food out of their mouths or knocked that morning-after pill out of their hands and forced them to seek out a back-alley abortionist! He's an inhuman monster!!"

That's the question here. Not "do we ignore vicious, personal actions someone has taken against us and our loved ones" but "do we condemn someone absolutely and give up on them as a real, complex, three-dimensional human being based simply on our disagreement with their proclaimed political beliefs?"
posted by yoink at 4:14 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Pyramid termite: why is it so hard then?
posted by argybarg at 4:14 PM on August 11


That's the question here. Not "do we ignore vicious, personal actions someone has taken against us and our loved ones" but "do we condemn someone absolutely and give up on them as a real, complex, three-dimensional human being based simply on our disagreement with their proclaimed political beliefs?"

And the answer is... Sometimes! It depends!
posted by PMdixon at 4:15 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


It's perfectly possible to have two political parties without one opposing rights for minorities.
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:15 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


So, Solzhenitsyn says (somewhere around where he talks about peeing in a boot, I think) that the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the hearts of all of us.

On the one hand, this means that we can never be certain about our own motivations, because our motivations, like our hearts, are always mixed. But on the other hand, denying our mutual human capacity for evil is itself a method of dehumanization. Sometimes respecting someone's humanity — and your own humanity — means fully acknowledging that they have become monstrous, facing them — human to human, fallible mortal to fallible mortal — and fighting with everything you've got. Even though you might not be right.

I'm an American, and I know there is a perpetually-apocalyptic element to American thought. And I know that, as such, I can never be reliably certain about my feelings when I start feeling that things are getting apocalyptic. Nevertheless (and with the proviso that I cannot be certain), life in America since the turn of the millennium has felt increasingly crazed, unstable, about to fly apart, and, well, generally Weimar-esque. There are people in organized, powerful political parties, and in powerful positions within those parties, behaving in ways that I can acknowledge as human but that I cannot love, not without betraying both my humanity and theirs.

The thing that is cloying about Andrew WK's ideology when he starts dealing with matters more serious than partying1 is that he pretends that deep down we're a tame species. We're not. We're dangerous and wild, and we can never forget that.2


1: Which is not to say that partying isn't serious. Partying is very serious!! Partying is maybe the best thing for the world, and like all good people I dream of a day where everyone gets to party as much as they need to.

2: AWK isn't the only prominent figure to make this mistake; really, I think most mainstream liberalism mistakes us, or pretends to mistake us, for a tame species. This is why I get my back up when people identify me as a liberal; I'm not a liberal, I'm a crazy fucking socialist, thank you very much.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:17 PM on August 11 [17 favorites]


I did. With my dad, whom I had always literally believed to be Superman as a kid. Once I saw the real person, it turned out he was a terrible one. Surely, that side of the story should be told, too?

Your relationship with your dad is not based in his political beliefs. Taking Andrew WK's advice would not leave you shackled to a relationship with the man. You can detach with love. You can acknowledge that he was a flawed man, and either by biology or choice, he was unable to be someone who could be a part of your life.

Tolerance and compassion isn't about No Boundaries. It's about taking the vote, acknowledging everything being equal, the majority would win in a civil war. Then vote again later down the line.
posted by politikitty at 4:18 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


It's perfectly possible to have two political parties without one opposing rights for minorities.

Oh man. Wouldn't that be awesome? Then we could argue about, I dunno, grain subsidies or the price of pot brownies, or something.
posted by emjaybee at 4:18 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Look, I'm at risk of becoming cute with my leading question here. I want to be more direct.

The prevailing notion here seems to be: Yes, it's a lovely idea to try to understand your opponent, but we can't afford to. Our opponents are actively trying to do us harm, and they're defending a lot of terrible ideas.

Fine, but understand, exponents of every political view believe exactly this about their ideological opponents. This is not some special-case exception. This is exactly what leads to people viewing their opponents as enemies, of the other political party as a wrapper for all the people who should be shunned or opposed without thinking. Right-wingers believe this of left-wingers just as much as we good MeFi lefties believe this of right-wingers.

Of course there are people with monstrous, unbalanced views. They're not the issues. Tell them to fuck off, stay away from them. But what about people who stand in the same political party as those monstrous people. Fuck them as well? What about anyone sympathetic to people sympathetic to them? Fuck them as well?

I'm tired of it. I'm not tired of how you people think, I'm tired of how I think. I'm tired of my imagination coloring so many people, half the god-damned nation, as ill-intentioned drones to fight against -- they aren't. I'd rather accept Jean Renoir's formulation: "The truly terrible thins is that everyone has his reasons."
posted by argybarg at 4:23 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


In theory I agree with the be the bigger person, love thy neighbor message but I also disagree with the fundamental concept that people need to be tolerant of intolerance. There are intolerant people on both sides of the political spectrum but there is one political party that makes it a major component of their raison d'etre to demonize anyone that isn't a white male.

As a white hetero male I understand wanting to hold onto privilege but I think it's fundamentally wrongheaded. I'm not sure it's ignorance or evil that motivates support of political parties that use hate to motivate votes but probably just a mixture of self-interest and preference for "those that are similar" vs the "other".

I'm willing to discuss people's opinions all day as long as they are open to revising their ideas but when people tend towards blind obedience to ideology I tend to write them off. I can still be pleasant towards them but I'm really not going to engage with them on a political perspective.
posted by vuron at 4:23 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


My dad is a right wing asshole, but the end effect of it is a marginal increase in fox news's ratings and wasted vote in a heavily democratic district and state. It annoys me, but not enough to waste any more time talking politics with him.
posted by empath at 4:24 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's a lovely idea to try to understand your opponent, but we can't afford to. Our opponents are actively trying to do us harm, and they're defending a lot of terrible ideas.

I would say something quite different. It's usually a good, though unlovely in practice, idea to understand your opponent, but that in and of itself doesn't typically prevent him from harming you, or make him, you know, not your opponent.

And believe me, I fucking understand. I have had it, for basically every value of 'it', explained to me over and over, in intricate detail. I have lived and walked and worked in the heart of it. I am angry because I understand.
posted by PMdixon at 4:28 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Yes, it's a lovely idea to try to understand your opponent, but we can't afford to. Our opponents are actively trying to do us harm, and they're defending a lot of terrible ideas.

Fine, but understand, exponents of every political view believe exactly this about their ideological opponents.


What makes you think that we, and by we I'll say that I mean "non-conservatives", haven't tried to understand our opposing views? I've spent years trying to understand how gay marriage might cause my "opponents" harm and I've never seen it articulated in any coherent fashion.
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:34 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


PMdixon: Well, then stalemate again. Lots of people are just that angry at you, for reasons they've worked out and fermented in their heads. They sure wish you'd understand instead of being so ignorant.

I think the odds of getting this game right are too long for me. I can't take it any more. It all feels like dead countryside.
posted by argybarg at 4:35 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Sure, those stories should be told, but they're not "the other side of the story"--they're a completely unrelated story. The whole point of this column was that the guy's complaints about his father had nothing at all to do with any personal maliciousness that the father had directed against him. The issue that the writer is addressing is one of dismissing a person out of hand for their political beliefs and for no other reason.

I don't believe the situation you are trying to sketch actually happens all that often, yoink, so an advice column addressing it seems misplaced.

It's like a thought experiment that contrives a situation in the most ideal terms possible to make a point that would seldom if ever obtain in reality seem like common sense.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:38 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


They sure wish you'd understand instead of being so ignorant.

That's the difference between me and them: I don't give two shits if they understand. I just want them to fuck off and leave me alone. (No, I do not have the time of day for any argument that the legal recognition of same sex marriage imposes any positive harm not already imposed by having a general legal framework of marriage to start with. I'm glad the right has discovered postmodernism, hopefully they'll go take it in a corner and leave the rest of us alone.)

When I was a radical young teenage Marxist, I lingered on the fantasy that I would find the cutting argument, the magic words, that would make it clear how right I was that no one could stand in my way. (It's funny the hubris and faith in reason combined there.)

I don't care anymore. I don't need to be told I'm right. I just need the neighbors to stop trying to get me evicted.
posted by PMdixon at 4:40 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


Also the other side of the story I was referring to is the other side of the "my dad's a right wing asshole" story. There may be cases where it's really about the politics alone, but it probably usually isn't, IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:41 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Thanks to Andrew WK I'm totally reconsidering these ISIS/ISIL guys because they are lovable human beings too.
posted by xmutex at 4:41 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


I have a close relative who used to be a garden-variety Texas Republican and has been driven into an absolute froth by the poisonous discourse of Fox News & the Tea Party in the last ten years. Now he will gladly tell you that he believes all gays are sexual predators, that Obama is a dictator and we should arm ourselves for secession/revolution, that he isn't going to pay taxes anymore in protest of a corrupt "big government"... etc.

Most frightening is that he's working on a concealed carry permit because he (direct quote) has to ride a late train with "dangerous blacks."

He's a good man who served his country and we still love him, but we are starting to develop strategies to keep him at arms length from our children. Garden-variety Republican I could swallow, but concealed weapons and outright, vocal bigotry I simply cannot.

So from my perspective, there's not liking how someone votes and sure, try to see past that and love your fellow man. Then there is the reality that there is an engine of hate at work in the U.S. and it really is sucking up a lot of otherwise decent people. Like it or not, that engine of hate is associated with a very specific line of political thinking, and the opposition to that line of thinking is absolutely a moral issue, not some trite "well maybe we can agree to disagree" kind of thing.
posted by annekate at 4:49 PM on August 11 [44 favorites]


I am under no obligation whatsoever to give any shrift to those whose 'opinions' include 'you, fffm, and people like you are second class citizens, barely human.'

None. At all.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:51 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


It's perfectly possible to have two political parties without one opposing rights for minorities.

In a vacuum, this seems like a perfectly reasonable assertion. In reality, modern politics in developed nations tends to center around who gets access to what resources, at what cost, and to whom that cost is assigned. And in practice, the nature of electoral politics more specifically seems to guarantee that politicians can almost always win office by promising to keep "our" stuff safe from "their" grasping, unworthy hands.

This trend varies in specifics a great deal, of course, but in general there's frequently a place in democratic politics for reactionary opposition to sharing -- access to material resources, social personhood, legal protections -- that gets taken out on people who are least able to defend themselves.
posted by clockzero at 4:52 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Of course there are people with monstrous, unbalanced views. They're not the issues. Tell them to fuck off, stay away from them. But what about people who stand in the same political party as those monstrous people. Fuck them as well? What about anyone sympathetic to people sympathetic to them? Fuck them as well?

Well, that depends, doesn't it. I mean, when a black man was hounded by a lynch mob, he had a point of view, and the lynch mob also had one. The point of view of the lynch mob was that the black man was subhuman and deserved to die, just to terrorise and keep all the other black people in their place at the bottom of the totem pole.

"But what about people who stand in the same political party as those monstrous people. Fuck them as well? What about anyone sympathetic to people sympathetic to them? Fuck them as well?"

Large crowds are not immune to being wrong, and holding sincere views which mean simply death or slavery to whole groups of people. What about all those 'ordinary people', sympathizers, followers and go-alongers? Take a look at the photo of Hitler being welcomed by jubilant crowds in Austria after the Anschluss, with vicious anti-Jewish laws long passed and Jews persecuted. This crowd meant death, and destruction. Literally, and sincerely. What now, about those people?

I'll tell you what about those people. You say: "Of course there are people with monstrous, unbalanced views. They're not the issues. Tell them to fuck off, stay away from them." But those few bad people with monstrous views would not have any power were it not for your crowd of ordinary believers "what about people who stand in the same political party as those monstrous people. Fuck them as well? What about anyone sympathetic to people sympathetic to them? Fuck them as well?"

Oh, I'll tell you. I'll tell you about them, and about "fuck them". We had a Civil War, where large numbers of people strongly and sincerely believed black people to be subhuman and worthy of being slaves and would die to defend such a system, indeed impose it on the rest of the country. And here is what the ultimate decision was about those people - no, not the leaders the really bad people with monstrous views - but those ordinary people. That decision, and that insight was by one William Tecumseh Sherman. He didn't much bother with the bad people of monstrous views, the leaders. He decided that what was really the problem, was the ordinary people who made those monsters powerful. And those people were also the solution. His solution was Sherman's March to the Sea. He attacked not just the direct agents, the soldiers of the opposition, but their infrastructure, that which allowed the enemy army to march. The ordinary Germans who voted in overwhelming numbers for Hitler, and who supported him right until the very end, they had to suffer so that Hitler would have no more power. It is a terrible logic, but it is a logic that's compelling, or as Romans said, dura lex, sed lex.

And just when you feel bad about that crowd - whether in the photo I mentioned, or the lynch mob - remember, it is their sincere beliefs and *human* agency that makes mass murder possible. You reap what you sow.

And that brings me to the most fatuous part of the statement quoted in the OP:

"The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they're truly better people than the others who think differently."

Oh, no. No. No. The beliefs of the victims of the Holocaust do not have the same status as the beliefs of those who engineered and allowed their extermination. Yes, some beliefs are indeed better than other beliefs, and no compromise is possible, and the wrong beliefs do indeed 'hurt and damage' the world, even when they are held by 'ordinary' people, just like the people in the lynch crowd or the adoring crowds in 1938 Austria. The consequences and the onus of those beliefs are upon them, and the responsibility cannot be shifted - nor, as Andrew wishes, shared.
posted by VikingSword at 4:53 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


clockzero: I mean, in the US context, you really can't get away from the fact that basically everything political is at some level or other "because slavery." I mean, yeah, ethno-nationalism's a popular flavor everywhere but it's a little more baked into the crust than in some polities...
posted by PMdixon at 4:57 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


But...you aren't. There's a difference between dehumanizing someone and saying that you don't have to respect arguments with a metric fuckton of evidence pointing to them being hateful.

Really? Do you actually need cites and evidence of the multiple, multiple people in this thread pulling the "But right-wing Republicans really are assholes because of their belief so why would you ever want to love them"? Because I will provide them if you genuinely do, but they seem so fucking obvious to me that I'm already a frothing ball of "What the hell is wrong with you people?"

Seriously, whatever happened to treating people like humans who happened to have political beliefs rather than walking Ds and Rs?
posted by corb at 5:03 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


What annoys me about modern political discourse is how righteous the rhetoric is. Being right does not give you a free pass to dictating how others are. This whole perception that we are the glorious leaders who will guide the world is what caused American Exceptionalism, expanded Manifest Destiny, Nazi Germany, ISIS, and imperial Japan. At no point in history has the US actually helped the environment. Our fresh frontier was littered with trash and cans, our mines and construction/production sites with dangers and low-paid workers, and our foreign policy meant to benefit American interests while crushing natives.

It used to be that we could effectively hide some of our worst shortcomings. That is no longer possible with the internet, which has also removed our sense of scale. We can all hide in our little communities and ignore the larger picture, because of the flood of information. It seems like the world is going to shit because you are now awash in the information that was not available before.

It shouldn't be about who's wrong. It should be about who's not helping us progress.
posted by halifix at 5:05 PM on August 11


I can think someone is an asshole for holding and promoting the views they do and still fully believe they are human beings deserving of rights and protections afforded to human beings. Those things are not in contradiction.

If we're not going to even attempt to define what "treating people like humans" actually means when it comes to political and social discourse, then I don't know that we'll get anywhere. This thread seems to be not getting anywhere pretty quick, that's for sure.
posted by rtha at 5:08 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


Seriously, whatever happened to treating people like humans who happened to have political beliefs rather than walking Ds and Rs?

1998—2005
posted by PMdixon at 5:10 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


This thread reminds me of the essay, In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization, by Scott Alexander. I really recommend it to anyone who cares about the problem of how to act toward people who disagree with you about really important things. I don't know if it will change anyone's mind, but it's an exceptionally clear-eyed and witty articulation of this whole issue.
posted by officer_fred at 5:11 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


VikingSword: Sherman's march to the sea and the firebombing of Dresden are your models? Because the incinerated masses reaped what they sowed? You should be terrifying to yourself at this moment.
posted by argybarg at 5:11 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Treating people like humans means assuming that they come from the best of intentions, and figuring out how they could get from the best of intentions to where they are and the positions they are holding, rather than starting from the assumption that they are all evil asshole no-goodniks. Because there are very few people who are simply sociopaths who want to commit evil. Most people, for better or worse, believe they are doing good in the world, and I think it imperative that you consider that rather than dismissing them as cartoon characters. Instead of looking at what people are attacking, ask what they think they're defending.

And for practical purposes, do it because it's the only way you can change anyone's mind. If Bigot Uncle Walt thinks that X people are destroying the country, you're not going to get anywhere by saying, "You're an asshole!" You'll get somewhere by proving to him that they're not actually.
posted by corb at 5:12 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Thanks for saving me the typing, corb.
posted by argybarg at 5:13 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


You'll get somewhere by proving to him that they're not actually.

I look forward to your revolutionary book on rhetoric.

1) People (self much included!) rarely reason themselves into or out of any particular affective belief.

2) Tribal affiliations, claims of entitlement to prestige and status, and reactions to perceived danger are particularly unlikely to be reasoned out of.
posted by PMdixon at 5:17 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I think most people want a bigger house and a better car and nicer clothes and fun videogames and as close to total autonomy as we can get.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:18 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


PMdixon: So give up then?
posted by argybarg at 5:18 PM on August 11


So, as an out gay person who lived through the 80s and 90s, I would *love* to say that "assuming that they come from the best of intentions" is the thing that always worked. It didn't. And doesn't. It can work, depending on your relationship with the person. But it's real easy to run out of cheeks.

But we've got a big old roiling mess of a discussion here where people are mashing together "Try being nice to your jerky relative" and "[Large groups of politically powerful people] are doing hateful thing to me so fuck them."

Maybe where they overlap is that at some point, behavior may become unacceptable; one should not put up with Uncle Jerky if he crosses the line into abuse, right? You draw boundaries and tell Uncle Jerky where and what they are.

This is where I'm at with [Large groups of politically powerful people]. Maybe at some point they really, sincerely believed that (for instance) allowing gays to get the marriage would destroy civilization. I no longer believe they are sincere about that. I believe they just want to Win, and to punish me along the way as an added bonus. My boundary line is drawn.
posted by rtha at 5:21 PM on August 11 [30 favorites]


Really? Do you actually need cites and evidence of the multiple, multiple people in this thread pulling the "But right-wing Republicans really are assholes because of their belief so why would you ever want to love them"? Because I will provide them if you genuinely do, but they seem so fucking obvious to me that I'm already a frothing ball of "What the hell is wrong with you people?"

As I've said multiple times: show me in this thread the many alleged examples of thinking someone is an asshole makes them not human. No one's been able to do it so far, despite basically kicking the thread off by responding to "I think that holding these beliefs makes it hard for me to believe they're being a personI should respect" with "OMG WHY DID YOU SAY THEY'RE NOT A PERSON!"

Seriously, whatever happened to treating people like humans who happened to have political beliefs rather than walking Ds and Rs?

Whatever happened, it's not happened in this thread.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:23 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


See my definition of treating someone like a human, and tell me that again. Yes, obviously everyone agrees that even right-wing Republicans are homo sapiens. But in terms of being nuanced humans with feelings that deserve to be loved and respected as humans should? Fuck no, it feels like half this thread would cheerfully set them on fire just to watch them burn.
posted by corb at 5:25 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Because some people ITT seem to be genuinely unaware: there are many, many Republicans who genuinely believe that the policies of the Republican party will improve the lives of more people than the principles of the Democrats. They have the exact same motivations as many Democrats, but they disagree about economic theory, what makes a person happy, effective foreign policy, etc. Disagreements of intellect, in other words.

And you might think they're very wrong about their intellectual beliefs. I think they're very wrong. But being wrong about facts and theories is not the same as being a monster.
posted by DGStieber at 5:27 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


No one is going to say outright My opponent is not a human being, certainly not here. But we will say I no longer care what their reasoning is, if they have any. They only have evil intentions. My only job is to fight them. And in any but the most extreme cases that's (ironically) a species of the worst sort of human impulse.
posted by argybarg at 5:27 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Believing is not being. I don't love or hate any Republicans. I love some people who are calling themselves Republicans right now, and I hate some people who are calling themselves Republicans right now. Both sets of people are human. It's not like anyone's born with a party affiliation.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:28 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


PMdixon: So give up then?

Eh, more like content yourself to slowly slowly chip away to the extent you can bring yourself to be productive and not righteous and recognize that you will only ever really be able to make tiny incremental gains in any sense that can and will be easily reversed but you know what our political institutions are all gonna collapse once the food and water stress part of climate change really kicks in so I'm just gonna concentrate on palliative care in whatever sense that's meaningful.

We are goofy looking plains apes who have done pretty well to get as far on this civilization thing as we have, shame about the ecosystem, better luck next time, is I guess what I am saying
posted by PMdixon at 5:28 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


VikingSword: Sherman's march to the sea and the firebombing of Dresden are your models? Because the incinerated masses reaped what they sowed? You should be terrifying to yourself at this moment.

Aye. No amount of sweet talking Hitler was going to get you anywhere (except to embolden him), and while you talked the bodies were also incinerated - in ovens. The longer you talked, the more bodies incinerated. Lincoln tried - rightly - to avoid a Civil War. He didn't seek it, it was imposed upon him with the firing on Fort Sumter. The allied bombings and Sherman's March brought to an end these terrible wars - that was the price that had to be paid. You should read about the people in concentration camps, who were happy with allied bombings and wished for them even if they themselves were to die in such bombings. The slaves who were beaten mercilessly didn't mind sacrificing their lives, so that others may be free.

You should be terrified of yourself, if you don't understand what happens when evil is not confronted. When evil challenges you, and you delay the response, you only increase the number of victims. Because while you decline the challenge, masses are already being incinerated and firebombed, and you're next, explicitly.
posted by VikingSword at 5:29 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Treating people like humans means assuming that they come from the best of intentions, and figuring out how they could get from the best of intentions to where they are and the positions they are holding, rather than starting from the assumption that they are all evil asshole no-goodniks. Because there are very few people who are simply sociopaths who want to commit evil. Most people, for better or worse, believe they are doing good in the world, and I think it imperative that you consider that rather than dismissing them as cartoon characters. Instead of looking at what people are attacking, ask what they think they're defending.

I hate to be a downer, but assuming that people come from the best intentions isn't treating them like humans, it's treating them like sit-com characters. People do awful stuff all the time.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:29 PM on August 11 [26 favorites]


PMdixon: Very close to how I feel, actually. I'd only add that I don't trust my own righteousness except on a tiny subset of crucial issues. Better to cut each other slack, even the person who I see as a threat.
posted by argybarg at 5:30 PM on August 11


zombieflanders- I think the dehumanization you're looking for is like drowning in movies. It's big, obvious, easily recognizable. But, much like drowning IRL, dehumanization is a quieter, subtler thing that's harder to see from the outside.

I'd suggest that any comparison to Hitler counts as dehumanization, since Hitler is safely in the "inhuman monster" part of our collective symbolism database.
posted by DGStieber at 5:31 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


> Seriously, whatever happened to treating people like humans who happened to have political beliefs rather than walking Ds and Rs?

This:
Mr. Gingrich, Democrats and Republicans here agree, emerged as one of Washington’s most aggressive practitioners of slash-and-burn politics; many fault him for erasing whatever civility once existed in the capital. He believed, and preached, that harsh language could win elections; in 1990, the political action committee he ran, Gopac, instructed Republican candidates to learn to “speak like Newt,” and offered a list of words to describe Democrats — like decay, traitors, radical, sick, destroy, pathetic, corrupt and shame. (emphasis mine)
And it worked.

But at least the modern GOP has rejected the man who lead this degradation of our body politic. Oops, no it hasn't.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:32 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


For every Hitler and Civil War you'll find 10 examples of nations incinerating civilians to stave off the evil they supposedly represent.

And to make it perfectly fucking clear: Right-wing Americans are annoyingly wrong about a lot of things, but perhaps not in a way that merits firebombing their homes.
posted by argybarg at 5:33 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


right-wingers - have trouble seeing their common humanity with: women, blacks, Mexicans, LGBTQ folk, poor people to whom they're not directly related,, Muslims, environmentalists, climatologists, drug users, single mothers, Hollywood, Sikhs who seem to be Muslims if you don't look too closely, socialistic Europeans, bicyclists, government employees and, I dunno, probably let's say bee-keepers this week.

left-wingers have trouble seeing the humanity in - well, hipsters mostly, but also people who choose to align themselves politically with the right wing.


Equivalence! It is undeniable! Pleas for civility all around!
posted by hap_hazard at 5:34 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


You'll get somewhere by proving to him that they're not actually.

No, as someone wrote earlier, if Bigot Uncle means that much to you, you shut the fuck up and have another piece of pie; if he doesn't then leave him be and do something else with your time. Because life's short and there are better ways to try to change the world than argue with people over dinner.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:36 PM on August 11


VikingSword- I agree almost 100% with your analysis of Dresden and Sherman.

That does not in any way mean those lessons are applicable in all scenarios, including the scenario in which we currently find ourselves.

on preview, what Angrybarg says.
posted by DGStieber at 5:36 PM on August 11


Hap_hazard: You're right. You're more humane and understanding than those people. Go have a congratulatory drink on me.
posted by argybarg at 5:37 PM on August 11


Ach, this is all getting to me. Angrybarg indeed. I wish we could meet in a bar or at the beach and actually speak to each other because this all gets us nowhere. Over and out.
posted by argybarg at 5:38 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Aah, if only Hitler were a myth and figment of imagination in some symbolism database. Alas, he was a real person. A real person, let that sink in. Who had a terrifying impact on the world. But he couldn't have done it alone. There were millions helping him. Oh, and if only he were some unique monster never seen before, or since. Alas, from Mao's China, through Pol Pot's Cambodia, onto the Balkans and Rwanda, such people are everywhere. Not myth, reality. Reality that's constantly asserting itself, like ISIS. And like ISIS it declares you either will be subjugated or exterminated - with those choices already made for you, the decision is now yours. The one option you don't have is fingers in ears 'la-la-la I can't hear you', 'it's all a myth and symbolism'. For that only works until the door is smashed in, as it inevitably is. Btw. Hitler - however mythical and distant a memory he may seem today - actually declared war on the U.S., and Imperial Japan launched an attack, so sitting tightly was really not an option, alas - it was the sound of the door being smashed in.
posted by VikingSword at 5:39 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


If you believe the tenets of the Republican Party circa 2014 will make life better for people, either you're totally deluding yourself or you draw the circle of personhood much smaller than I do.

Hating your relatives for participating in and supporting vile acts is not necessarily a way to fight those vile acts, which I think maybe is a square I need to circle for myself — frequently I say things because I want to express my soul or whatever, instead of speaking tactically in the interest of making the world a better place.

Maybe that's the space where you can love your vile neighbors and relatives who will never change — the space of tactics, with love understood as a weapon that might defang the old fuckers.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:39 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Fuck no, it feels like half this thread would cheerfully set [right-wing Republicans] on fire just to watch them burn.

With respect, corb, I think this feeling is a strongly distorted reflection of what people are actually saying in this thread.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:40 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


Treating people like humans means assuming that they come from the best of intentions, and figuring out how they could get from the best of intentions to where they are and the positions they are holding, rather than starting from the assumption that they are all evil asshole no-goodniks. Because there are very few people who are simply sociopaths who want to commit evil. Most people, for better or worse, believe they are doing good in the world, and I think it imperative that you consider that rather than dismissing them as cartoon characters. Instead of looking at what people are attacking, ask what they think they're defending.

My definition of evil is having the capability for intelligence and understanding how actions can impact others, and then ignoring that faculty while acting.
posted by halifix at 5:40 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Pullquote sayeth: "The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they're truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen."

And lest anyone think that "closed mindedness destroying the world" is a modern development, Leviathan portrayed a society beset against itself by ecclesiastics in 1651, during a civil war between democrats and monarchists (and Catholics vs. Protestants).
posted by pwnguin at 5:41 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Treating people like humans means assuming that they come from the best of intentions

We never come from the best of intentions. We're human.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:43 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


The prevailing notion here seems to be: Yes, it's a lovely idea to try to understand your opponent, but we can't afford to.

I disagree that this is the prevailing notion. But even it were, there's a limit to understanding, and not understanding in no way equals dehumanization which is the (misplaced) concern of Andrew W.K. (The nature of Andrew W.K.'s inappropriate response seems to be much more the prevailing notion in our thread here.)

Whether or not understanding exists on one side or the other, prejudice and discrimination still exact their cost. And for some who bear that cost, they decide that all they need to understand is the denial of their rights and how to redress that denial. Some strategies might include better understanding "what [their opponents] think they're defending" in order to talk them into reforming their positions. Other strategies involve protesting and direct nonviolent action that the will offend the sensibilities of their opponents but are not dehumanizing to those opponents, even if they do not address their opponents in nuanced terms, because their objective is changing political action that denies them rights not conversing with their opponents.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:43 PM on August 11


I might be the only one interested in the Gingrich Revolution, but if anyone else likes historical documents I've tracked down (a pdf) of the original GOPAC document that advocates applying words like "sick, pathetic, lie, liberal" to "the opponent, their record, proposals, and their party." (I can't vouch for the source, but it looks like a document from 1990.)
posted by benito.strauss at 5:44 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


Treating people like humans means assuming that they come from the best of intentions

We never come from the best of intentions. We're human.


Treating people like humans means assuming that they probably have some intentions that they would describe as at least "pretty good" sometimes, especially if they're not hungry or tired or achy or whatever?
posted by PMdixon at 5:46 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Have fun there, argybarg.

For some reason I'm not fazed for some reason. I don't know why I feel perfectly at ease in this thread, and it's frightening me somewhat. I guess I feel much better when I know that I'm shouting at myself as well. It also helps that this topic is very complex and somewhat abstract.
posted by halifix at 5:47 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The intentions simply don't matter. If a person didn't intend to hurt anyone with their behavior is irrelevant to whether or not they hurt someone, whatever mish-mash of motivations a person had for doing what they did. I think most of us recognize in our personal experience with such people, within our families or workplaces or circle of friends, that intent is usually complex. But it's unrelated to the behavior itself being harmful - any character criticisms, however harshly worded, are not even in the same ballpark of "stripping someone of humanity" as actual oppression is.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:47 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


DGStieber - it is not the same indeed, as history never repeats itself exactly. But it is good to remember that Hitler was not some outlandish creature from a mythical time and place. The very politics that you say are not the same - which is true in a trivial sense, of course - have a history that's as dark in its own way as the Holocaust, and I mean of course Slavery, the political social and economic consequences of which we are living with to this day. Note, how our political parties have been marked by a history of Slavery, first the Democrats and then the Republicans, switches notwithstanding. Yes, we live that. And when there are things like a Southern Strategy, and the suppression of voting, and outright racism and nativism and anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant virulent agendas expressed in one party, as virulent as the Tea Party wing of it, then yes, we are living it. The difference is not even of degree. The similarities are greater than the differences at least for the common man. I have read books about the sentiments and views of ordinary Germans of that era, and I've seen the rhetoric and rallies of the Tea Party. We're not as different as we're flattering ourselves to be.

The bottom line is not to deny anyone their humanity. It is to recognize that there are hard problems and merciless circumstances and political realities and genuine conflict that cannot be papered over with fatuous nostrums like the ones oozed out by Andrews. Reality is far more complicated, and unforgiving.
posted by VikingSword at 5:49 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Fuck no, it feels like half this thread would cheerfully set [right-wing Republicans] on fire just to watch them burn.

With respect, corb, I think this feeling is a strongly distorted reflection of what people are actually saying in this thread.


With respect, the "shocking" thesis of the linked article which is being vehemently contested by the majority in this thread is that political conservatives are and deserve to be treated like "human beings."
posted by yoink at 5:51 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I get the larger point, I have a few close friends who are very right-wing, even though we disagree on fundamental values, it somehow works. So I get it. But...

there are very few people who are simply sociopaths who want to commit evil.

Very true! The problem is that, it doesn't take being a sociopath to be evil. Which is too bad, because true sociopathy is quite rare, and evil would be far less common if that were the case.

Almost nobody who ever participated in a work of great evil - genocide, lynchings, apartheid, etc- did it while gleefully rubbing their hands together, reveling in their role as the villain. Most were and are just normal folks who, while still believing they are good, came to hold extremely bad & wrong beliefs and commit or support the commission of extremely bad acts. At what point is such a person, just a bad person? Surely, at some point, our obligation to "understand" and even "love" them, as claimed by AWK, is extinguished.

I think it's problematic, to say the least, that we need to strive to understand our opponents, who are for some, literal oppressors. Do the Yazidis trapped on Mt. Sinjar not understand the ISIS militia who have them besieged? Is there some obligation for them to "love" ISIS? What kind of love is it possible to have for someone who is going to great lengths to secure the death of you and all your loved ones?

Also, who is to say that greater understanding leads to comity, or love? The problem between sheep and wolves - is it that they don't understand each other? Or is it that they do understand each other, through and through?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:52 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


With respect, the "shocking" thesis of the linked article which is being vehemently contested by the majority in this thread is that political conservatives are and deserve to be treated like "human beings."

No, what's being contested is whether "Thinking someone is an asshole" is the same thing as "Not treating someone like a human being".
posted by 23skidoo at 5:54 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


With respect, the "shocking" thesis of the linked column which is being vehemently contested by the majority in this thread is that political conservatives are and deserve to be treated like "human beings."

BZZZZZT. The thesis of the linked article, as quoted in the OP, is that "The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they're truly better people than the others who think differently."

That is, the problem is people thinking that things actually matter.
posted by PMdixon at 5:55 PM on August 11 [21 favorites]


I'd take his argument and completely invert it. Which is to say, I agree that simplistic vilification is stupid and harmful but that the problem isn't so much that we refuse to humanize and forgive our enemies as that we refuse to criticize ourselves.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:57 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


No, they're just assholes. And I'm tired of being told that I should make nice just because there's a faction that's fetishized fencepost sitting.

This hit particularly close to home for me.

I grew up among, for lack of a better word, hippies and artists. My parents don't exactly fall into that, and my mom is especially not a fencepost sitter... but basically all of my friends parents, the people who babysat me as a kid, the homeschool groups, after school programs, and high school i went to all had a large contingent of people like you describe.

They're like a cult, and they always travel in packs.

I think what gets me the most is the assumption that if someone presents violence or anger to you, that responding with violence or anger means you are the one who committed the greater harm and escalated the situation. Basically, you're always expected to de-escalate and disengage or you're the asshole the whole group wants to cornfield. This obviously gets really problematic, really fast if it's something like LGBT or racial issues, or womens rights, or just generally shitty opinions about how to treat other humans that may personally effect you. This "everybody has a point" culture really only benefits the privileged.

And as mentioned above about this being a very affluent white guy attitude to have, all the aging-classic-hippie or neo-hippie types i've seen proselytize this were at least passing as white, relatively financially stable, able bodied, etc.

It's really easy to tell everybody to chill and sit down when you're already on the top of the pyramid.

The amount of rage in this thread over not giving people who advocate shitty things, hatred, and violence the benefit of the doubt mirrors everything i've seen in the past as well.

Why do people doing that seemingly nearly always get handed that benefit, but people going "i am angry because i am harmed" are always greeted with skepticism and told something to the effect of "well i'm sure you both have valid points, and you're both people, and you both deserve respect, andddd". There is definitely a certain number of words or hurtful/hateful positions and statements after which you do not have to give someone the benefit of the doubt. The problem is, that for a lot of people, this always seems to be a rolling N+1.

If you can't see how this greatly benefits one party while squishing the other you have some serious blinders on.
posted by emptythought at 6:06 PM on August 11 [57 favorites]


With respect, the "shocking" thesis of the linked article which is being vehemently contested by the majority in this thread is that political conservatives are and deserve to be treated like "human beings."

I think this is also inaccurate. From what I can see, people in this thread are not contesting the idea that people of every political stripe deserve to be treated like "human beings": rather, they are pushing back on the idea that to disagree with a person, to find it hard to interact with someone or to want to distance yourself from them because of what they believe, to express the belief that their actions are causing real harms to society which need to be addressed, or even to speculate that someone's political beliefs may be a reflection of bigotry as opposed to an innocent and rational process of taking moral first principles to their logical conclusions, can be fairly described as "dehumanizing."
posted by en forme de poire at 6:07 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


It seems like a lot of this discussion is caused by the vagueness of the idea of "treating someone like a human" -- what exactly does that mean, anyway?

Maybe a better idea would be to frame it this way: let's say there's a function that takes a person's political beliefs as input, and spits out how we should treat them as output. What does that function look like, specifically? In other words, forget this wooly what do you mean by treat someone like a human anyway stuff, and actually think about how to act towards people.

(I have no idea, by the way. But I still think my framing of the argument is better. Arrogance? Perhaps!)
posted by officer_fred at 6:16 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


How is ISIS not an organization that believes they are a group of people believing they are truly better people than the Yazidis? How were the Nazi's not a group of people who believed they were truly better than the jews or other small minorities? The problem isn't who was liberal or conservative. It's societies that believe it's acceptable to enforce policy based on who is better than who.

The problem is that the victims are the minorities. There is no recourse other than convincing the majority that they should have rights. Sure this leads to to understandable anger and outrage. But it is very difficult for the minority to rule over the majority without the majority's consent.

It works in America *as well as it does* solely because we have a strong foundation of liberalism. We have that ideal of the melting pot and tolerance. And minorities can appeal to that ideal. And given time and shifting demographics, become the majority thought.

It sucks. It genuinely sucks. But I haven't heard of any other theory of societal change that explains how the vastly outnumbered good guys defeat the dominant social belief structure. Democrats can afford to ignore Republicans because demographics favor Democrats.
posted by politikitty at 6:16 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


It's societies that believe it's acceptable to enforce policy based on who is better than who.

Isn't this sorta the entire basis of criminal law?
posted by PMdixon at 6:18 PM on August 11


With respect, the "shocking" thesis of the linked article which is being vehemently contested by the majority in this thread is that political conservatives are and deserve to be treated like "human beings."

With all due respect back, some of us would say that point we're making is that if political conservatives in the US had not for decades made a point of vociferously hating, fearing, Othering, and attempting to deny human rights to everyone who didn't look, think, dress, fuck, worship, or live like they do, they might have a stronger point vis a vis their own persecution here.

But enjoy your solitary perch in the sensible center!
posted by hap_hazard at 6:18 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


We assume too often that everyone agrees about what the problems are that can be fixed through politics. My approach is to try having conversations where you define and discuss problems, just like that: as concrete situations that can be solved. When politics is mostly about competing identities, it becomes decoupled from that which it cannot afford to be divorced -- the reality of people's lives, and the possibility that our lives can be different.

If more people took politics seriously, not merely as the space in which solutions can be found but more importantly as the forum in which we all have a right and an opportunity to talk about and define our problems together, problems of public concern, it would be much better, I think.
posted by clockzero at 6:23 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Isn't this sorta the entire basis of criminal law?

Of course not. It's to guarantee that the rights of all citizens are respected. When breached there are consequences. You don't get to plead "but the other guy was a huge dick"
posted by politikitty at 6:31 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Some people are just really, really, really hung up on the whole "you think you're better than me" thing. If you ask me, that's one of the biggest sources of our current political and social ills. How people imagine other people see them means a lot--seemingly, more than anything else--to a not insignificant portion of the population and drives a hell of a lot of social discord. And it seems to me this attitude and its various expressions just kind of dominate right-wing politics right now.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:42 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Notice how this sermon is only ever preached at liberals. I've never seen these people preach it at the guy who called a woman a slut for three days straight on his radio program, or the people who listen and nod approvingly. It's not aimed at literal McCarthyists who refer to all liberals and Democrats as communists hell bent on destroying America. It's not aimed at the people who called us anti-American, terrorist-loving, Sadam supporters ten years ago. It's never aimed at people who say gays should not have rights, or that gays and atheists are destroying society. It's never aimed at people who refer to Muslims as "ragheads" or pass around pictures of our black president photoshopped as a third-world medicine man.

No, it's only we liberals who are the bad guys, poisoning the discourse. By pointing out the racism of stripping black people the vote, or even calling out literal racial slurs, we're the real racists. It's a bigger sin to call a conservative a bigot for wanting to strip gay people of their civil rights than it is for a conservative to call for and work for the stripping of gay people's civil rights.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:52 PM on August 11 [52 favorites]


I feel like the discussion we're having in the thread illustrates some truths about the postwar liberal order and its weaknesses.
You Can't Tip a Buick writes:
Sometimes respecting someone's humanity — and your own humanity — means fully acknowledging that they have become monstrous, facing them — human to human, fallible mortal to fallible mortal — and fighting with everything you've got. Even though you might not be right.
And then politikitty writes:
The problem is that the victims are the minorities. There is no recourse other than convincing the majority that they should have rights. Sure this leads to to understandable anger and outrage. But it is very difficult for the minority to rule over the majority without the majority's consent.

It works in America *as well as it does* solely because we have a strong foundation of liberalism.
I would argue that part of the problem is that the institutional biases imparted by liberalism have blinded Andrew WK (and some in this thread) to the realities of power. Those in the professions and in the typical college educated track-- like writers-- advance by pretending that power doesn't exist. Power is something wielded by other people, like police officers and the military. The military and police of course, are under the control of elected officials, and they are required to follow the orders of their non-weapon bearing chain of command. We're told that political debates are between two sides, and they will have a discussion, with the best side winning the election. Then the folks who have won the election will establish the rules, which they will order the security services (the military, police and, oh yeah, the intelligence services) to enforce. Some people like to call this rule of law.

But in reality, the rule of law is a veil for the exercise of power in ways that make liberals uncomfortable if they actually witness it. For example, liberals will tell you that if you live in a bad neighborhood you should move. And if you can't move, then you should depend on the police to protect you. If your political opponents don't like you, you should turn the other cheek. And if they , say, threaten to blow up your abortion clinic, or burn down your LBGT resource center, then you should call the police right away. Then what happens, if the police don't come? Or if they are actually not on your side in the first place?

You are left with "convincing" the police, per politikitty's comments. Or "convincing'' the outrageous, misogynistic locals that abortion just isn't so terrible , and can't we all find a middle ground? That hasn't worked, which is why Mississippi has one reproductive health clinic that offers abortions. We can all see, also, how liberals feel about the exercise of power when we discuss police brutality. Liberals feel bad when they see the police and EMT's kill a man, "because violence is wrong." But how, do we oversee those police? Watch a liberal who doesn't understand physical violence and shrinks from confrontation try to argue with a police officer on Facebook. You'll see that liberal rapidly lose the argument, generally, because the police officer will start talking about the exigencies of street patrol and what's tactically possible in the effort to stop an armed assailant. And the deeply uncomfortable liberal will have nothing to say other than some variation of "well , couldn't you just try to be nicer." This also elides the fact that the nice liberals fail to see how, as emptythought said "It's really easy to tell everybody to chill and sit down when you're already on the top of the pyramid". Liberals don't see how it is police violence that allows them to be comfortable in a deeply unequal society. However, the way that they live their lives shields them from violence and lets them feel good about themselves, while at the same time benefitting from it. That's why I have to shake my head when latte liberals complain about how terrible it was, for example, that the ANC waged armed struggle in South Africa. Because sometimes there is no option when your opponent will not yield. To politikitty's point, minorities do sometimes prevail against a majority that wants to deprive them of their rights. The Kurds, for example, are doing just that in Iraq. They understand that there are significant factions within Iraq that want them dead. Any conversation they have is going to have to be from a position of strength-- which means that they are armed and willing to deploy violence to preserve their lives and territorial integrity. In this ISIS vs Kurd confrontation, I'm sure there are lots of guys in ISIS who are good to their wives, and their children, who feed stray dogs, are loyal to their friends, and keep their word when they shake hands with an equal. And that's the tragedy of all of this, and I suspect it will be this way as long as there are people.

Yes, in our personal lives I think it's important to find common ground, and especially with our families and those we've known for many years, to go the extra mile to try to see where they're coming from. But there's a limit to that. If I'm an ob/gyn who is going to be performing abortions in Jackson, Mississippi, there are some people who are going to want me dead. Talking with them might convince some people that they are wrong. But when some asshole kicks in my door at 3:30 a.m. , I suspect, I won't be able to dissuade him by talking. And that's what liberals so often cannot understand-- that people who surrender their agency will always lose.
posted by wuwei at 6:54 PM on August 11 [27 favorites]


politikitty, I can't really find anything in what you said that is "wrong," but my point is that I question whether the problem is that e.g., LGBT people don't understand right-wing people who would shove them back into the closet. I think they understand them just fine. And I think it's risible, to put it mildly, to say (as AWK does) they have some kind of obligation to love their oppressors, even in the most abstract sense of the word "love". And on preview I see wuwei said this a lot better so feel free to respond to him instead of me.

explains how the vastly outnumbered good guys defeat the dominant social belief structure


And I am not trying to play "gotcha", but I mean, there it is, right in your own comment. If there are good guys, then there are bad guys. And a good guy is surely a better person than a bad guy, if those words are to mean anything.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 6:56 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


And I think it's risible, to put it mildly, to say (as AWK does) they have some kind of obligation to love their oppressors, even in the most abstract sense of the word "love".

Loving your enemy makes you stronger than them. It's as simple as that.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:57 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


But when some asshole kicks in my door at 3:30 a.m. , I suspect, I won't be able to dissuade him by talking. And that's what liberals so often cannot understand.

What does that have to do with politics or political discourse in the civil sphere?
posted by clockzero at 6:59 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I think the better question to ask is what discourse in the civil sphere has to do with politics.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:03 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I still love my dad, FWIW. But he's like a shark. I'm not letting him near my kids. I think love has to be tough sometimes, too. I think some right-wingers may just be in denial about how shitty the attitudes and beliefs they hold are, and mistaking those beliefs for the core of who they are, they hold on to them so tightly they twist themselves up into something ugly. But it's not the quality of the people I'm judging. It's the beliefs they hold and the real-world effects those beliefs have on others (and themselves) when put into personal and political action.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I think the better question to ask is what discourse in the civil sphere has to do with politics.

given that that is a passable if simplistic definition of the word, a lot?
posted by conorh at 7:06 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Because by pretending there's a civil sphere in which to discourse, we reduce the likelihood of Clausewitzian politics. It's like intentionally forgetting in a relationship.

How people imagine other people see them means a lot--seemingly, more than anything else--to a not insignificant portion of the population and drives a hell of a lot of social discord.

I think this is baked into the whole primate thing, unfortunately.
posted by PMdixon at 7:07 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


[Comment removed, cut it the hell out.]
posted by cortex at 7:13 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


clockzero: If I (the notional abortion doctor) am dead, I can't participate in that civil discourse, now can I? And if other ob/gyn providers, on seeing the news of my gruesome death at the hand of a terminally ill family man who has decided to do his community one last service, decide that they will not provide abortion services and will choose not to speak out in favor of the right to choose-- civil discourse is inhibited, is it not?
posted by wuwei at 7:15 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Loving your enemy makes you stronger than them. It's as simple as that.

I question that this is always true. Loving your enemy can also make you more vulnerable, by making it harder for you to take appropriate steps to protect or defend yourself. Also, when this kind of love does indeed go together with strength, the causality may be reversed, as this type of strength can enable you to love people whose actions cause you harm without falling into the above trap.

But even if this were simply true as laid out here, it wouldn't seem to present an obligation to love your enemy. Strength may be useful, but it is not a moral imperative.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:16 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Loving your enemy makes you stronger than them. It's as simple as that.

That's what they say isn't it? But it just doesn't ring true to me.

I suppose a rabbit could love a wolf, even as the latter tore the former to pieces, and I guess the rabbit could tell himself in the last few seconds of his life that he was "stronger" than the wolf for having loved him. But I think it's more likely that the rabbit would rather have been not metaphysically strong or morally strong, but actually strong, strong enough to fight off the wolf.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:18 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


Loving your enemy makes you stronger than them. It's as simple as that.

There's a reason moral victories have the "moral" modifier, rather than simply being called victories.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:24 PM on August 11 [32 favorites]


f I (the notional abortion doctor) am dead, I can't participate in that civil discourse, now can I? And if other ob/gyn providers, on seeing the news of my gruesome death at the hand of a terminally ill family man who has decided to do his community one last service, decide that they will not provide abortion services and will choose not to speak out in favor of the right to choose-- civil discourse is inhibited, is it not?

Why yes. That is why killing people is a major violation of civil discourse. Is the columnist's right-wing dad about to kill him? No? Then this is a hyperbolic derail. Which seems to be the ongoing logic of this thread: assume someone with different beliefs has the worst possible version of those beliefs, and use that as the justification for cutting out anyone whose beliefs resemble those. I suppose when one can get plenty favorites by insisting that regarding people as unique individuals is an expression of privilege, it makes sense that you would start regarding the evaluation of a person's actual beliefs as just wasting time before the fun and exciting hate-on.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:41 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Now, in a purely abstract sense, the advice here is largely unobjectionable. Open mind: good. Love: good. (And yes, the letter-writer is prone to overstatement: "destroy us all" is kind of a dumb way to phrase it, for example.)

The problem is, it doesn't apply to practical realities and it doesn't address the letter-writer's problem.

Andrew W.K. is operating on the assumption that the father is calmly and rationally elucidating his policy opinions to his son, and the son's reaction is purely intolerance of those opinions. Does anyone here think that's really the case?

I didn't think so.

What the son is talking about--what has become epidemic in the Fox/Drudge/Breitbart era--is (right-wing) political opinions as acts of aggression. You can't judge a liberal son's "intolerance" for his father's opinion without understanding that the father's opinion (there's really only one) is liberalism must be destroyed. That's the context that flies right over Andrew Fucking W.K.'s pointy little head. So of course he chastises the son for his "intolerance".
posted by tonycpsu at 7:44 PM on August 11 [26 favorites]


I just watched the documentary Kids for Cash and at then end of the movie they quoted some astounding stats: The US incarcerates 5x more juveniles than any other nation; 2 million children are arrested each year, 95% for non-violent crimes; We spend $10,500 each year to educate a child - and $88,500 on each child incarcerated. 66% of children incarcerated never return to school. These kids aren't losing their lives at the hands of liberals, it's fear mongering conservatives and republicans who create campaigns of fear for their own individual advancement. So fuck this guy's father and fuck all republicans. My father is the same Fox News watching asshole as the guy asking the question. I give him shit for it EVERY TIME it comes up - whether we are installing an air conditioner or sitting down for Christmas dinner. The rest of the family leaves the table and I go at it with the 86 year old man not giving a shit if he dies from a heart attack from it. Then it ends and he's still my father and I love him with all his faults - until he brings up that bullshit again - then it's on and we are at war. I fucking hate republicans with every fiber of my being. I've ended many relationships with people who cannot disassociate their political proclivities from their social ones - lucky for us my father and I can do it. I made a decision long ago that I wish all liberals would make - that I would NEVER suffer a fool under ANY circumstances no matter what no matter when. If we all just stood up to this stupidity every time we were confronted maybe they wouldn't be so cavalier parroting this bullshit. Just a thought.
posted by any major dude at 7:45 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


That is why killing people is a major violation of civil discourse.

The point that I believe wuwei is making is, to the extent that is universally true now, it didn't used to be, quite recently. It is not a 'natural' state of affairs. And the change was effected through use of power. And it can be un-effected.
posted by PMdixon at 7:48 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


[I meant cut it out when I said it before, TFB. Take the night off and cool off.]
posted by cortex at 8:01 PM on August 11


PMdixon, thank you, that's exactly what I meant.
posted by wuwei at 8:03 PM on August 11


Did anybody besides me notice all the recent collaborations on WK's facebook page with american right wing spin experts glen beck and neil cavuto? Follow the money, y'all.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:04 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Notice how this sermon is only ever preached at liberals.

Liberals are generally the only ones who would be receptive to this sermon. Liberals don't issue "Conservative Hunting Licenses". Liberals, generally speaking, don't fantasize about killing their opponents. Liberals do not have well-funded propaganda outlets which spend most of their time demonizing people who are not exactly like them. Liberals do often think of their opponents as being evil and stupid but their intentions towards the other side are usually aimed more at conversion rather than destruction.

And, again generally, liberals are more accepting of differences and therefore a message of tolerance and acceptance will have a decent chance of taking root. I think a similar message posted on RedState or the Free Republic or /r/conservative would get a response which would make Metafilter's brouhaha look like a friendly debate by comparison.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:06 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


See the humanity in the right wing? Problem is, they don't see the humanity in themselves. They prefer to see it as "divinity". Hell, they might even choose to call themselves "god".
posted by telstar at 8:16 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I think a similar message posted on RedState or the Free Republic or /r/conservative would get a response which would make Metafilter's brouhaha look like a friendly debate by comparison.

C'mon now, let's have a little bit higher standard for patting ourselves on the back than "better than Freepers."
posted by PMdixon at 8:19 PM on August 11


let's have a little bit higher standard for patting ourselves on the back than "better than Freepers."

Well, what outlet would you suggest as being a popular site / publication / channel for conservatives? I didn't list Free Republic because it is a cesspool. I listed it because it is one of the more popular right wing forums, and if you wanted your message to get a wide readership on the right then Free Republic would be one of the first places to come to mind.

The only popular (or semi-popular) right wing place I could imagine running a piece like this would be The American Conservative. Maybe Reason would too, since they like to pretend to be beyond the right / left dichotomy.

If you can think of any other right wing outlet which would be receptive to this sort of sermon, please let me know. I don't think you'll find many.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:40 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Did anybody besides me notice all the recent collaborations on WK's facebook page with american right wing spin experts glen beck and neil cavuto? Follow the money, y'all.

There is nothing about WK's advice that isn't about monetization of empty-headed platitudes that are more easily found on sites like Upworthy.

Follow the money? Follow the click-throughs. Or, better yet, don't. Resist banal evil of this empty-headed variety.
posted by Mr. Six at 8:49 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I don't think there's any need to call Andew W.K. evil. He actually seems like a nice guy to me. I just think he should have tried a little harder on this one.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:04 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


(Not even the banal kind of evil, I mean.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:04 PM on August 11


The people committing the genocide are wrong... but in some way, aren't the victims of genocide equally responsible?

Can't the cop that shoots an innocent teen, and the teen who gets shot by a cop for doing nothing but being black in America on a sunny day, just agree to meet in the middle?

Partisanship is destroying this country! We must learn to compromise!


Ayn Rand thought compromise was for losers too.
posted by Broseph at 9:10 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Fuck no, it feels like half this thread would cheerfully set [right-wing Republicans] on fire just to watch them burn.

> With respect, corb, I think this feeling is a strongly distorted reflection of what people are actually saying in this thread.

I think a lot of MeFites who participate in political threads, including this one, would cheerfully set me on fire just to watch me burn, because my background is a bit different from most MeFites' and my political opinions run social democratic rather than standard American liberal. To the people who dominate political discussions on this site, that means I'm not one of 'us', and people who differ in any way from their definition of 'us' are, according to them, all racist, homophobic, misogynist assholes who deserve to die.

(I realize MeFites understand that murder and assault are illegal, and that comments wishing violence on other members the site or fantasizing about it are rhetorical. Still, it doesn't it make me eager to meet these people in real life, and I hope I never do.)
posted by nangar at 9:12 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I honestly can't imagine a bizarro version of this with a "be nicer to liberals" message, because being mean to liberals is part of the mainstream Republican strategy, not just on talk radio and in online comment sections, but in the halls of Congress and in state houses around the country. Intense hatred of the left has been normalized. It's no longer even notable.

I mean, when was the last time a left-wing friend of yours sent you a Media Matters link? And if that has happened recently, when was the last time you were actually shocked by the latest thing that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, or Michelle Malkin said? It's just background noise. But god forbid a liberal want to give his old man what for! How uncivil!
posted by tonycpsu at 9:19 PM on August 11 [29 favorites]


honestcoyote: "The only popular (or semi-popular) right wing place I could imagine running a piece like this would be The American Conservative. "

I wouldn't be surprised if Dreher picked this up to rant about. He loves to use this kind of thing as a springboard.
posted by Corinth at 9:57 PM on August 11


Corinth: I wouldn't be surprised if Dreher picked this up to rant about.

Dear Jerk: Love Your Dad The Right-Wing Nut

Fox Geezer Syndrome

Of course, ol' Rod falls for the schmaltzy lovey-doveyness of the original essay, but to his credit, he does (prompted by a reader) acknowledge that the weaponized stupidity of the right wing echo chamber isn't particularly conducive to productive exchange of ideas.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:05 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Haha, too perfect. Thanks!
posted by Corinth at 10:07 PM on August 11


I think a lot of MeFites who participate in political threads, including this one, would cheerfully set me on fire just to watch me burn

I'm not one of 'us', and people who differ in any way from their definition of 'us' are, according to them, all racist, homophobic, misogynist assholes who deserve to die.

You do realize the the whole point of a fantasy life is that you get to choose what happens in it? So of all the fantasies you could have, why have you chosen to have this one?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:11 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


"Live with a truly open mind -- the kind of open mind that even questions the idea of an open mind. Don't feel the need to always pick a side. And if you do pick a side, pick the side of love."

I think I threw up a little in my mouth when I read that. Love isn't about being a doormat, and it's sick to suggest otherwise. More than that, anger isn't a sin in itself. It's a tool to help us find the strength to take action when others cause us harm. It can be, (and often is), misused, but that's about the flaws in the person rather than the impulse itself.

I don't think there's any need to call Andew W.K. evil. He actually seems like a nice guy to me. I just think he should have tried a little harder on this one.

Need? Maybe not, but I still feel justified in feeling that way about him.

Every relationship between adult humans requires the conscious willingness by both parties to not be horrible, and it is a dynamic process rather than a single hurdle that must be overcome. There is no act of heroism, no sacrifice, no abstract principle that *entitles* someone to a free pass in the way that they treat another person on an ongoing basis.

*Nothing*.

To say otherwise in a big public forum is to encourage lots of people to remain in relationships that are toxic, or even abusive. A willingness to help ugly things happen to strangers over one's own ill-conceived principles is... well, I'm not sure how else to interpret that.
posted by mordax at 10:30 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


All of these comparisons to Rush Limbaugh or whoever are beside the point. He's talking about his DAD. If the questioner is hoping for a lovely father-son-let's-go-fishing-and-chit-chat relationship he's probably in for disappointment. However, remembering that his dad is frail and freaked out, which is the reason people for these fundamentalist viewpoints, and remembering that this is the same person who taught him to fish, and ride a bike, and who sent him cash on the downlow after he got into trouble that one time at that show he wasn't supposed to be at... whatever his history with his dad is... that's not too much to ask, and that's what *I* got from WK Andrew's letter.

My version of his answer would be the same as a lot of AskMe answers on how to keep parents from doing Annoying Behavior X:

Step One: Write a letter to him telling him all the things you are grateful for from him. Send it or not (it'd be a nice father's day card anyway).

Step Two: remind yourself of these things and any new ones you think of every time you're about to go see him or talk to him.

Step Three: Cut him off if you don't feel like talking politics. Get up and leave (not angrily) just as though he'd fallen asleep and it was time for you to go. Be nice about it but do it.

Step Four: If you never get past the Step Three stage, tell your dad you miss the old dad. Maybe that will help. But generally you'll find you have other things to talk about. When you talk to him, keep the message positive.

Step Five: If there's a political topic you don't mind bringing up, do so. Let him spew. Ask him lots of questions about it. When he's wound down some. Gently tell him a reason why it sounds like a bad idea to you.

Step Six: Let him respond and then change the subject.

I have been surprised at how many times people soften or even change on subjects when you actually LISTEN to them.

My grandfather went from a gay-hating religious leader who thought everyone with HIV should be quarantined to a guy with a lesbian priest as a best friend. She "converted" him by being kind and also not taking any shit from him. (It probably didn't hurt that the rest of us were on her side, so far as there were sides.)

When I interact with people who are as far left as some of my relatives, I am also a walking, breathing, hopefully loving, refutation of the evilness and stupidity of the far left that is the constant refrain on the right wing media.

I am continually amazed at how 90% of the differences between us are fabricated for media sales and to keep us from talking to each other. The other 10%... well, those are biggies. But if you can both agree on 90% that's enough to keep people from turning other side into straw men.

The left wing does this as often as the right wing. I lost a lot of friends during the 2008 election because they insisted that there was no reasoning with Those People and they just needed to be beaten down. No. I strongly disagree with the folks on the right (except for a couple of issues), and I will fight their policies with every resource I have, but they are people that I love.

I think things were better when it was harder to isolate ourselves in our little liberal or conservative enclaves. Where I live it's all left and more left. It gets so inbred left that it starts to get to the point of idiocy. Where I hang out online it's also pretty Left.

My right wing family and friends are in their own little bubble. Many of them go to crazy fundamentalist churches and listen to Fox and Rush. Neither side interacts with the other except on strawman levels. They believe what their news sources are telling them about Those People. There is a lot of money in continuing this dynamic, and a lot of political power. Divide and conquer.

I think that was harder to get away with when Those People lived right next door and mowed your lawn for you when you were sick, and brought you cookies at the holidays.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:52 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Honestly?

I've gotten way more attacks towards me and my demographic from people who were supposed to be ideologically or politically similar to me (queer women spreading vicious rumours about me "lying to lesbians to sleep with them" or claiming that I'm faking it because I was dating a trans woman and therefore dating a man, the supposedly progressive Malaysian political campaign staging an entire election campaign claiming that Bangladeshis like me were all faking it and couldn't possibly be legit voting Malaysians, and so on) while people who were ideologically opposed to me generally respected my identity or left me alone.

It's gotten to the point that knowing your political affiliation isn't enough for me to trust you; indeed, if we share politics, I'm going to be even more suspicious, because if you say or do something bigoted it's hell to get you to acknowledge that. The last time I talked about this effect I got accused by a Mefite of calling them "racist", even when I was speaking generally.

So I'm down with what Andrew W. K. says. Because there's no ideological purity that can cover for your own unexamined bigotry, and "well at least I am not [part of the Bad Guy Party]" is nowhere near enough.
posted by divabat at 10:55 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


(my politics, to be clear: generally on the left. near radical end, very intersectional, though I have been accused of neoliberalism because I called for people to consider and support more funding options than just relying on a hostile Government for grant money. I trust no political party, though - they've all been disappointing.)
posted by divabat at 10:59 PM on August 11


small_ruminant: All of these comparisons to Rush Limbaugh or whoever are beside the point. He's talking about his DAD.

I've been following this thread pretty closely and haven't seen anyone comparing this guy's dad or anyone else to Limbaugh. The point is that this guy didn't just become a right-wing nutjob by himself -- he did it because Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are responsible for stoking the fires of fear, othering their political enemies, and in many cases, denying the fundamental humanity of vast swathes of our citizenry.

There is just no equivalent to that on the left, despite your assertions that both sides do it equally, and I defy you to show that there's anything on the left approaching the scale of the vertically-integrated right-wing Biliary Industrial Complex. It simply Does. Not. Exist.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:12 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


I started out firmly on AWK's side of the argument, getting madder and madder as I read the thread. But then emptythought's comment hit me like cold water.

I was raised with much the same values, only in my case it was the Mennonite Church. Mennonites tend to have those "love your enemy" and "turn the other cheek" values because of how their Anabaptist ancestors chose to respond to being chased all over Europe, tortured, and burned at the stake. Those who resisted violently became footnotes to history, while the "love your enemy" branch went on to become the Mennonites (and others) still active today.

I used to view this as proof that the nonviolent way was inherently superior. Except really it doesn't prove anything at all.

As a counterexample, while Martin Luther King's "love your enemy" approach certainly played a big role in winning African-American civil rights, it's hardly the whole story. Mennonites and hippie-types are loathe to admit it, but more militant movements were also part of the story; probably a necessary part.

The Anabaptist persecution was centuries in the past and most Mennonites are quite privileged these days. I'm more privileged than most, in fact. So it's really easy for me to agree with AWK's piece, because of where I sit in the social order. It's easy for me to say that oppressed people should love their enemies and turn the other cheek.

I guess my takeaway from this thread is that I actually have no business telling oppressed people to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. I'm still trying to digest this realization, so I'll leave it at that.

(On preview, let me add: I'm not asking for cookies or recognition. Just trying to acknowledge that this discussion had a real effect on at least one person.)
posted by Zimboe Metamonkey at 11:30 PM on August 11 [27 favorites]


Tonyspsu, that's a tangent to the article being discussed. However... It's true that the left doesn't have a corallary to the Rush/Fox stuff, but look at this thread to see how willing people are to cut regular old people off as though there is no hope for them, no reason to interact with them, as though they were evil. At best we see things differently (trickle down, anyone?) and at worst they are weak, frightened, and therefore terrifying.

During the 2008 Obama election there were plenty of people on "my" side wishing death on the right wingers. Why did 49% of American vote for McCain? It was not because "they are all stupid" or "they're all evil." But these folks on "my" side refused to look deeper than that. Even ones who I felt should know better. (And even here on metafilter.) It was a disappointment, to understate it.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:32 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


It was not because "they are all stupid" or "they're all evil."

Of course not. Some of the stupid ones are not evil, and quite a few of the evil ones are not stupid. It would be ludicrous to say that they're all either of those things even if they are all at least one of them.

I'm just having fun wit' cha
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:44 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I have been surprised at how many times people soften or even change on subjects when you actually LISTEN to them.

It is lovely that you had a positive experience trying that. Keep on keepin' on. However, that has not been my personal experience.

During the 2008 Obama election there were plenty of people on "my" side wishing death on the right wingers. Why did 49% of American vote for McCain? It was not because "they are all stupid" or "they're all evil." But these folks on "my" side refused to look deeper than that. Even ones who I felt should know better. (And even here on metafilter.) It was a disappointment, to understate it.

Oh, they're plenty evil.

See, I'm a leftie, and I do despise Republicans. I will never have one in my personal life again by choice. Recently, when an in-law started making loud racist conversation at my niece's 11th birthday party, I browbeat him until he shut up, and until he apologizes, that's all he's getting. He'll die first. Literally. Of old age. Hopefully soon, considering what a horrible influence he is on the very air around him.

I'm sure knowing I did that disappoints you. I don't care in the slightest, but I understand.

There is, however, a qualitative difference between that and using money, votes, time and lies to support agendas that actually hurt people. I am a self-employed diabetic. Republicans *fought* to try and deny me healthcare. He voted for them. That was an attempt on my fucking life, albeit a backhanded one. Not merely an opinion, but real effort. Their policies are about *ruin*, and unlike us, they don't just talk. They really put their backs into spreading fucking misery.

I sometimes do wish them death because then they wouldn't be able to hurt anybody anymore... and even with that justification, I don't actually go out there and try to make it happen. That's the difference: me hurting someone's feelings is not the same as them deliberately causing actual material harm to great swaths of people both at home and abroad.

To say the two things are the same is abhorrent.

Oh, and so for understanding? It's not like we don't ask. Speaking personally, I've seen that when pressed, their reasons tend to boil down to willful ignorance, racism, failure to understand basic economics, or a host of other things that I would not describe as reasoned disagreement. A man once asked my opinion of a Grover Norquist anti-tax rant, (we met at Toastmasters, where it came out I have a degree in economics). I politely directed him to "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, with a brief explanation of why he should read it, and why I believed in taxation and regulation.

The sender simply stopped talking to me. Can't tell if he was illiterate, dishonest or had too weak a stomach to finish it and see what actually happened in our actual history instead of some masturbatory right wing Ayn Rand fantasy.

*sighs*

In closing, hold any opinion you want, speak about disappointment and 'we do it too' as much as you please, but if you truly believe that our differences are so shallow, I would suggest that you look more closely.
posted by mordax at 12:12 AM on August 12 [23 favorites]


So much hate.
posted by Broseph at 12:30 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I'm so tired of being told that choosing to not spend time with people who support a system that guns down young Black people with impunity, that disenfranchises POC and women whenever possible, that withholds medical care from the poor, etc etc-- makes me intolerant. Conservative politics pick on the politically weak, on the marginalized, and those people don't have a get-out-of-poverty (or gender, orientation, or skin color) card that they can play to get into the good graces of the bigots who want to hurt them.

Conservative people, though, can pretty easily stop supporting marginalizing politics and get back into the good graces of the rest of us.

I dislike Republicans and their ilk because they choose to kick people lower on the socio-political ladder for what those people are. I have the right to want to keep people out of my life if they spout a toxic political ideology because they chose that toxic political ideology.

But the idea that we're somehow "just as intolerant" of people who choose the path of bigotry as those people are is utter bullshit, because they are prejudiced against people for what they are and we're prejudiced against them (the bigots) for what they do (bigotry). (Also, their prejudices carry the political weight of a system of institutionalized misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, whereas saying "I don't want you in my life" has no such power.)
posted by NoraReed at 12:31 AM on August 12 [25 favorites]


whereas saying "I don't want you in my life" has no such power.

This is exactly the crux of it. It is a gesture that gives you personal control while also removing political influence. Intolerance is based on Otherness. By keeping yourself removed, you are reinforcing that Otherness.

That inaction is understandable. But tolerance of intolerance is not about equivalence. It's about identifying the best way forward to dealing with intolerance.
posted by politikitty at 1:06 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


"Wow. I can't believe you think being white is relevant here," said no one except white people.
posted by fleacircus at 1:19 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


long thread.

um well I just wanted to say the problem here is the Andrew WK thinks his position is itself non-political. But it is a political position itself. It's saturated with a kind of conservative nostalgia for a unified world that never really existed. Whenever someone talks about "humanity" there is a political agenda.
posted by mary8nne at 1:27 AM on August 12 [25 favorites]


I think a lot of MeFites who participate in political threads, including this one, would cheerfully set me on fire just to watch me burn, because my background is a bit different from most MeFites' and my political opinions run social democratic rather than standard American liberal. To the people who dominate political discussions on this site, that means I'm not one of 'us', and people who differ in any way from their definition of 'us' are, according to them, all racist, homophobic, misogynist assholes who deserve to die.

Well, to the extent that you actually believe this I'd question why you'd chose to spend your time here and ask if you have considered that you might be paranoid. To the extent that you [almost certainly] don't actually believe this I don't get why you'd engage in such pointlessly transparent trolling/hyperbole/flamebait.

Either way, you'll note that it is ironically an example of simplifying and dehumanising people down to straw men. Maybe secret option c: parody?
posted by jaduncan at 1:44 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


That inaction is understandable. But tolerance of intolerance is not about equivalence. It's about identifying the best way forward to dealing with intolerance.

I don't want to threadsit, so I'll go to bed after this, but:

First of all... it's not about equivalence for *you*, but that has been a theme in both this thread and in the original piece. The quote in the FPP is positively dripping with it. Whether or not there is merit to the notion that you win more flies with honey, it's important to address equivalence because it is pernicious. One of the biggest lies the Republican party has gotten away with is this notion that being called a racist is somehow worse than actually being one.

Second... what evidence is there that being tolerant is the best way forward on a broad scale? Or, hell, even a small one? I'm not willing to take that assertion on faith.
posted by mordax at 1:54 AM on August 12


Seeing the fight in my fellow lefties in this thread is heartwarming. Yes, both sides believe the other is trying to ruin the country. But one side is right in this case.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:24 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


um well I just wanted to say the problem here is the Andrew WK thinks his position is itself non-political. But it is a political position itself. It's saturated with a kind of conservative nostalgia for a unified world that never really existed. Whenever someone talks about "humanity" there is a political agenda.

To be fair I think this sort of naive fetishism of comity and compromise is a pretty widespread failing in American discourse. It's tied in with wuwei's point up-thread.
posted by PMdixon at 4:07 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


um well I just wanted to say the problem here is the Andrew WK thinks his position is itself non-political. But it is a political position itself. It's saturated with a kind of conservative nostalgia for a unified world that never really existed. Whenever someone talks about "humanity" there is a political agenda.

Yea, it's really disingenuous in that way.

But in addition to that, there's an element of sibling or bratty elementary school kid bullying here. It's taking a firm side, and that's the side of the bully. They can taunt, threaten, push, shove, and tease... but if you respond in kind, "MOOOOM, HE'S HITTING ME".

Andrew's response here is the equivalent of a school zero tolerance policy. It's literally saying the same thing as statements like "you can't have a fight without two fighters". It's making a case for suspending the kid who got beat up in the hallway even if he didn't fight back, or tried to shove the other person just to run away.

I mean, maybe i'm just a bit more sensitive than most to that sort of thing... but it seems almost modest proposal levels of ridiculous when you really let it marinate in your brain a bit and realize the implications and undertones of what he's saying there.

Maybe i'm running a second lap over the same ground here with different phrasing, but it just made my soul hurt a little bit when i saw a lot of people i really respected outside of MeFi, who should get this, and probably empirically do on some level, sharing it and getting tons of likes/rts/e-high fives/whatever and talk about how it's such sage wisdom that the world needs more of.

Because this is honestly a masterfully written piece of propaganda to sit down, shut up, and stay quiet while you lay down in front of the tank treads and get run the fuck over.

It's the same old message, but it seems like this time they packaged it in a case so sleek and nice that Jony Ive would go "wow, well i'll be damned".

I also think that part of the reason it makes me so angry is that it's so perfectly crafted to create infighting. It's like some power-up item you'd grab in a videogame and run with for 30 seconds smashing everything in your path. If you disagree with it, then you care about fighting more than you care about other people and you're exactly the problem the write-up described! Rekt!


And this gets way, way weirder if you're willing to look at it as a form of propaganda when you remember that Andrew W.K. is a character, like the Monkees, developed by Dave Grohl and some other people. I'm serious. This is probably close to the most tin foil hat i've ever gotten on the internet, but the more i stare at this the more it just seems like large scale manipulation of the target audience.
posted by emptythought at 4:24 AM on August 12 [23 favorites]


I personally think that people who willfully misread newspaper articles should be stripped of their humanity.

Anyway, one thing to point out is that partisanship is remarkably stable--if you are a Republican at 30 you are very likely to be a republican at 60. I don't know exactly what this suggests, it could be that assholes are gonna asshole, it could be that change is hard, or it could be that a sociological view of people's beliefs is more useful than a psychological one. who knows.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:57 AM on August 12


The wise live in different cities than their families, and then only have to endure and cringe through Thanksgiving or other quick visits, changing the conversation or pretending not to hear as needed to avoid being slimed with tiresome political talk. There is no other way!
posted by koebelin at 5:20 AM on August 12


Just a brief interlude...

Is this the right room for an argument?

Hmmmm... I think the problem at the heart of all of these articles and most of the commentary is the vague definition of what is "human" and therefore deserving of a set of rights. Many folks historically considered that sets of other creatures - that seemingly are human and deserving of rights to other creatures - aren't human at all but sub-human, lesser humanity, with less full rights, sometimes up to and including the right to live. Whither the Neanderthals?

I guess my response to all of this is who cares if a creature is "human" or not. Don't all creatures - sentient or otherwise have rights? Is abortion murder? Is meat murder? Is your computer alive? What is sentience? Do non-sentient creatures or objects have rights? Do collectives of "humans"... "states" / "corporations" / "religions" - have rights? So if you disagree with your dad, why not just kill and eat him then? Could it be because he tastes like chicken? You could always throw up in a bag if feeling guilty...

And now let us return from this "Monty Python Moment" to more sober reflections:
posted by mfoight at 6:07 AM on August 12


I think part of this is, perhaps, that some people here don't have relatives or friends who have gone down the FOX rabbit hole.

So we have a contingent who, like AWK, want to imagine that the real problem is this asshole kid is hating on his father simply because his father votes Republican. That kid really needs to remember that his father is human too, right?

But that isn't how it really is. I don't know more about the situation than the letter to AWK tells, but reading it from my viewpoint as a person with friends who have vanished into FOX I didn't see a kid who was picking on his old man just because his old man voted for Republicans.

I have former friends who are former because they simply could not get through any conversation, no matter how casual and on a non-political topic it was, without turning it into a regurgitation of whatever tinfoil hattery that was being pushed on FOX that day. The group would be talking about something perfectly innocent, and suddenly they'd launch into a rant about how Obama wants to put everyone in FEMA concentration camps, or how if it weren't for one brave soldier who refused orders Obama would have nuked America to enrich George Soros.

I was stunned that AWK and so many people here on metafilter somehow view the problem as the kid being a jackass because his father votes Republican. My experience, and the letter seems to go with that, is that the FOXified friend or family member basically turns every interaction into a cringing wait for them to start spewing FOX style hate. You're talking about a movie, and suddenly they launch into a rant about how homosexuals (they use a derogatory term of course) are trying to undermine America's values through Hollywood. You're talking about the nifty thing that was found by astronomers yesterday, and suddenly they're going off on how scientists want to destroy capitalism by means of the global warming lie.

You never know what will set off the rant, you never know when it will happen, but it happens in almost every conversation. You want to love them, you want to keep being friends, you do your best to avoid topics that are even remotely political, but they don't reciprocate.

This guy just wants to get along with his dad, he wants some advice on how to interact with his dad without the random FOX spew ruining conversation. And AWK tells him that he's a horrible person.

I think perhaps this is a problem that is invisible unless you personally experience it? That to some liberal types who live in liberal safe areas and don't know anyone who has fallen into FOX news syndrome it just seems impossible to believe. But its real, and it does harm relationships, and the harm isn't coming from intolerant liberals, but from FOX viewers who are unable to allow any conversation to take place without injecting their bigoted FOX views.

If you have the privilege of not knowing someone like that, then please check your privilege and believe those of us who do know people like that. We don't need to be scolded about how horrible we are for dehumanizing our friends or family, we need some advice on dealing with people we love who are making it really damn hard to love them because they won't fucking shut up about how much they hate blacks, homosexuals, feminists, scientists, liberals, etc. We've asked that, in the interests of not fighting, we all avoid political talks, but they can't, or won't, do that.

I've never found any advice that worked and as a result I've had to sever friendships. I wanted, a lot, to make those friendships work. I spoke with my friends kindly and asked that, in the interests of our friendship, we just avoid political discussions. One agreed to avoid politics, but she never could stick to it, the other laughed at me and told me that if I was too much of a wuss to deal then I should just STFU. And so in the interests of my own sanity I stopped being friends with them.

I'm lucky that no one in my family has gone down the FOX news rabbit hole. I strongly suspect that if he hadn't died so young, my father probably would have, and I don't know how I could have dealt with that. Its a lot harder to cut off family than it is to cut off friends, and cutting off friends is damn hard.

I do know that hectoring, scolding, lectures about how we're horrible people for dehumanizing our friends and family who can't, or won't, stop turning every conversation into a FOX inspired bigoted rant is the last thing we need.
posted by sotonohito at 6:17 AM on August 12 [48 favorites]


Maybe I'm just being a weirdo again, but I didn't see anything in the son's letter about denying his father's humanity.

For one thing, he says, "his politics are turning him into a monster," not, "he IS a monster." But aside from that, I guess I'm just not one of those people who takes the word "monster" literally in a context like this. Surely we've all encountered, if not firsthand then secondhand, human beings who behaved in such monstrous ways that the word "monster" would be used to describe them, without actually ceasing to believe that they're also human. As has been pointed out numerous times, even the most monstrous among us still retain our human qualities, and I truly don't believe that anyone has actually lost sight of that. "Monster" and "Human" have never been mutually exclusive categories.

The second point that sticks with me is that accusation of hyperbole about "destroying us all." The son doesn't point to some vague WWIII threat, but rather makes a direct connection:
"...intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics. ...I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all. ...how do I explain to him that his politics are turning him into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?"
Global climate change and pollution are specific, scientifically proven problems that actually, factually do have the potential to destroy our living environment on an unprecedented scale. This isn't some bogeyman the son is inventing and projecting onto a man he has differences of opinion with.

Thirdly, both AWK and many commenters seem to be either overlooking or downplaying the fact that the son HAS tried to connect with his father outside of a political context.
"When I try to spend time with him without talking politics or discussing any current events..."
This shows me that the son ISN'T, as accused, reducing his father to a non-human collection of political beliefs. He's made the effort, and the father isn't reciprocating.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:00 AM on August 12 [17 favorites]


What the son is talking about--what has become epidemic in the Fox/Drudge/Breitbart era--is (right-wing) political opinions as acts of aggression.

I just had one of those moments where you've been trying to express something and somebody else does it perfectly, in the perfect words for it. Thank you for that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:15 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Two sides fully incapable of admitting their shit stinks. This will end well.

A guy writes a letter that suggests that maybe demonizing one another based purely on politics isn't the best way of sustaining healthy relationships with those we purport to love and care about, and the good progressives of Metafilter immediately drop into a DEFCON 1 defensive crouch.

I find myself very much on the progressive side of most issues, but I find the average progressive's inability to communicate those positions in a way that doesn't make me want to punch them in the fucking face increasingly depressing.

There's more to decency and virtue than the end-goal of a cause. What of trust, persuasion, empathy, tenacity, reflection, self-control, forgiveness*? Are these not as important to how we define our humanity in relation to one another?

I choose not to burn one house to the ground to save the other. There has to be a better way. If not, then the hatemongers are right, and we're all well and truly fucked.


*Forgiveness is always the prerogative of the aggrieved, and I fully recognize that some trespasses are unforgivable. I'm speaking generally here.
posted by echocollate at 7:22 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


A guy writes a letter that suggests that maybe demonizing one another based purely on politics isn't the best way of sustaining healthy relationships with those we purport to love and care about, and the good progressives of Metafilter immediately drop into a DEFCON 1 defensive crouch.

Read the fucking article.

and read The Underpants Monster's last comment.

The short answer, that's not what happened.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:26 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


I am getting the feeling you haven't read the thread echocollate.

See 285 above comments for clarification.

I am not sure what relevance your impressions of the 'average progressive' have to the subject of the post or the ensuing discussion.

Here's a good one for starters from emjaybee
posted by asok at 7:27 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Look, your dad probably isn't going to change. He's 65 and will be dead sooner than you'd like. Stop trying to talk politics with him or convince him he's wrong. ... In short, have fun and enjoy the time you have left together. Because it's running out.

This is certainly the approach I have taken with my elderly, Fox-news-addicted father. It saddens me that he casts votes for cynical, deluded shit-birds every election, but there's no argument I could ever make that will ever touch the resentment he holds against the various GOP-invented straw figures which he has been convinced have ruined the Good Old America he loves (which never actually existed in the first place). As has been said many times, you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reach through considered thought and dependable facts.
posted by aught at 7:28 AM on August 12


small_ruminant: Tonyspsu, that's a tangent to the article being discussed.

Right, and a tangent you had no problem starting until I called you on your false equivalence.

but look at this thread to see how willing people are to cut regular old people off as though there is no hope for them, no reason to interact with them, as though they were evil

You don't know the stories behind how those people have come to that conclusion, nor do you know the story behind the advice-seeker that W.K. is responding to. Maybe they've been trying to break through the wall of misinformation and hatred to talk to their family member for years, decades even, but have had no luck. Maybe they're extending their hand and having it swatted away. Maybe it goes beyond a "political viewpoint" and crosses into denying the fundamental humanity of their own son/daughter. You don't know any of these things, yet you casually trot out your problem solving script like this is some kind of customer service problem.

I commend you for your hypothetical dedication to how you would solve this kind of problem were it to happen in your life, but for many people, it's more than hypothetical.

During the 2008 Obama election there were plenty of people on "my" side wishing death on the right wingers.

There are "plenty" of people on any side who take any number of extreme viewpoints, but your continued attempts to create false equivalence between random left-wingers holding signs and shouting to the massive right-wing infotainment apparatus are frustrating. The two sides are simply not the same in this regard, and the fact that some random lefties with no influence said some bad things six years ago doesn't change that.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:31 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


tonyspsu, this isn't hypothetical for me whatsoever. I don't know why you would say it is.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:37 AM on August 12


small_ruminant: tonyspsu, this isn't hypothetical for me whatsoever. I don't know why you would say it is.

small_ruminant: My version of his answer would be [...]
posted by tonycpsu at 7:39 AM on August 12


I'm not talking about the shouting right wingers and the random left wingers. I'm talking about the left wingers in my friends and family AND the right wingers in my friends and family.

In my particular set, the lefties behaved terribly. It's true that I hold them to a higher standard, with their rhetoric about inclusiveness and tolerance. But by any metric they behaved pretty badly.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:40 AM on August 12


Well, I would give that version of the answer because that's how I do it in real fucking life. Jesus Christ.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:41 AM on August 12


small_ruminant: I'm not talking about the shouting right wingers and the random left wingers. I'm talking about the left wingers in my friends and family AND the right wingers in my friends and family.

Then perhaps you ought not to make statements like "[t]he left wing does this as often as the right wing" based on this very small sample.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:41 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Read the fucking article.

and read The Underpants Monster's last comment.

The short answer, that's not what happened.


Jesus Christ, is this how you engage people in real life?

I did read the fucking article. Three of my four parents are deeply conservative Southern Republicans, so I know a bit about what the guy in the article is saying. I spent my twenties challenging my parents' every position, arguing with them, hell even trying to shame them in my worst moments. You know what that accomplished? Nothing. Despite my shit behavior, my parents continued to love me, to trust my judgment, and to respect my beliefs. Were they not the people they are, it could have gone very differently for us in a bad way.

It wasn't until I started listening to their concerns that I realized the reasons they held their beliefs weren't as cut and dried as I'd supposed, that they held complex positions and that some of their criticisms of my own positions were valid. Not all, but some. We don't talk politics now, but we could if we needed to or wanted to without losing respect for one another, without defining one another as Other.

Everything in my message stands. It's something that happens. I see it happen every day among my majority progressive network of friends, and I've seen it tear families apart. If you don't like my conclusions, that's fine. They certainly don't apply to everyone posting here. But don't accuse me of not doing due diligence in this thread.
posted by echocollate at 7:43 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Count me on the side of the conservatism delenda est crew. Nonetheless, despite my deeply-held belief that most conservatives are thoughtless assholes, at least in the political parts of their lives, I will not:

- Seek to restrict conservatives' rights to vote;
- interfere with conservatives' ability to spend their lives with whomever they see fit; or
- force conservatives to use their bodies in ways they do not wish to use them.

I'd like the same in return. Once that's done, we can talk about my fucking language.
posted by burden at 7:48 AM on August 12 [18 favorites]


A guy writes a letter that suggests that maybe demonizing one another based purely on politics isn't the best way of sustaining healthy relationships with those we purport to love and care about, and the good progressives of Metafilter immediately drop into a DEFCON 1 defensive crouch.

That is a lie. Here is the truth: A guy writes a letter implying that a son with a right-wing asshole of a father must be demonizing his father. People rightly note that the guy wasn't demonizing his father, and also rightly note that there are sooooooooooooo many instances of legislation being passed where people's actual rights are being fucked with that including "thinking my dad is an asshole" and "voting to deny some US citizens the rights that are afforded to others" as equal examples of "dehumanization" is seriously offensive.

"Don't demonize people for their political beliefs" is great advice if political beliefs were all they are. But this isn't a thought exercise for some people: it's a battle where their rights are being denied/stripped. Beliefs have consequences.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:48 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


I think its fair to see that AWK didn't really address the letter writer very well. People can be political in an obnoxious way, and it can be difficult to address them.

That said. I think that, for the most part, what politics we personally have doesn't actually matter. Unless we are politically active our opinions on certain matters will have minimal impact on the world. Even if one is to think climate change is a myth, as a single person one's impact on the environment is fairly limited, even if one switches all ones lights on and insists on taking baths. There are some political beliefs which can cause direct obvious harm: the discriminating homophobe or transphobe, the sexist, anyone who actually alters their behaviour to match their views. A more extreme example being picketing funerals.

Sometimes there might be someone in your life who you might want to cut out simply because their opinions and views are odious, and you don't have the time or energy to change their minds. That's ok. But as someone up thread said, quite a lot of what someone 100 years ago thought would seem odious to us now. I don't think we should write off human beings because they have terrible views, because its not like they chose to have those odious views.

As a leftie liberal wooly fellow, I am pro-rehabilitation of prisoners, and the reason for that is that I know that people aren't born prisoners, villains, monsters. They become so thanks to their exposure during their childhood, and as a society, I believe it would be better for all of us to try to change them rather than write them off. I think the same is true of most political opinions.

I don't think its fair to say that the biggest problem we have is everyone shouting at each other, because it isn't, but I do think it is a problem. I don't think you change people's minds by calling them a monster. I think you change people's minds by having a conversation with them, and actually understanding why they believe what they believe.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:49 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Jesus Christ, is this how you engage people in real life

I only use acronyms in real life, so I just say RTFA.

I did read the fucking article.

Again.

You seem to be bringing in your personal experience, which is great, but you also seem to be projecting that experience on to the letter writer--and many of us are responding to the letter writer and Andrew WK, responding to what they actually wrote.

This is what the letter writer wrote. His dad "turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics." His dad is not just a right-winger who has abhorrent views and reveals them when questioned, he is intent on ruining his relationship with his son because of his politics. And his son is the intolerant one?

And then Andrew WK says the problem in the world is lack of love not that the right wing is destroying it, which is patent bullshit.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:50 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


A guy writes a letter implying that a son with a right-wing asshole of a father must be demonizing his father. People rightly note that the guy wasn't demonizing his father

Thanks for illustrating my point. There's really nothing left for me to say. Carry on I guess.
posted by echocollate at 7:53 AM on August 12


echocollate: Thanks for illustrating my point. There's really nothing left for me to say.

Damn you, lefties, stop poisoning the political discourse by challenging other peoples' baseless assertions!
posted by tonycpsu at 7:55 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


The guy didn't say, "my dad disagrees with me politically, and I think his views are fucked up, so ergo ipso facto he's a monster, QED". He said that his dad has "turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship".
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:56 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


This is what the letter writer wrote. His dad "turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics." His dad is not just a right-winger who has abhorrent views and reveals them when questioned, he is intent on ruining his relationship with his son because of his politics.

Oh, well, if that's what the guy says then that should be the version of reality from which we draw our sanctimonious conclusions. I beg your pardon.
posted by echocollate at 7:57 AM on August 12


Thanks for illustrating my point. There's really nothing left for me to say. Carry on I guess.

I literally-literally have no idea what point of yours I've illustrated by noting that your reading of what happened was inaccurate. This is Metafilter, where we discuss links. The link was to a letter written to Andrew WK about a son was having trouble relating to his right-wing asshole of a father. The letter written to Andrew WK was NOT about a man who was having trouble relating to anyone who happened to be Republican. You were inaccurate, and I called you on it.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:00 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Damn you, lefties, stop poisoning the political discourse by challenging other peoples' baseless assertions!

Protip for the smug: If you want to build a case that someone isn't demonizing his father, citing that person referring to his father as a "total asshole intent in ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics" probably shouldn't be your go-to pull quote.
posted by echocollate at 8:00 AM on August 12


Is interpreting the text of the writer really valuable here? Who cares whether the guy's father is an arsehole or not, its not something we can determine from the letter. AWK decided to, rather than respond to the particular concerns and offer particular advice, provide a more general rant about the dangers of forgetting that the person who disagrees with you is a human being. I don't really care if the son is doing that or not, I know that some people do that all the time. And its easy to do! Because people are terrible! Its pretty hard to point at a raging homophobe being a raging homphobe and say that that person is actually a human with value, just as it would be if that was a murderer, or a thief. But we should do that, because people have value. It isn't the only thing we should do, but it is something that is worth doing occasionally.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 8:01 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Oh, well, if that's what the guy says then that should be the version of reality from which we draw our sanctimonious conclusions. I beg your pardon.

Better than making it up, no?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:01 AM on August 12


Oh, well, if that's what the guy says then that should be the version of reality from which we draw our sanctimonious conclusions. I beg your pardon.

What? Why would you give benefit of the doubt to AWK but not to the son who wrote to him? You decided based on....what? that the son's version isn't correct?
posted by rtha at 8:02 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


It's fascinating--and deeply depressing--how the projection has continued for over to 300 comments now.

There are many, many nuanced critiques of Andrew W.K.'s response from nominal lefties here, and those insisting that these critiques are about hate, hate, hate have had to cherry pick to find support for their view. Why? Because it's only the shrill crap that fits their fevered imaginary view what a "leftist" is. They demonize left wingers and then project their Othering attitude onto us. Or perhaps they live in an Othering culture full of nice people they know and love, and they just can't face it. I have no solid idea what the real motives are, but there's no acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, that guy who wrote the letter had a real problem with a real, difficult, fire-breathing right-wing father. There's no acknowledgment that the left in the US has been slandered and vilified 24/7 for decade after decade from many well-funded sources (hell, it's a major sector of the economy, this vilification machine), that this is an entirely asymmetrical state of affairs, and that maybe, just maybe that's why lefties have a problem just being glibly told they should stop being so angry and play nice with the bullies.

No, there's no reason lefties might feel this anger, other than that they seem to just delight in setting elderly Republicans on fire just to watch them burn (shame on you, corb).

The right's real moral failing (and here I'm thinking of the nativist, neo-Confederate right that's peculiar to the US), and the reason so many lefties refuse to just say "we all do it", is that the rightists (including many self-described "centrists" and "independents") cannot face their own sin. They must always validate their sin by railing against the sins of the Other--even if they have to manufacture the Other and their sins out of whole cloth.

And yes, this is a very human and universal problem with which we must all struggle, with great humility... but some ideologies have proven to amplify and intensify this type of violence to the psyche and, collectively then, to the wider society. Contemporary US liberalism/progressivism is not one of those ideologies.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:04 AM on August 12 [15 favorites]


The debate about evil people vs evil deeds vs underlying humanity brings me back to a quote from a recent FPP:

I suspect that for most of the members of the upper 10 percent, and even the 1 percent, the real story is different—it is the system that is exploitative, and they have chosen to fight for a position in that system that is the only way to have a kind of personal power that should be everyone’s right.

I see this sort of sentiment as a big part of right-wing thinking in general -- swap out economic identifiers for racial/gender/religious ones and it still holds true.

And on the one hand, I think this is the very definition of "the banality of evil." It involves no animus at all, but I don't think it's possible to hold this philosophy without dehumanizing other people -- the cognitive dissonance would be just too much.

But to me it also humanizes those banal evildoers. Because, really, they are victims too. The paranoia stoked by outlets like Fox News doesn't spring out of nowhere -- things are fucked up in a lot of ways, and the instinct to hunker down and protect what you've got is very human.

And yes, I'd think this totally applies to the average citizen of the Confederacy or Nazi Germany -- both those societies were facing ruinous historical circumstances, and I certainly would despair at being in their shoes.

I think the disingenuousness of the FPP is the suggestion that recognizing the humanity of the other side should somehow engender respect. In reality it engenders pity, which in political terms is pretty much the opposite.
posted by bjrubble at 8:04 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


Ha, so I literally just read this blog post which illustrates my thinking somewhat
posted by Cannon Fodder at 8:04 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


AWK decided to, rather than respond to the particular concerns and offer particular advice, provide a more general rant about the dangers of forgetting that the person who disagrees with you is a human being

This is true, but did anyone object to this point? The criticism against Andrew WK was that he said that:

"The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they're truly better people than the others who think differently. "

Which seems to be an order of magnitude more generous to people who are actively fucking shit up for the rest of us.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:05 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


For fuck's sake, you guys are reminding me of the "Nuke them to glass" contingent back in 2004. This is exactly how I felt then, too.

Here's the thing, which I'm sure is shocking and will be vehemently denied - you don't have to hate even your actual enemies to fight them, even to pull the trigger on them. Far less your ideological opponents.

I found it useful, while fighting an actual no-fooling war with people legitimately trying to actively kill me, as in their plan, not a side effect, to remember that they also loved their mothers and wives and children. That they were good people, or at least tried to be by their lights.

It never stopped me from prosecuting the war.

So to argue that the choices are hate or submission is disingenuous or ignorant. Fight your enemy to the last ditch, sure - but there's no need to hate him for it. Really, what do you gain?
posted by corb at 8:14 AM on August 12


who are you talking with
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:15 AM on August 12 [15 favorites]


Yeah, there's this really nutty thing going on where "I can't reach them and their beliefs are so toxic to me that I don't even engage anymore" is consistently getting reinterpreted as "I want to kill them, horribly, and take pleasure in watching them die." That is some crazy-ass projection in service of the false equivalence that underlies this whole thread.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:19 AM on August 12 [20 favorites]


My God, corb, do you really just set out to illustrate my point? Maybe it will help if I shout: NO ONE HERE IS ADVOCATING HATE. You are making that shit up and spewing it onto the thread. It really says a lot more about you than about the critics of Andrew W. K.

I personally have spoken positively in this very thread about the need to love (or, at least, understand and/or have compassion for) one's enemies. And I wasn't alone.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:20 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


And, for the record, loving your enemies is not just some warm, fuzzy, feel good thing. Loving is deeply understanding. You must understand--and hence you must love--your enemy in order to defeat them.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:24 AM on August 12


corb: or at least tried to be by their lights.

"By their lights" is where the problem is. Giving people a pass because you feel a duty to assume they're doing things for a good reason in their heart of hearts is a perfectly fine thing to do once or twice, but almost everyone who's done evil things thought that they were doing good things at the time. Moral relativism is a bitch.

Yes, we all ought to try to engage with others assuming good faith on the other side, but when the other side continues to hate, and won't listen to reason, that assumption of good faith is not an unlimited resource. When it runs out, you want to blame the recipient of the hate, while excusing the person who's doing the hating, because "by their lights" they're not doing anything wrong.

Fuck that noise.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:25 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I can't link easily from my phone, but mordax above (and others) were quite clear that they consider right wingers not just wrong but evil.
posted by corb at 8:26 AM on August 12


The only person I have advocated death for (recently, anyway) is the guy who was in front of me at the fancy donut place the other day. He had ten fucking minutes to contemplate the choices but when it was his turn he got all "Oh wow well what kind do you have what kind should I get huh do I want a latte or a regular coffee" and really, I think most of you here would agree that people like that should die.

I don't wish death on the Fox News pundits and their followers. I mostly don't even hate them. What they advocate makes me angry, though. But being angry is not the same as hating. Defending myself (rhetorically, and at the ballot box) is not the same as stripping someone of their humanity. Saying that I think someone is wrong is not dehumanizing them.
posted by rtha at 8:26 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


I can't link easily from my phone, but mordax above (and others) were quite clear that they consider right wingers not just wrong but evil.

And it's interesting to me that you will focus on that until the bitter end, despite the fact that their are many other voices represented here. Why? Do the nuanced lefties cause too much cognitive dissonance?
posted by mondo dentro at 8:28 AM on August 12


I love nuanced lefties. I'd love them even more if they'd call out egregious rhetoric of their fellow travelers and not leave it to me and like five others to do it.

This thread is positively bursting at the seams with "Well, conservatives do it more/ worse!" Even if that were true, so the fuck what? Who cares? How long are various people going to use the bad actions of others to justify their own bad behavior?
posted by corb at 8:39 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


mordax above (and others) were quite clear that they consider right wingers not just wrong but evil.

Let's say they do, argendo. So what? Does that make any larger point other than some people on a forum are mad at some other people? Because I'm sure that I could find their right-wing counterparts without too much trouble at all. All that might say something about how some people internalize political identities but I submit that it says very little about politics at all.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:39 AM on August 12


egregious rhetoric of their fellow travelers

can you point this out or is this another case of making stuff up
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:41 AM on August 12


I'd love them even more if they'd call out egregious rhetoric of their fellow travelers and not leave it to me and like five others to do it.

Why? What's the point? If we should respond to Bigot Uncle or Conservative Dad with understanding and equanimity why should our response to Hothead Nephew or Radical Son be any different?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:46 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


corb: not just wrong but evil.

Some of them are! Also, some lefties are!

Evil exists. You can't wish it away with "love the sinner, hate the sin" platitudes.

Was the letter-writer's dad evil? I highly doubt it. Still, the sleight-of-hand W.K. performs in his response transforms that one story of a guy and his dad into a story where lefties are constantly denying the humanity of all of their political adversaries, something that simply is not happening on any measurable scale.

THIS is what many of us take issue with. Not the letter-writer's dad, but the celebrity advice columnist trying to twist the original story into one where the lefty son is the one doing harm into a story of those intemperate lefties getting their hate on, all while excusing the original hate.

Is it okay to respond to hate with hate when all other options fail? I'm not asking if it's a noble thing, because it's clearly not. But should we be okay with it? I believe we should.

Returning fire should not be the first option, but what you're advocating here instead is unilateral disarmament, where no matter what your enemy does, you're not allowed to have the same contempt for them that they've shown toward you, because they believe they're doing good. But why should one side unilaterally disarm when they're being consistently attacked, not just by conservative dads, but by an axis of politicians and media figures who have giant platforms from which they attack others.

But you happily excuse their behavior while lecturing lefties about not resorting to hate.

We all want to be better than our adversaries, but that doesn't mean we should allow them to continually shield themselves from moral culpability under the guise of a "difference of opinion" or "political ideology."
posted by tonycpsu at 8:47 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


I can't link easily from my phone, but mordax above (and others) were quite clear that they consider right wingers not just wrong but evil.

I also said I *wouldn't* kill you for it. I have never burned a church. I have never campaigned to prevent fundamentalists from holding public office or using their legal right to vote. I have never attempted to prevent a conservative from receiving a medical procedure because I think it's icky or immoral.

If I ever saw you hurting in the street, I would stop and help you. There would be no moment of asking if you were the 'right' kind of person, and I wouldn't ask you to come listen to a sermon afterwards.

This is what your ilk do not understand: there is a difference between what's in your heart, and what you do. Conservatives often display a dismaying and childish focus on feelings rather than facts, and I don't hate it so much as find it exhausting.

Other people have feelings. We have every right to feel what we feel, and choose whom we spend our personal lives with. If that really keeps you up at night, you're lucky your problems are so very small.
posted by mordax at 8:48 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


If you're concerned about nasty political rhetoric, and you're convinced that both sides do it, then you should spend your time lecturing the people who generally share your political beliefs about the need to tone it down. Trying to lecture the other side about their tactics is going to be fruitless since they're going to see your attempt as a bad-faith ruse.

Clean up your own house first.
posted by burden at 8:48 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


I'd love them even more if they'd call out egregious rhetoric of their fellow travelers and not leave it to me and like five others to do it.

Back at you. It's not like I fell off of the turnip truck yesterday, corb.

This FPP was about a specific critique, and counter-critique, of a particular guy's problem with a right-wing father. Of course, you come to the party interested only in looking for people who don't use the utmost civility in expressing their disagreement from the left, without once entering into the actual discussion at hand. Then you lump everyone on the thread into your imagined category of people who would like nothing more than to set GOP fogies on fire for fun--and have the gall to lecture the lefty critics about the need to always "assume the best of intentions"?! You've gotta be kidding me.

Metaphysician, heal thy fucking self.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:52 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


as a single person one's impact on the environment is fairly limited, even if one switches all ones lights on and insists on taking baths.

And ruins one's local water table by selling land for fracking.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:54 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


This thread makes me think that right-wingers aren't evil, delusional, intentionally hurtful, ignorant, stupid, or even bigoted. It makes me think that right-wingers simply are really shitty at reading comprehension.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:56 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


Hmm. Well this pretty left wing guy read some pretty aggressive rhetoric up thread and reacted to it accordingly. I mean rhetoric is obviously just that, but... eh. I guess in an indiviual situation, engaging with an individual douchebag, I'd probably act the same as everyone else here.

I just.. if I was right wing of any persuasion and read this thread, I wouldn't get the impression that the left of meta filter is particularly warm or welcoming of me, or willing to have a discussion with me.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 9:00 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty much as left as it gets, fwiw. And I haven't seen a right winger in this whole conversation.

then you should spend your time lecturing the people who generally share your political beliefs about the need to tone it down.

This is what I'm seeing happening in this thread.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:02 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty much as left as it gets, fwiw. And I haven't seen a right winger in this whole conversation.

corb is right there, telling us it's so much worse to hate someone than go to war with them. I find that sums up the difference in our values very well.

And I can't speak to Broseph's leanings, but he disabled his account after expressing dismay at all the 'hate.'

Note the escalation: we say we're angry for reasons, they say we hate we hate blindly. It's a tactic to point the finger our way and weasel out of 'why are we angry in the first place?'
posted by mordax at 9:09 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


I have relatives who are basically Cliven "let me tell you about the Negro" Bundy. They genuinely believe that they are the sole heirs of the American dream, that this country was created by and for them and people they see as being one of them, and that others are simply not citizens in the same way, and, once they get worked up enough not to guard their words, not even people in the same way.

To say that not having the stomach to climb down into that moral sewer and engage with it as if it were a thoughtful and reasonable position "dehumanizes" that person is hilarious -- claiming that finding dehumanization so disgusting that you can't even approach it is itself dehumanizing is a ludicrous false equivalence.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:22 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


Part of becoming an adult is attempting to reconcile yourself with the man your father once was and now is (even if you never knew him). The political differences between sire and spawn in this case are just the tip of the iceberg covering decades of good and bad memories, good and bad modeling, and good and bad interaction. I recommend psychotherapy to work through it; an advice columnist at best, is only going to scratch the surface.
posted by Renoroc at 9:25 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Cannon Fodder and small_ruminant: it's definitely some sort of case study in how not to have a low conflict conversation, that's for sure. I can only say that my interest at the outset was based on digging into the subtle issues I had with AWK, precisely because I think nonviolent and low-conflict communication is so lacking and so very fragile. Given this importance and fragility, I know from my own experience, as well as from observing US politics since the Gingrich "revolution", that it's a mistake to let misguided, insincere, and even outright manipulative calls for comity go unchallenged.

My experience of the thread is similar to the escalation dynamic that mordax just pointed out: any actual conversation on the FPP was derailed very early on by people complaining that the critics of AWK were haters, in effect demonizing us while accusing us of being demonizers. This is a slick trick when you can get away with it. This framing of the criticism was wrong headed (of course, in my view), and it did lead to a lot of push back from lefties that got more heated. But I would maintain that it was never the core criticism of AWK in this thread!

So, what interests me is just how little the less vitriolic, more substantive posts were actually engaged--that is, essentially not at all. It's a great illustration of how much psychological valence fear and anger have. Which is, of course, precisely why outfits like Fox News are so focused on using narratives and rhetoric that directly target the limbic systems of their viewers.

Frankly, and only tangentially related, I think it's long past time for those advocating for radical change in the face of catastrophic climate change to take up such tactics. They seem to work.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:29 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


Burden, if I had a house, I would, but I'm only really considered a right-winger on Metafilter. In meatspace the conservatives I'm friends with think I'm adorably naive and hippy-dippy.

Mondro Dento, I think the people here hating the right are also doing it for the best of intentions. They think they need to hate to stay ideologically pure, or that they need to hate to win. And winning, for them, is the triumph of Light over Dark, of the grand ideals of the Enlightenment. Freedom and cake for all.

But they're wrong. Hate is not necessary or even tactically useful. You don't win by painting your enemies as monsters. Right, left, or libertarian, it's just a damnfool thing to do. Tonycpsu, it's not about disarmament. I would never, ever, suggest disarmament as any kind of tactic. But by God, hate is not a useful weapon. Even if it were effective, which it's not, you can't use it without destroying the best of what you are.
posted by corb at 9:30 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Huh? Ideologically pure? No, I simply don't want to engage with people who support things like denying people their personhood or making decisions for their lives instead of allowing them the right to do it themselves. I don't have to feel nicey-nice towards people who espouse views that truly make things worse for everyone. That doesn't mean I hate or need to hate anyone. Bizarre characterization.
posted by agregoli at 9:35 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


The idea that anyone posting in this thread is a "right-winger" is patently absurd and not supported by a single post that I've read.

Just because I criticize a tactic or approach with which you identify or have sympathy doesn't make me your ideological opposite anymore than me criticizing my government makes me "unamerican."
posted by echocollate at 9:36 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


you can't use [hate] without destroying the best of what you are.

Yes. "Their" tactics may work, mondo dentro, but the cost of them is too high for my stomach, and the older I get the harder it is to see everyone who disagrees with as The Enemy.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:37 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Nonetheless, despite my deeply-held belief that most conservatives are thoughtless assholes, at least in the political parts of their lives, I will not:- force conservatives to use their bodies in ways they do not wish to use them.

You don't understand that having any taxes at all is exactly the same as slavery, and that if some principled conservative doesn't want to use their money to fund atheist gay abortions in the way that Kenyan shariah law demands then MEN (or perhaps even LESBIANS). With GUNS. Will come over and shoot them all dead and then double-kill their corpses. Also forcing people to not use their body to keep black people out of their store is exactly the same as forcing them to bear children, if not even worse because mumble natural law mumble.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:41 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


The idea that anyone posting in this thread is a "right-winger" is patently absurd and not supported by a single post that I've read.

Fair enough. I'd have to agree with your assessment of the posters (it's Metafilter, after all, not RedState). So what's a good short label for the "two sides"* of the debate here? Left critics? Right apologists? Comity-at-all-cost-ers?
____
* As you are illustrating, there are actually more than two sides, which is part of the reason things get so confusing. But that's SOP for most threads, no?
posted by mondo dentro at 9:47 AM on August 12


Agregoli - do you truly not understand that your political opponents probably genuinely believe that you, too, "espouse views that truly make things worse for everyone"? Of course, you think you're right and it should be self evident. - but so do they.
posted by corb at 9:48 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


No, I simply don't want to engage with people who support things like denying people their personhood or making decisions for their lives instead of allowing them the right to do it themselves. I don't have to feel nicey-nice towards people who espouse views that truly make things worse for everyone.

That's a real shame, because you (and MeFi posters in general) seem to be thoughtful and articulate, precisely the kind of people who should be engaging one-on-one with opposite-minded folks. When you disengage, the Limbaughs and the Hannities of the world rush in to fill the void and this bullshit binary propagates.

We pay a lot of lip service to empathy around here, but only when that means extending it to people we find sympathetic. The really hard work is trying to empathize with someone with whom you strongly disagree to try and deconstruct where they're coming from and mine their fears and anxieties for valid concerns that you can maybe address in good faith.

Just fucking talk to people one-on-one, you know? We don't have to lecture. We don't have to bombard them with statistics and studies. We can at least show people that we're not the smug lefty kook know-it-alls Rush tells them we are, and maybe, maybe we'll create a little trust and space for dialog. Not on some Internet forum, but in our daily lives.

And yea, there are people with horrid beliefs and worldviews that you'll never win over who will never trust you and never think you have anything but the worst intentions, but that's no reason to never try. There's a lot of space in between, and a consciously humane approach can work wonders. I've seen it.
posted by echocollate at 9:48 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Fair enough. I'd have to agree with your assessment of the posters (it's Metafilter, after all, not RedState). So what's a good short label for the "two sides"* of the debate here? Left critics? Right apologists? Comity-at-all-cost-ers?

Man we're just generally like-minded people having a disagreement about something important to us. For what reason and to what purpose does it make sense to label sides?
posted by echocollate at 9:51 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Whatever your meatspace conservative friends think, I think it's pretty apparent by this point that most people on the left on Metafilter don't see you as an ally. Trying to offer critiques of the left from an inside-the-tent perspective isn't going to work for you. People are just going to think that you're a wolf in sheep's clothing.
posted by burden at 9:54 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


You know, even MLK - the guy people love to cite when they lecture the oppressed on the tone and wording of their grievances - had this to say after the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing:
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wired President Kennedy from Atlanta that he was going to Birmingham to plead with Negroes to "remain non-violent."

But he said that unless "immediate Federal steps are taken" there will be "in Birmingham and Alabama the worst racial holocaust this Nation has ever seen."

...

Dr. King wired [then Alabama Governor George] Wallace that "the blood of four little children ... is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder."
Fortunately there was no one around to scold Dr. King for his forceful language, to tell him that he was denying the humanity of George Wallace by putting the blame for an act of terrorism right at his feet. Probably because comparing forceful language to the death of four little girls would have rightly been considered preposterous and the worst kind of false equivalence.

Yet when people who are daily subjected to actual oppression - whether through political and social leaders with an agenda or the complacent, tacit ignorance of others - people who do face violations of their human rights, their bodies, even their very lives, when these people dare employ name-calling or even just strongly-worded language, now they are engaging in "hate" and "dehumanizing" their oppressors. That if they really want change for the better, they should play nice and walk on eggshells and be oh-so-tender to the people grinding a boot in their face, actively or passively.

This is such an absurd comparison, and frankly, irrelevant to the process of social change for the better. It is dismissive and insulting to be told to say pretty please when you're asking to be treated like a goddamn human being.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:54 AM on August 12 [20 favorites]


I think it's valuable to distinguish things like anger, indignation, exasperation, objection, and even scorn from "hate."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:54 AM on August 12 [15 favorites]


Yes. "Their" tactics may work, mondo dentro, but the cost of them is too high for my stomach, and the older I get the harder it is to see everyone who disagrees with as The Enemy.

Hmmm... age and a looming global Malthusian collapse is having the opposite effect on me, perhaps.

But, besides, this is a false dichotomy. I am disagreeing to some extent with you and corb and others, but I don't see you as The Enemy. Now, if you told me you're actively undermining public education and green energy as part of a Koch-funded enterprise aimed at establishing a Libertarian neo-aristocracy... well, then I'd disagree with you and see you as The Enemy! I wouldn't be living up to my own moral responsibility if I didn't!

And yea, there are people with horrid beliefs and worldviews that you'll never win over who will never trust you and never think you have anything but the worst intentions, but that's no reason to never try. There's a lot of space in between, and a consciously humane approach can work wonders. I've seen it.

And that, echocollate, was precisely the thing I wished we would have had a conversation about. In my opinion, as I and others have stated many times in this thread without any name-calling, AWK's advice does not advance the cause you are so passionately advocating. That was the core criticism being leveled against him: being glib about getting along with everyone does not lead to low-conflict communication. If it did, it would be a lot easier to achieve.

Oh well. There will be other threads. As long as the power holds out.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:55 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


The next time I read anyone on Metafilter excoriating Republicans for their monomaniacal groupthink and their relentless demonization of their political opponents I'm going to think of this thread and I won't know whether to laugh or cry.
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Whatever your meatspace conservative friends think, I think it's pretty apparent by this point that most people on the left on Metafilter don't see you as an ally. Trying to offer critiques of the left from an inside-the-tent perspective isn't going to work for you. People are just going to think that you're a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Who appointed you spokesperson for the left on Metafilter? Inside-the-tent isn't wherever you happen to be standing.

Furthermore, whatever corb's politics, she isn't trolling this site to get a rise out of you or anyone else. I've never seen her post in bad faith.
posted by echocollate at 10:01 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


being glib about getting along

If this is meant to characterize the AWK article, then I feel like we read completely different articles. But at this point I feel like we're kinda flogging a dead horse.
posted by echocollate at 10:05 AM on August 12


Agregoli - do you truly not understand that your political opponents probably genuinely believe that you, too, "espouse views that truly make things worse for everyone"? Of course, you think you're right and it should be self evident. - but so do they.

There are such things as facts. So while this doesn't extend to all politically-relevant views, it's possible for Alice's belief that Bob's views are wrong and/or harmful to be far more correct than the converse. For example, Bob might sincerely believe that the world was created in a week 6,000 years ago, but he would be wrong. He might sincerely believe that there is no such thing as anthropogenic global warming, but he would be wrong and his view on this matter would be harmful at the margin. He might sincerely believe that Obama's support for gay marriage is due to him believing in shariah law because he is secretly a muslim, but that would be false.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:08 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


monomaniacal groupthink and their relentless demonization of their political opponents

Yes, the "demonization" that has oppressed Republicans for generations, telling them what to do with their bodies, who they can fuck, denying them the same access to voting booths as non-Republicans, a struggle they still fight for today. This is totally what calling them names is exactly like.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:09 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


This thread makes me laugh and cry. I think those who know history are doomed to know why it's repeated.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:10 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


corb, whether they believe that or not, doesn't really matter. In many of these endlessly debated issues, there is actual data that proves which way is reasonable - such as there is no point in banning abortions, since it doesn't change abortion rates and hurts those, at the very least, who need them medically - and/or there is no coherent reason to fight a particular conservative fight, such as gay marriage, since it harms no one. I don't have to feel kindness towards those actively fighting to ruin people's lives, people who I know and love. What exactly is so poisonous about liberals wanting equal rights for all, for example? Why is that hateful?

And I didn't mean to imply I never engage with "the other side" of things. But when the person on the other side is truly being hateful? I walk away. There's no arguing with someone who believes I shouldn't be able to control my own body, for example, and its depressing to try. The advice W.K. gives is imperfect because of this, as explained above. It's nice and hippy dippy to try to "love" everyone, but this discourse between father and son could be truly dysfunctional. Trying to understand where someone comes from is a good exercise, but when it comes from hate, like denying a gay person's rights? Why try to understand THAT?
posted by agregoli at 10:13 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I wrote: "I think . . . pretty apparent . . . most people . . . ."

How many more qualifiers would convince you that I'm stating my own opinion and not speaking ex cathedra?
posted by burden at 10:15 AM on August 12


I think it's valuable to distinguish things like anger, indignation, exasperation, objection, and even scorn from "hate."

Yes. And differentiating those & hate from eliminationist rhetoric. It's also helpful to acknowledge that different rhetorical contexts will bring different arguments and that there's no one-size-fits-all rule set governing when anger is and isn't appropriate.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:15 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


The really hard work is trying to empathize with someone with whom you strongly disagree to try and deconstruct where they're coming from and mine their fears and anxieties for valid concerns that you can maybe address in good faith.

I don't feel the need to engage or empathize with someone who considers me and others like me to be subhuman and undeserving of the same rights they believe are god-given to themselves. It's really odd to me that there are so many people who are unable to grok this very basic statement. There are no valid concerns about my actual humanity, there are no valid concerns about people like me deserving to exist, to marry the person of my choosing, to have bodily autonomy. This relentless insistence that I and others like me be kind to those who are overtly working to do us harm is appalling at the deepest levels of basic human decency and does not at any point need to be tolerated in order to legitimize our existence or the worthiness of our causes.
posted by elizardbits at 10:15 AM on August 12 [28 favorites]


It is dismissive and insulting to be told to say pretty please when you're asking to be treated like a goddamn human being.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane

posted by agregoli at 10:16 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


If your own father didn't believe in abortion, would you walk away from the relationship altogether?

I would have when I was younger. These days I'd probably leave it alone altogether. One of my best friends is firmly anti-abortion. We are still friends. There is too much wonderful other stuff about the relationship that I'm not willing to give up.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:17 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I don't feel the need to engage or empathize with someone who considers me and others like me to be subhuman and undeserving of the same rights they believe are god-given to themselves. It's really odd to me that there are so many people who are unable to grok this very basic statement.

I think a lot of us grok it, understand it, empathize with it, and have still decided to take a different path in our own lives.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:20 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


The problem with this thread is that I think a lot of people do not understand what the article is suggesting and what it means to recognize the humanity of others.

The author tries to explain it:
You've also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that's left in its place is an argument that can never really be won... When we lump people into groups, quickly label them, and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, how they look, where they come from, etc., we are not behaving as full human beings... Anything as infinitely complex as life, reality, and the human experience can never be summed up or organized in a definitive system, especially one based on "left or right," "A or B," "us or them." This is the fatal flaw of binary thinking in general. However, this flaw isn't just ignored, it's also embraced, amplified, and deliberately used as a weapon on the very people who think it's benefiting their way of thinking.
The author is talking about Othering. About reducing people to a set of political views by assigning people a label and judging them as if they necessarily have the worldview you have ascribed to them. He isn't talking about acknowledging that other people are homo sapiens. He is talking about acknowledging that they are unique and identifiable people and not just fungible placeholders for a worldview you detest.

Now I realize that the Internet is a huge culprit here. The problem with Othering is allows people to de-personalize and strip the humanity from people and thus treat them worse than individuals should be treated. The internet compounds that problem because it is even easier to de-personalize words on a screen and faceless readers. That is why I think it is fair to say that much of what people write on the internet would not be said if a person was face to face. However going full-bore here with Othering and de-humanizing cannot help but threaten to bleed into more real life encounters. And that is an increasing problem.

Countless times in this thread we see references to Republicans or righties or lefties as if they are all a coherent, undifferentiated block. And then motives and judgments are cast on the basis of only labels against individual people as if they ascribe to and embody everything about the label. Such judgment-casting would be problematic enough even if the judgment were benign. But the problem is compounded when the judgments are extreme ("I refuse to even relate to you" "you are evil" etc.). When you utter the phrase "Republicans/liberals want ..." you have already failed humanity and hurt our society.

If you think this is just a lecture to liberals, you have failed reading comprehension. This applies to everyone. Too many people on both sides have become too partisan and too emotionally invested in their political views that they have lost the ability to interact with fellow people as differentiated people. Too many people can only relate in a binary worldview of us vs them. There is no us. There is no them. There are just people.

After reading this thread and seeing the death of Robin Williams, I instantly recalled a line from Good Will Hunting that hits the same note:
No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine. You ripped my fuckin' life apart. You're an orphan, right? [nodding] Do you think I'd know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, 'cause I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?
That what this is about. Recognizing that people are humans with their own life story and worthy of respect and love on that grounds, not just some label with associated assumptions that can allow you to take away their uniqueness and treat as some de-personalized and abstracted strawman.


...
I also found a few references to privilege and oppression as a justification for othering interesting in light of a very salient point made in the article:
We cling to the hope that some day, if we really refine our world view and beliefs, we can actually find the fully correct way to think -- the absolute truth and final side to stand on. People and systems craving power take advantage of this desire and pit us against each other using a "this or that" mentality. The point is to create unrest, disagreement, resentment, and anger -- a population constantly at war with itself, each side deeply believing that the other is not just wrong, but also a sincere threat to their very way of life and survival. This creates constant anxiety and distraction -- the perfect conditions for oppression. The goal of this sort of politics is to keep people held down and mesmerized by a persistent parade of seemingly life-or-death debates, each one worth all of our emotional energy and primal passion.
There are countless times in this thread where people have accused the Other as being some existential threat and accused them of trying to destroy things. And it seems that some people have invested so much emotional energy and commitment to thinking this way that they cannot consider that maybe it isn't truly as consequential as they think or that maybe they have become a pawn in someone else's calculated game.

You can see it happen all the time. An issue will suddenly arise and it will be breathlessly fought about as if it is the most important issue going. Both sides will start judging the wrongness of a block of humanity because of this new issue based solely on where they fall on it. Take border crossing. It was largely non-issue a year ago. Then it flared up into this existential crisis that anyone who doesn't support immigration reform (for various definitions of reform) supports lawlessness/job-stealing/xenophobia/fill in the blank. Or take the Hobby Lobby issue. Who was discussing the importance of whether employers paid for birth control 5 years ago? No one that I can recall on major news or in DC. Then it drummed up into a wedge issue. Remember when people used to fight over stem cell usage as if the decision on that was going to be the downfall of society? Same thing with countless other issues where the public is fed a divisive issue and separated into teams to fight without thinking about who is doing the feeding or why. How quickly we forget Jon Stewart's incredible plea on Crossfire to quit hurting American with divisiveness? That divisiveness is too often being applauded here.

I'm not implying, at any level, that these political questions are not important. We do need immigration policies, and reproductive choice is important. The issues--not people--should be debated. When you look at the whole thing from a 10,000 foot level over a longer historical view, it really starts to look like much of the political fighting is between two teams who show up and are told what to fight over today. At the macro level, the fight appears to be more about one team trying to beat the other then over the actual issue, with the issue being almost a MacGuffin that exists to further the fight. And, all the while, many of the participants are being whipped-into fighting mode by their preferred and reinforcing political leaders, cable news, blogs, and emails. That whole fight/game is more destructive to society than anything else because it fractures the very underpinning of society: social cohesion.

I am blessed to have two healthy children, and I love watching them, specifically the four year old, at playgrounds and in group settings. Without being told to hate the other or metrics they should use to judge others, my young daughter fully accepts everyone and can play with everyone. It's an innocence, sure. And you can claim it is naivete. But it is also evident that she has to be taught to dehumanize and Other. It is not natural to her or anyone else. Without adhering to that teaching, she takes each person as they are with no pre-judgments and no labels. That is humanity.

I've gone on too long; I'll close my participation with this: JFK gave a great speech at American University during the height of the Cold War in which he said of our enemies:
"For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."
I always loved that line as a reminder of the humanity of those with whom we seem to be intractably at odds. I submit that one cannot in good conscience climb on a soapbox and start to talk about how hateful Republicans are or how liberals are trying to destroy our country or whatever while at the same time remembering and acknowledging that we all cherish our children's future, we all have dreams of happiness, and that we were all those little innocent kids once too.
posted by dios at 10:22 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


You guys! That zinger was a work of art! Oh monkey butts!
posted by octobersurprise at 10:22 AM on August 12


Talking about politics by making claims about the moral or emotional tendencies of this side or that side, in isolation from the positions being taken and the implications associated with those policy positions, inevitably devolves into an absurd and vacuous waste of time. Saying that Republicans are merely human and liberals are no better anyway, for example, without discussing even one actual policy and the differing positions on it is the height of unthinking sophistry. It's incoherent to identify an important principle of distinction among people such as conservative vs liberal and then only talk about characteristics of those groups in isolation from the concrete differences that engender the distinction in the first place, like policy preferences and priorities.
posted by clockzero at 10:23 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


If your own father didn't believe in abortion, would you walk away from the relationship altogether?

If he lectured me about it every chance he got, even if we were talking about baseball or some other unrelated thing, and I've already told him a lot that I don't want to discuss it with him? I would say he's the one who'd already "walked" away. If he just disagreed with me, but wasn't a jerk or abusive about it? Whatever.

Having respect for someone else starts at home: If I don't respect my self - my needs, my autonomy - enough to communicate my boundaries, then I can hardly expect someone else to respect them. If someone, even a parent, insists on continuing to disrespect me, then in self-preservation, yes, I would cut off contact. Refusing to accept abusive behavior is not the same as dehumanizing someone.
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


I don't feel the need to engage or empathize with someone who considers me and others like me to be subhuman and undeserving of the same rights they believe are god-given to themselves. It's really odd to me that there are so many people who are unable to grok this very basic statement.

I understand. But in between the best example of the worst person you describe here and, say, your hypothetical aunt who watches a lot of Fox news exclusively and as she gets older is increasingly excited and disturbed by the rate of change in the world compared to when she was young, there's a wide band of people with whom you can have a conversation. In fact, demonstrating your humanity is the very best bulwark against anyone else being able to deny it. How do you think gay rights has come as far as fast as it has in this country?
posted by echocollate at 10:27 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I don't think anybody's saying that it's wrong for anyone to walk the path of attempted engagement that small_ruminant and echocollate seem to favor. If that's the approach that makes sense to you, go for it - I wish you the best of luck.

What I object to is the suggestion that people who choose not to walk that path are doing something wrong.
posted by burden at 10:29 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


They think they need to hate to stay ideologically pure, or that they need to hate to win. And winning, for them, is the triumph of Light over Dark, of the grand ideals of the Enlightenment. Freedom and cake for all.

"Let me tell you about the Mefite."
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:30 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


How do you think gay rights has come as far as fast as it has in this country?

Jesse Helms died.
posted by elizardbits at 10:31 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


There is no us. There is no them. There are just people.

Some of those people are engaging in the active or tacit persecution of other people. It's very easy to say from a comfortable perch that "we're all just people, we ALL have to be nice to each other", but this is a grossly inaccurate assessment of forms of not being nice.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:36 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


echocollate:
All right, I'll try to engage with sympathy with someone who is wrong. Let's say 'you,' because I really do have sympathy for the frustration you're expressing.

And yea, there are people with horrid beliefs and worldviews that you'll never win over who will never trust you and never think you have anything but the worst intentions, but that's no reason to never try. There's a lot of space in between, and a consciously humane approach can work wonders. I've seen it.

You're not wrong about that, and for people who still have patience in their hearts... good luck to you, please try.

I would ask *you* to understand that some of us are tapped out, though. The last family gathering I was at, I had to listen to Racist Grandpa turn my (1/4 Middle Eastern) niece's birthday party into a referendum about 'why aren't the Good Muslims killing the Bad Muslims?' He wasn't drunk. He had no excuse. He wouldn't shut up or quiet down when asked. He had no filter about 'is this the right time or place?' or 'How will this affect a little girl we're here to show our love for?'

The family gathering before, my girlfriend and I had a polite conversation with him debunking birther nonsense. We didn't call him a racist. We pointed him to where he could get the facts. It was us because nobody else wanted to talk to him at all, I felt bad leaving him in the corner alone. This was what happened in response.

I'm just tapped. I don't want to punch the guy or anything, (not seriously), I just don't want to have to deal with him anymore. I don't want new people like that in my life.

If you're not there yet, I hope you never have to be. Just understand that a lot of people are, and that our feelings on the subject do not require anyone's approval.

That's a real shame, because you (and MeFi posters in general) seem to be thoughtful and articulate, precisely the kind of people who should be engaging one-on-one with opposite-minded folks. When you disengage, the Limbaughs and the Hannities of the world rush in to fill the void and this bullshit binary propagates.

This feels very Just World to me. When other people misbehave, it's not because we failed to control them. Honestly, a lot of the discussion here feels like the sort of thing that would surround an abusive relationship: "they can change, if only you [do something they want]."

Not only is their misbehavior on them, rather on our failure to find the 'defeat Limbaugh' cheat code... part of accepting them is accepting that they have the agency to do something wrong, and are adult enough to bear the (frankly mild) consequences of that.

Racist Grandpa is a grown up man. He can decide what TV news to watch all day, and he is free to decide whether or not he wants to be the sort of man anyone can put up with. He's not a child that we need to educate, or a simpleton we need to control. He's a man. Men do the wrong thing sometimes. I know people have stopped talking to me for far less egregious behavior, and sad as it made me, that was their right too.

On a broader scale: part of why I'm comfortable describing the opposition as evil is because I believe that they are adults who are capable of making an informed decision, and do not need me to save them.

I get that you want us to all be better, but I don't think putting it on us is fair or even necessarily productive.
posted by mordax at 10:36 AM on August 12 [20 favorites]


I understand. But in between the best example of the worst person you describe here and, say, your hypothetical aunt who watches a lot of Fox news exclusively and as she gets older is increasingly excited and disturbed by the rate of change in the world compared to when she was young, there's a wide band of people with whom you can have a conversation. In fact, demonstrating your humanity is the very best bulwark against anyone else being able to deny it. How do you think gay rights has come as far as fast as it has in this country?

It's come as far as it has in no small part thanks to people who risked their lives and families to come out. It's come as far as it has in no small part thanks to people willing to go to court and willing to get arrested and willing to get fired and evicted and lose custody of their kids. It's come as far as it has because the streets filled with people who insisted that they were worth something, that they were not just faggots who could be put in camps to die of AIDS.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


Also, the insultingly moronic rhetorical strategy of claiming that pointing out the problems with someone's position on some issue is, ipso facto, an example of the problematic idea or attitude or position cannot be condemned strongly enough. Talking about someone else's racism is not racist, end of story. Opposing hatred in strong terms is not merely another, qualitatively identical form of hatred. The underlying assumption seems to exclude the possibility of ever challenging anything bad, because talking about or opposing the bad thing makes you, somehow, also bad, just as bad, indistinguishably bad. Needless to say, this is an unbearably stupid imputation which both contains and seeks to promulgate serious moral defects.
posted by clockzero at 10:42 AM on August 12 [16 favorites]


The problem with this thread is that I think a lot of people do not understand what the article is suggesting

Can you wrap your head around the idea that some of us understand it perfectly well, but disagree with its set of premises?
posted by Greg Nog at 10:43 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


clockzero: Saying that Republicans are merely human and liberals are no better anyway, for example, without discussing even one actual policy and the differing positions on it is the height of unthinking sophistry. It's incoherent to identify an important principle of distinction among people such as conservative vs liberal and then only talk about characteristics of those groups in isolation from the concrete differences that engender the distinction in the first place, like policy preferences and priorities.

I just want to quote this for truth, and add that in this particular case, some of the gadflies have a clear history of aiming their criticisms exclusively at one political ideology. This makes their focus on tone even more galling, because it's a criticism of the tone of only one side of the debate, letting the other side (one they have some sympathy toward in the underlying issues) off the hook.

The really crafty ones also invoke the "but I'm lefty on some issues" card so that their one-sided criticism looks like it's coming from within. I believe them, but the selective nature of their tone arguments speaks volumes about how much it's really about tone versus how much it's about griefing people who they disagree with on the issues.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:44 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


why aren't the Good Muslims killing the Bad Muslims?' He wasn't drunk. He had no excuse. He wouldn't shut up or quiet down when asked. He had no filter about 'is this the right time or place?'

But we all have those people in our lives and they don't have to be political. I have a social worker uncle who insisted on describing all the worst cases of child abuses he'd seen and heard about, in great graphic detail to a Thanksgiving Table full of small children. It was utterly inappropriate and I took the kids away to watch kitten videos on youtube. There are boors everywhere. They aren't suddenly evil because their worldview is dumb (in the case of your Racist Grandpa).
posted by small_ruminant at 10:45 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


That's a magisterial post, dios, and I agree with most of what you say. Or, more accurately, because this isn't a purely cognitive thing, what you wrote really resonated with me. Do you truly believe that most of the posters here don't agree with most of it? That we do not gaze lovingly upon our children the way you do?

My question is: why is it that everyone who didn't find AWK as persuasive as you did get lumped into an Other that does not share your values? That is all about hating Republicans? It's weird for me, because what I experienced was being Othered just for trying to have a nuanced conversation.

And what can we learn from that? Not Othering people is really, really hard. Even people who oppose Othering do it! And that's precisely why I found AWK less pursuasive: I thought he was doing exactly what he was preaching not to do, without seeming to have any self awareness of that fact. Now, that's something people can discuss and disagree with in good faith. What you wrote was a rare (if not the only) post supporting him that did not focus on how people who disagree are just haters. It had substance, and guess what? It changed my perspective on what he wrote!

Othering appears to be a very deep part of consciousness, of how we experience the world. Just telling people to not do it without engaging them as an entire entity, and without acknowledging just how difficult this is and why, is shallow, and, potentially, Othering!

I would also say the following: the whole idea of Othering is a notion that arose from left wing cultural theory*, and yet even lefties can't avoid it entirely. Righties reject the very concept because of their tendency to see social hierarchies as Natural--but are more than happy to use it as a cudgel nevertheless. And this is something that makes lefties angry. Is that really so surprising?

_____
* Though one could say it's a secularize version of Jesus' admonition to love one another, even the stranger, even the enemy.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:45 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


They aren't suddenly evil because their worldview is dumb (in the case of your Racist Grandpa).

Why are you framing what mordax said as if they said Racist Grandpa is evil? I didn't see anything like that in that story.
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Also, the insultingly moronic rhetorical strategy of claiming that pointing out the problems with someone's position on some issue is, ipso facto, an example of the problematic idea or attitude or position cannot be condemned strongly enough. Talking about someone else's racism is not racist, end of story. Opposing hatred in strong terms is not merely another, qualitatively identical form of hatred.

Yup. Sure. No false equivalence here. Just a reminder that people aren't policy decisions. There may be common ground with people.

And look, this is how minds get changed: by meeting people and getting along with them. If homophobic Pete actually hangs out with some gay people to, say, play ball, and realises that maybe some of his assumptions are bullshit, then maybe homophobic Pete gets less homophobic. Note, I don't think its anyones responsibility to hang out with someone who is an arsehole, I'm literally talking about the best way to change people's minds. Finding common ground is almost always better than knocking heads in the centre.

And yes, there are fights to be had, and arguments to be won. In the public sphere there are important decisions being made every day we should be engaged it. But the opposition aren't monsters, they are humans who have come to a different set of assumptions than you have. I'm not asking you to like these humans, I'm liking you to appreciate that there probably are decent things about them.

Even republican politicians you disagree with might have common ground you can work together on, and actually political decisions are usually based on compromise.

These are all arguments I'd happily argue to a right leaning crowd, its not like anyone engaged in political arguments doesn't suffer from this tendency.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 10:53 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I'm literally talking about the best way to change people's minds.

But surely that's just to effectorize them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


while at the same time remembering and acknowledging that we all cherish our children's future, we all have dreams of happiness, and that we were all those little innocent kids once too.

Well. That's an unexpected twist in the plot. So all along dios was really Jimmy Stewart reprising his role in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. I must say, that pièce de résistance of yours really gets me, too, dios. It makes me want to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Or maybe "The Greatest Love." I haven't decided.

Andrew, if you're reading this, get back in the studio and cover both of those songs ASAP.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:03 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Cannon Fodder: Even republican politicians you disagree with might have common ground you can work together on, and actually political decisions are usually based on compromise.

To the extent that this was ever true, it was much more true 20-30 years ago than it is now. Actual compromises in the 1980s were few and far between, no matter what Chris Matthews tells you. These days, you really have to look to find anything but a party-line vote in Congress.

The question of whether it's citizens, congress, or the media ecosystem driving this increased polarization is the subject of much study in political science. I don't think we have any conclusive answers, but I haven't seen any compelling evidence that undermines the Mann/Ornstein theory of asymmetric polarization, where the GOP has gone measurably harder to the right than the Democrats have to the left.

I agree with your larger point that outside of the political system, when it's just people talking, it's better to try to find common ground and resolve differences, but in Congress, it's partisan warfare, and my team is playing catch-up, trying to find compromises that aren't there, and having their lunch eaten for their trouble.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:04 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Othering needs to be discussed in the context of power, privilege, intersectionality, and systems of oppression or we risk the kinds of equivalences that have emerged in our discussion here.

We can discuss privilege and oppression without othering the privileged because talking about systems of oppression makes clear that the situation isn't one of oversimplified individuals to be scapegoated. Talking about oppression and privilege acknowledges the facts on the ground: that some members of our society are penalized for their identity in concrete, observable ways.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:04 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


How do you think gay rights has come as far as fast as it has in this country?

By choosing not to be silent and "respectful".
posted by Mr. Six at 11:04 AM on August 12 [15 favorites]


I have a social worker uncle who insisted on describing all the worst cases of child abuses he'd seen and heard about, in great graphic detail to a Thanksgiving Table full of small children. It was utterly inappropriate and I took the kids away to watch kitten videos on youtube.

That is really awful and gross, and I'm sorry you and these kids were subjected to that. However, unless he was openly advocating for the present children to be subject to the same repulsive behavior I don't really see the parallel between the situation you described and the situation you quoted. One is, as you said, someone having bad judgement about what is and is not appropriate discussion topics for children. The other is someone being openly and unashamedly racist in the presence of people of the very race he is denigrating.
posted by elizardbits at 11:05 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


To use gay rights as an example of how loving your enemy in an apolitical and polite way is superior to other political action is extremely revisionist and erases the accomplishments of confrontational, angry groups of activists like ACT UP.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:09 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Why are you framing what mordax said as if they said Racist Grandpa is evil? I didn't see anything like that in that story.

I'm willing to cop to it. I went ahead and made a blanket accusation of 'Republicans are pretty evil.'

I probably shouldn't have used the term because of things like corb's conflation with 'z0mg they think they're fighting the good fight in Middle Earth.' I apologize, but I'm not sure what other descriptive term might be better.

For clarification, when I use the word, 'evil' is the conscious and willing decision to cause needless suffering to others. Evil is pulling the wings off a bug. Evil is encouraging a wife to stay with an abusive husband. Evil is trying to deny others basic human rights out of 'principle.'

Evil's dull and uninspiring, nothing like comic book supervillainy, but it's still toxic.

But we all have those people in our lives and they don't have to be political. I have a social worker uncle who insisted on describing all the worst cases of child abuses he'd seen and heard about, in great graphic detail to a Thanksgiving Table full of small children. It was utterly inappropriate and I took the kids away to watch kitten videos on youtube. There are boors everywhere. They aren't suddenly evil because their worldview is dumb (in the case of your Racist Grandpa).

I commend your patience. There was a time I would've shared it, and I do respect your commitment to it. I hope nothing I've said makes it come across like I think you're doing it wrong or anything. It's okay for us to approach this differently - that's more my point, that we have the right to do this how we want, not 'everybody be jaded like me.'

As for tying it to politics: the politics are a symptom of whatever's wrong with him, not the cause. I don't think Republicanism is a disease or anything silly like that, nor do I think everybody who isn't on their side is somehow on mine.

It's more a signifier that something's off about a person. If they're comfortable with being associated with that label and brand and set of values, something's not right with them, and I don't want to be pals. I'll help them in a jam, I'll work with them, but I don't feel the need to protect their feelings about what they are doing wrong.
posted by mordax at 11:11 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


The question of whether it's citizens, congress, or the media ecosystem driving this increased polarization is the subject of much study in political science.

Congressional polarization is mostly a function of increased procedural control in Congress. If you look at the issue positions Representatives take before the public, those didn't polarize very much between 1994 (when my data start) and 2006 (when they stop). What's been happening is that Republicans who take the same issue positions as Republicans in 1994 have been voting in increasingly unified ways through some combination of whipping and preventing floor votes that, had they been taken, would have had some cross-party coalition.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:13 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


One is, as you said, someone having bad judgement about what is and is not appropriate discussion topics for children. The other is someone being openly and unashamedly racist in the presence of people of the very race he is denigrating.

Also this. Thank you.
posted by mordax at 11:13 AM on August 12


In many of these endlessly debated issues, there is actual data that proves which way is reasonable - such as there is no point in banning abortions, since it doesn't change abortion rates and hurts those, at the very least, who need them medically - and/or there is no coherent reason to fight a particular conservative fight, such as gay marriage, since it harms no one. I don't have to feel kindness towards those actively fighting to ruin people's lives, people who I know and love. What exactly is so poisonous about liberals wanting equal rights for all, for example? Why is that hateful?

There really, really, isn't. You can't say "There is actual data that convinces me" and say that it "proves which way is reasonable." You bring up the abortion debate, but don't recognize that many people aren't fighting about abortion rates when they fight about abortion. They're talking about what kind of country they want to live in, and what kind of morals they want the laws to stand for. For some (and I will stress that I'm not one of them, though I understand them) illegal abortions are better than legal abortions because they are less accessible to most, and don't have the cover of law. When you argue about which lowers rates, you are not arguing about the same thing.

In the same sense, gay marriage (which, again, I happen to support, but understand the other side) is not a fight about "should gay people be able to love people and get tax benefits?" It's a fight about what kind of society we want to live in, and what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be openly gay. It's easy for me to support gay marriage, because I don't care if my child is gay or not. It might be harder for me to support it if I fervently believed that society and the social contract would be broken if my child was not heterosexual, or if I truly believed that homosexuality was a sin (which, again, I do not). And that's another thing that facts can't prove the reasonableness of, because it's not about facts. When conservatives say gay marriage is destroying marriage, they're not talking about the number of marriages, or the rates of marriages. They're talking about the social idea of What Marriage Is as a fundamental and near-mandatory force.

You ask, what is so poisonous about liberals wanting equal rights for all? And there is nothing poisonous about it. It's a good, noble, ideal. But that doesn't mean that conservatives who oppose ideas that liberals think will bring equal rights for all are automatically evil.

For clarification, when I use the word, 'evil' is the conscious and willing decision to cause needless suffering to others. Evil is pulling the wings off a bug. Evil is encouraging a wife to stay with an abusive husband. Evil is trying to deny others basic human rights out of 'principle.'

By that definition, almost no conservative that I have ever met, even the most right-wing of Republicans, is evil. Because they don't believe they're causing needless suffering. They believe the suffering is necessary for a greater good - yes, even "principle."
posted by corb at 11:14 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


The problem with this thread is that I think a lot of people do not understand what the article is suggesting

No. The article is not just suggesting, but literally saying that "The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. "

Which is bullshit.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:16 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


It's a fight about what kind of society we want to live in, and what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be openly gay. It's easy for me to support gay marriage, because I don't care if my child is gay or not. It might be harder for me to support it if I fervently believed that society and the social contract would be broken if my child was not heterosexual, or if I truly believed that homosexuality was a sin

How is this any different than, "these assholes hate gay people"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:19 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


> They have the exact same motivations as many Democrats, but they disagree about economic theory, what makes a person happy, effective foreign policy, etc. Disagreements of intellect, in other words.

That is generous and kindhearted. I also find that statement disingenuous.

Commenters here or in the OP are not talking about someone's foreign policy ideas. I mean, a commenter upthread wished we could be disagreeing over grain subsidies.

We're talking about civil rights. I believe civil rights are important. I believe they're more important than other political planks. I believe they're so important that they're worth more than a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner. I believe they're so important because they define whom society considers human. So I find the following argument -- arguing with / cutting off contact with / shouting at people against civil rights is dehumanizing them -- utterly disgusting.

AWK's response reminds me of the scene in Donnie Darko where a schoolteacher makes him categorize everything into "Love" or "Fear". I think Donnie's reply is applicable.
There are other things that need to be taken into account. [...] You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else.
My point is that there are disagreeable people who have radically different principles that are worth connecting with. But there are also those that aren't. I'm not going to presume that the letter writer's father is in the first group. I'm also not going to tell the whole world that they must make a similar presumption.
posted by Monochrome at 11:23 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


The weird thing, corb, is that you're actually making an argument for why polarization is unavoidable and even necessary. If reasoned argument can't do it, if we are all just floating on a sea of moral relativism within our own epistemic bubbles, then there is nothing more to political struggle than who will prevail, by any means necessary.

I am still grieving for this postmodern world where Reason has no place and only Belief and Will matter. But it seems to be the world we're in.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:23 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


By that definition, almost no conservative that I have ever met, even the most right-wing of Republicans, is evil. Because they don't believe they're causing needless suffering. They believe the suffering is necessary for a greater good - yes, even "principle."

Sorry, but their feelings are not adequate justification for their actual actions. Like I said, this appears to be a cultural difference between us: I don't give a crap what people feel in the privacy of their own homes. I care what they do, and I have not reciprocated their hostility in any meaningful way.

Still evil by my lights, although you could bargain me over to 'emotionally stunted,' maybe 'deficient.'

... and stepping out again, 'cause that's enough of this for now.

*tips his hat*
posted by mordax at 11:24 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


corb: You ask, what is so poisonous about liberals wanting equal rights for all? And there is nothing poisonous about it. It's a good, noble, ideal. But that doesn't mean that conservatives who oppose ideas that liberals think will bring equal rights for all are automatically evil.

What does this even mean? Equal rights means equal rights. We're not talking about a philosophical difference of "equality of opportunity" versus "equality of outcome" here -- we're talking about whether people are treated equally under the law, or whether they're "othered." I know you don't believe in othering them personally, but your rhetoric here provides cover to those who are doing the othering, as if their belief that certain people don't deserve equal treatment under the law is just an honest difference of opinion.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:26 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


It might be harder for me to support it if I fervently believed that society and the social contract would be broken if my child was not heterosexual, or if I truly believed that homosexuality was a sin

Right, and then at that point it would not be important or valuable for LGBT people to consider your opinions or your feelings about them and their rights, because you would be denying them their humanity. For them to then label this hypothetical homophobic!corb as an intolerant person would not in itself be an act of hate or intolerance. It doesn't matter how truly and fervently someone believes in a bigoted thing, the strength of that intolerant belief does not somehow validate their point of view.
posted by elizardbits at 11:28 AM on August 12 [20 favorites]


It's come as far as it has in no small part thanks to people who risked their lives and families to come out. It's come as far as it has in no small part thanks to people willing to go to court and willing to get arrested and willing to get fired and evicted and lose custody of their kids. It's come as far as it has because the streets filled with people who insisted that they were worth something, that they were not just faggots who could be put in camps to die of AIDS.

Absofuckinglutely, and I certainly didn't mean to devalue by omission the primary contribution of these brave people. My point is that people's minds changed by knowing a gay person, a friend or family member coming out because of the safe space created by those pioneers. It was a gradual and then massive de-othering on an unprecedented scale.

This feels very Just World to me. When other people misbehave, it's not because we failed to control them. Honestly, a lot of the discussion here feels like the sort of thing that would surround an abusive relationship: "they can change, if only you [do something they want]."

I'm not sure how I feel about you comparing having to listen to your grandfather's prejudiced rants at a family function to the excuses people make for their actual abusers, but I do appreciate the willingness to discuss these things in good faith.

Nobody's asking you to forsake your positions or beliefs, and I'm certainly not suggesting you bang your head against a wall trying to engage someone who's unwilling to even meet you part way. I'm a practical man. Clearly there are people and times when and when not to engage.

Not only is their misbehavior on them, rather on our failure to find the 'defeat Limbaugh' cheat code... part of accepting them is accepting that they have the agency to do something wrong, and are adult enough to bear the (frankly mild) consequences of that.

No one is asking anyone to assume responsibility for anyone else's shitty behavior. I'm not requesting you witness to the heathens; that's not at all what I'm saying. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to make myself any clearer. That's on me.
posted by echocollate at 11:29 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


So: Are any Republicans good people?
posted by argybarg at 11:29 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


They're talking about what kind of country they want to live in, and what kind of morals they want the laws to stand for.

Ah, so meaningless signifiers, then. If the net result of their opposition is the opposite of what they want...we should respect that?

t's a fight about what kind of society we want to live in, and what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be openly gay.

So? Gay people aren't going away, and want equal rights. Those considerations are bullshit. Kids will be exposed to the world we live in. It's a stupid and dying fight, thankfully. Gay people don't ruin anything for anyone, so I don't seer why we would consider these fears of "the gays" as anything other than the bullshit it is.

I get what they THINK. It just happens to be such incredible bullshit in the case of theae examples as it to be pointless to engage with good faith.

But that doesn't mean that conservatives who oppose ideas that liberals think will bring equal rights for all are automatically evil....For clarification, when I use the word, 'evil' is the conscious and willing decision to cause needless suffering to others.

By your own definition, those who oppose laws to make gay people equal to straight people, are evil. Ideas? I'm not fighting for ideas - I'm fighting for equal rights. Not what I *think* will help bring that about, but what will - such as legalizing gay marriage.

I don't care if someone believes they are causing no suffering if they are. Who cares what they believe? The point is their actions are hurting real people. If someone can't understand that their actions cause hurt to others, that's their defect.
posted by agregoli at 11:30 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


echocollate: No one is asking anyone to assume responsibility for anyone else's shitty behavior.

Maybe you're not, but others absolutely are. By loudly complaining when the side they disagree with defends itself and, yes, occasionally responds with vitriol, they enable the side that threw the first punch.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:31 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


There really, really, isn't. You can't say "There is actual data that convinces me" and say that it "proves which way is reasonable."

You appear to be making the argument that every initial value, every fundamental idea of "the good political life" from which our governments flower rests solely on faith or intuition, largely, or entirely unjustifiable by any appeal to rational argument or empirical evidence.

Maybe you're right. But if you are right, if there is, ultimately, only the will to an ideology dreamed of, or intuited, or revealed, then there is even less profit in treating our opponents "reasonably." Because there is nothing then but power and the rule of doing unto others before they do unto you first.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:31 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Just one more thing re: queer rights and people. Outside of politics per se, many queer people actually do need to go through a period of marked separation and/or conflict with their birth families, either because their families reject them completely, or because it's too painful for the people in question to subject themselves to their families' intolerant views and behavior without leaving or becoming angry. Often, people do eventually end up reconciling, which is a great outcome for everyone. But insisting in these situations that they not take the steps of distancing themselves from their families and/or expressing that they feel angry, hurt, and betrayed by them, in the interest of not losing some abstract moral high ground, has the real-world consequence of asking them to put their own well-being last.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:32 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


It's a fight about what kind of society we want to live in, and what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be openly gay.

Also please consider that this is the same argument used by those opposed to integration and interracial marriage.
posted by elizardbits at 11:37 AM on August 12 [17 favorites]


I don't hate gay people, I would just hate my son if he were gay!
posted by shakespeherian at 11:45 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


To use gay rights as an example of how loving your enemy in an apolitical and polite way is superior to other political action is extremely revisionist and erases the accomplishments of confrontational, angry groups of activists like ACT UP.

Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy. They give a powerful outlet to vent their frustration. They build the courage to live in the open and the support when society turns their back on their humanity. But they don't change the mind of the middle class housewife who represents the tipping point in changing public opinion and policy. If anything, exposure to that anger hurts public opinion.

Which isn't to say it should disappear. That support is critical. But I think liberals tend to think that because it is part of the activist process, it is 100% good. It's adversarial and causes people to dig in their trenches. Gridlock supports the status quo. Pulling on that thread is a Chinese Finger Trap.

George Wallace is said to have realized that segregation was dead when he saw the firehoses on television. He knew that visual of one-sided violence destroyed the political will to keep segregation in place. If the protestors had been seen as violent, it would not have had the same impact.

We are seeing a flare-up of Prejudice precisely because it is losing ground. Republicans needed to win 62 percent of the white vote to get in the White House. So there's been a huge uptic in race baiting.

But the actual result of Obama running against John McCain reduced white prejudice among conservatives. Exposure and non-violence works. Honey works.
posted by politikitty at 11:49 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Also please consider that this is the same argument used by those opposed to integration and interracial marriage.

And, elizardbits, it's always somehow not considered that those on the left spectrum are also primarily motivated by "what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be"... open carry (ba-dum-BUM!). This sort of caring for the children is talked about as if it's something special to the poor misunderstood, salt-of-the-earth right-wingers.

It goes along with the consistent slander that "liberal parents" don't teach their kids "values". But, of course, we do. We teach our kids to be open, autonomous, tolerant (but not push-overs), to balance reason with love, to take responsibility for themselves, to stand up for their rights and the rights of others, and to strive for a more just and sustainable world. That's an awfully demanding skill set for a bunch of purported monomaniacal haters to have, but we have it.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:50 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I don't care if someone believes they are causing no suffering if they are. Who cares what they believe? The point is their actions are hurting real people. If someone can't understand that their actions cause hurt to others, that's their defect.

Corb's argument is that you can't tell if someone's actions are hurting people. Maybe they truly hand-on-heart swear-on-a-stack-of-holy-books believe they aren't. And since "you can't say 'There is actual data that convinces me'" then that belief is enough. Furthermore, saying that they are hurting people is a mean thing to say and fails to respect those beliefs.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:50 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I mean, say what you want about Republicanism, at least it's an ethos.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:55 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


In the same sense, gay marriage (which, again, I happen to support, but understand the other side) is not a fight about "should gay people be able to love people and get tax benefits?" It's a fight about what kind of society we want to live in, and what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be openly gay. It's easy for me to support gay marriage, because I don't care if my child is gay or not. It might be harder for me to support it if I fervently believed that society and the social contract would be broken if my child was not heterosexual, or if I truly believed that homosexuality was a sin (which, again, I do not). And that's another thing that facts can't prove the reasonableness of, because it's not about facts.

No, it's about prejudice presented as reasonable policy, because being against equal rights is directly telling people they are worth less than the speaker. Again, swap the word gay for interracial to see what your post will look like in 20 years. The very fact that you're suggesting that people can reasonably disagree that their fellow humans deserve equal rights surprises and disgusts me; there's actually almost nothing less like the American ideals I respect.
posted by jaduncan at 11:56 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


A lot of people are coming around on marriage rights, faster than anyone could have imagined. In a decade or so it will be off even the Republican docket. Remember, most mainstream Republicans are now, on that issue, where mainstream Democrats were 20 or even 10 years ago.

There are hateful people, and they find the politics to match their hatred. I would say that more of them find a right-wing stance, because it's a richer field for the bullies.

But there's a legitimate case for small-c conservatism, a coherent set of arguments and a morality that isn't pathological or sadistic. I rarely take it up, but it's there. It's interesting to imagine: Had I been born to a family of mild right-wingers, and had I been born with that temperament, what would I believe? How would the different parts of my view line up?

I don't find that world view repulsive, and I don't find that imagining others' views in good faith weakens me. I can find plenty of people who hold repulsive versions of that view, and I can find plenty of people who hold views in bad faith. But I can also tell the difference.

I also don't think that using the associative rule to say that anyone less than pure-lefty is on the side of the devils ... well, the rule never stops. No one is pure enough to survive that.
posted by argybarg at 11:56 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


politikitty: But they don't change the mind of the middle class housewife who represents the tipping point in changing public opinion and policy. If anything, exposure to that anger hurts public opinion.

You're saying this based on intuition, not any hard data. We don't have controlled experiments to determine whether this is true or not. Human beings respond to a wide variety of stimuli. Some respond to reasoned debate, others respond to fear. I would argue the GOP has weaponized fear to great effect since at least the 1980s, and probably going all the way back to Nixon. You clearly want what you're saying to be true, but there's no evidence that it is.

argybarg: I also don't think that using the associative rule to say that anyone less than pure-lefty is on the side of the devils ... well, the rule never stops. No one is pure enough to survive that.

Whew, good thing nobody's doing that here, then!
posted by tonycpsu at 11:59 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


The weird thing, corb, is that you're actually making an argument for why polarization is unavoidable and even necessary. If reasoned argument can't do it, if we are all just floating on a sea of moral relativism within our own epistemic bubbles, then there is nothing more to political struggle than who will prevail, by any means necessary.

I think I would often, particularly in my more bitter moments, agree with your perception of political struggle. But I can't see why that makes polarization necessary. I guess some of this is my own experience - my husband and I have bitter, diametrically opposed political views. I mean, diametrically opposed to the point that if either of our societies ever genuinely came to pass, the other one of us would probably be out with rifles trying to lead a guerilla war against it. And yet we love each other and maintain a relationship and try to cooperate on the things we agree with and not kick each other when we're down in the things we disagree on. I'm not going to say it's not hard - it is hard as hell sometimes when I want to celebrate and he wants to feel depressed, or vice versa. But it's both doable and worth doing - and my life would have been far poorer if I had kicked him out the door the instant I thought he was saying something awful politically.

Corb's argument is that you can't tell if someone's actions are hurting people.

No, my argument is that you can't tell if someone believes that hurting other people is necessary for the greater good or for something else they believe in. And if we are defining evil as someone who causes unnecessary hurt to others, then we cannot define someone as evil without knowing what they consider necessary.
posted by corb at 11:59 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


it's always somehow not considered that those on the left spectrum are also primarily motivated by "what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be"... open carry (ba-dum-BUM!).

No one wants people in favour of open carry to be denied the right to marry other people in favour of open carry. No one has suggested that they not be allowed to raise children because of their open carry taint. Show me the major worldwide religion that refuses to extend their god's love to gun owners.

No one is born a gun owner. It is a preposterous false equivalence.

I find no fault in people who do not want their children to be exposed to institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia, but to cite that as the primary motivation of people who want basic human rights for themselves, right now, is foolish and ill-considered.
posted by elizardbits at 12:03 PM on August 12 [10 favorites]


YOU defined evil that way. And once again, if it causes hurt to others, for bullshit reasons (I believe this is what I must do, even if it causes harm, for no other reason than my belief trumps other people's rights), then its not a position anyone needs to respect.
posted by agregoli at 12:03 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


No, my argument is that you can't tell if someone believes that hurting other people is necessary for the greater good or for something else they believe in.

I'm going to avoid the Godwin, although it's left as an exercise to the reader. In what way does this matter if it leads to us having to be nice to Pol Pot or the Ayrian Nations and take that position that others should be harmed and treated as less than human as of equal value and deserving of respect? At what point is someone's political belief and polity so harmful that we should just reject it flatly?
posted by jaduncan at 12:03 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


It is a preposterous false equivalence.

Woah. It was a joke!
posted by mondo dentro at 12:05 PM on August 12


corb: No, my argument is that you can't tell if someone believes that hurting other people is necessary for the greater good or for something else they believe in. And if we are defining evil as someone who causes unnecessary hurt to others, then we cannot define someone as evil without knowing what they consider necessary.

Your definition of evil allows someone to commit any act they deem necessary to building what they believe to be a better world. This goes up to and includes... well, you know. There's literally no end to it. It's public policy Calvinball. Anyone can hold any view as long as we can't falsify their belief that their long-term goals are noble. At this point, we have a stalemate, and the vast majority of people who don't agree with you have no choice but to ignore you, and treat your admonishments about being uncivil and hateful as background noise.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:06 PM on August 12 [9 favorites]


Wow, corb. If it's only by historical accident that you and your husband aren't on opposite sides shooting at each other, that's pretty heavy. Don't you think that might, um, influence the way you view political disputes?
posted by mondo dentro at 12:07 PM on August 12


What others said: your definition of evil -- that it excludes anyone who believes they're working for the greater good -- basically lets all of history's biggest villains off the hook, to say nothing of their followers.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:08 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


No, my argument is that you can't tell if someone believes that hurting other people is necessary for the greater good or for something else they believe in.

And my argument is that someone who believes that is someone who rightfully does not deserve a place in proper society. And it is actually easy to tell, because they either don't care about or worse, actively seek out inflicting pain.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:09 PM on August 12


Corb, I'll put it more simply.

Please explain why you don't respect Stalin and Mao.
posted by jaduncan at 12:11 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Some views are monstrous and indefensible. Some of those views have leaked into general discourse, or have stayed around as vestigial artifacts of past thinking, and should rightly be kicked out.

At the same time, the public sphere needs genuine, fundamental disagreement. This includes over areas we see as life-or-death. I don't want our politics to reduce to little disputes over farm subsidies. I want us arguing over substantial issues, fundamental issues -- and disagreeing -- and still feeling the presence of a different, reasoning, feeling concerned person than myself and not an angry, ill-informed dimwit.

And there will be angry, ill-informed dimwits involved as well, right in our midst. But do you really want to believe that anyone who fundamentally disagrees with you is, by definition, a dimwit?
posted by argybarg at 12:13 PM on August 12


argybarg: But do you really want to believe that anyone who fundamentally disagrees with you is, by definition, a dimwit?

Try again -- nobody's doing that either. There are some really shitty arguments being invoked here by people who are not dimwits by any stretch of the imagination. Calling them on their shitty arguments is not the same as calling them dimwits.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:15 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


PS: if someone's justification for hurting others is not even a claim for the greater good they have passed misguidedness into cartoonishly evil sadism.
posted by jaduncan at 12:15 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


They build the courage to live in the open and the support when society turns their back on their humanity. But they don't change the mind of the middle class housewife who represents the tipping point in changing public opinion and policy. If anything, exposure to that anger hurts public opinion.

... It's adversarial and causes people to dig in their trenches. Gridlock supports the status quo. Pulling on that thread is a Chinese Finger Trap.


this is actually something people study for a living. I'm not that familiar with the research, but from what I understand evidence from public opinion polling doesn't support the 'backlash' argument. Maybe someone who knows more can chime in. Anyway, you would certainly convince me if evidence were marshaled.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:16 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy.

Theories and histories of social change offer a more complex understanding where both conciliatory and confrontational approaches affect policy.

For example, the idea that nonviolence works by changing minds isn't the full story. Gene Sharp describes how nonviolence has both a persuasion function and a confrontation function. In the latter role, nonviolence works to prevent an opponent from carrying out their plans (such as through a boycott) regardless of whether they change their minds.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:16 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


How about this: Are all arguments that reach different conclusions than yours shitty arguments?
posted by argybarg at 12:16 PM on August 12


And if we are defining evil as someone who causes unnecessary hurt to others, then we cannot define someone as evil without knowing what they consider necessary.

It seems like you are saying that as long as someone believes that the evil they are causing is truly and heartfeltedly necessary, then we can't define them as evil? I really hope I'm misinterpreting this?
posted by elizardbits at 12:16 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


argybarg: How about this: Are all arguments that reach different conclusions than yours shitty arguments?

Of course not. I've pointed out logical flaws in many of those arguments that have nothing to do with political first principles.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:17 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Theories and histories of social change offer a more complex understanding where both conciliatory and confrontational approaches affect policy.

Thank you. Social change is far, far more complex than questions of being nice or not, and all play their own crucial roles in things moving forward. Regardless of this baseless, evidence-free "no but really being polite is the only thing that ever works" assertion.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:18 PM on August 12


Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy. ...they don't change the mind of the middle class housewife who represents the tipping point in changing public opinion and policy.

This is not only unsupported by evidence but also irrelevant, since "middle class house[wives]" did not control the approval and distribution of antiretroviral drugs, and winning their approval was not the point of ACT UP demonstrating against the FDA, since that was not necessary to make the political victories that they did.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:20 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I mean, diametrically opposed to the point that if either of our societies ever genuinely came to pass, the other one of us would probably be out with rifles trying to lead a guerilla war against it. And yet we love each other and maintain a relationship and try to cooperate on the things we agree with and not kick each other when we're down in the things we disagree on.

I imagined your relationship would be strained though if your disagreements weren't abstract, but on whether gays should be able to marry.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:21 PM on August 12


It's a fight about what kind of society we want to live in, and what kind of influences we want our children exposed to, and whether or not we think it's a bad thing if our children grow up to be openly gay.

You put this on one side, and "whether the law is applied evenly to all" on the other, and I just can't describe a philosophy the chooses the former as anything but fundamentally selfish. You're privileging your comfort over other people's rights, not to mention the founding principles you presumably claim to hold dear.

I've been privileged enough not to have any politically poisoned relationships, so I do have the patience to hear an explanation for why this position isn't a complete crock of shit, but mostly I hear the Hobby Lobby-esque claim of "but I really honestly believe this" -- which is the argument of a child having a temper tantrum, and I totally understand why engaging that level of discourse day-in and day-out is corrosive.
posted by bjrubble at 12:22 PM on August 12


Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy.

That is incorrect.

Those confrontational angry groups got a seat at the FDA table and changed the way drug testing is done, and saved many, many lives because of die-ins and angry, on-the-barricades protests.
posted by rtha at 12:24 PM on August 12 [16 favorites]


Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy. They give a powerful outlet to vent their frustration. They build the courage to live in the open and the support when society turns their back on their humanity. But they don't change the mind of the middle class housewife who represents the tipping point in changing public opinion and policy. If anything, exposure to that anger hurts public opinion.

The sharp movement rightward of the Overton window thanks to confrontational angry groups like the shouty Tea Party types, anti-choicers picketing clinics, racists freaking out over ACORN and "young bucks" and "welfare queens," misogynists who rail against women having freedom (be it sexual, financial, or anything else), and any of a number of other conservative causes put that statement to lie. In fact, the only major leftist notion currently gaining any sort of ground in this country is SSM, and that mainly because a bare majority of the highest court in the land--one of whom is allegedly doing it out of fear for his legacy rather than any tacit acceptance--gave it a the weakest endorsement they possibly could. The rights of women's health and well-being are under a threat not seen in decades, to the point where simple solutions for things like sexual violence and poor options for subsistence that once had near-unanimous support take years of cajoling and bargaining just to cross the threshold. Trans* people, who have gained recognition and a small measure of acceptance among some of the population, now face backlashes stoked by new moral panics from not only the right, but occasional allies on the left. Anyone who isn't white (and even quite a few who are but happen to share some demographic similarities) now faces targeted, state-sanctioned voting suppression of a kind not seen since the days of Jim Crow, publicly admitted to by the instigators and spearheaded by the leading judge of the same court as above, a man who in a previous career was tasked with destroying the laws protecting those rights (and well on his way to succeeding). The rights of the individual, once so dear to wide swaths of the country, are now gleefully trampled in the name of corporate entities that for incomprehensible reasons must always have rights that supercede the individual.

So don't tell me about what's changing the mind of the middle class housewife, she's no longer the tipping point anyway. The tipping point may be coming, through the rise of the immigrant worker whose very existence is spit upon, the black child whose life is seen as disposable, the woman who is left with fewer options for her most basic aspects of life, the worker who has less say in their own decisions and future than their employer and the bought-and-paid-for stooge in politics. The problem isn't that they (and those that stand with them) are too angry, it's that they're not angry enough. But that anger brings down terrible consequences, so they're stuck in a sort of Goldilocks conundrum: get too angry and their rights and livelihoods will be stripped from them, but don't get angry enough and they'll never be able to attain or keep those rights. The only question now is whether or not the capture by the hateful of the levers of governance is too far advanced.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:25 PM on August 12 [22 favorites]


I just reread the article to see if I could do a better job of articulating why I appreciated AWK's advice.

What stands out for me in the original letter is how twice the author couples his father's politics with ruining their relationship as well as "ruining the world." This is precisely how I used to view my own father. His politics were wrong, and I often told him so, and he resented it and it created tension between us. In the same way, he would introduce me to people as his "liberal son," which was a shitty, passive aggressive needling tactic disguised as humor, and I resented it.

To have a healthy, loving relationship, we had to learn to emphasize the things about one another that we respected and loved, apart from politics, a realization that we came to separately when neither of us seemed likely to back down.

AWK seems to be saying that politics will always be there, but that our relations, especially to our immediate family, are worth more than those differences. I happen to agree. There are certainly situations where family dynamics are toxic enough to render this advice inapplicable: the out or transgendered child being shunned for example. But I don't think the advice is less wise because it isn't inclusive of every single possible interpersonal dynamic, and, based on what is present in the original letter, it seems particularly applicable to the author's situation.

I allow that I could be wrong. It certainly wouldn't be the first time. Thanks for the lively discussion.
posted by echocollate at 12:28 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


> Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy.

Tea Party?

They're certainly a minority. I'd debate the "oppressed", but they certainly claim to be. And they've definitely moved policy.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:29 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


AWK seems to be saying that politics will always be there, but that our relations, especially to our immediate family, are worth more than those differences. I happen to agree.

And I don't think there is a soul in this thread who would disagree with you.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:30 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I guess I'm a very old-fashioned liberal, as in the phrase liberal arts or liberal education. I believe that we should hold open an enormous cognitive space in which rational argumentation should take place. At a bare minimum, I acknowledge the right of my ideological opponent to hold views opposite to my own. But at an ideal, I am seeking for my opponent to make her best case possible -- I want all arguments brought out with ideal clarity and depth and conviction, because we all live in a richer world that way. This includes looking on my opponent not as deluded or incapable of real reasoning, because the whole exercise and engagement disintegrates at that point.

Now, you may say: lovely old-fashioned ideal, but when one side acts in bad faith the whole thing falls apart and it's positively dangerous to hold to old ideals. Which is exactly why I won't start arguments at Free Republic; why bother? But I think there are an enormous number of people of good will and reason who nonetheless vote Republican, for reasons that are well-developed in their own minds. I don't yet believe that, Tea Party and Sarah Palin or no, the entire portion of the country to the right of me is so pathologically infected they can only be defeated rather than engaged with. YMMV.
posted by argybarg at 12:32 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Actually, you know, it might be possible to be angry, sound angry, and act angry, and still be completely rational in your position. Just throwin' that out there.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:38 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Hypothetical question: what if one of the two major political parties decided that the FreeRepublic model wins elections?
posted by PMdixon at 12:40 PM on August 12


Hypothetical?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:43 PM on August 12


I don't yet believe that...the entire portion of the country to the right of me is so pathologically infected they can only be defeated rather than engaged with.

I don't think that anyone disagrees with you here either.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:45 PM on August 12


I don't think that anyone disagrees with you here either.

I'm sincerely relieved to hear that. Sometimes you wouldn't know that just by reading Metafilter.
posted by echocollate at 12:48 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


And if we are defining evil as someone who causes unnecessary hurt to others, then we cannot define someone as evil without knowing what they consider necessary.

You're positing that doing evil is dependent upon the intention to do evil.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:49 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Great. Give me access to Public Opinion quarterly, and I'll see if I can't track down the many panel studies they've done on priming, framing and prejudice. I read tons of them while I was in college.

It's not a backlash effect. It's that the angry framing of a political argument triggers mental defenses that make it far more difficult to change their mind. You get called a racist, and you spend too much time protecting your opinion of yourself to consider any other argument that comes next. Given that fact, you default to what you believed before the conversation started.

If nobody has their minds changed, the political landscape doesn't change.

Conversely, as I pointed out earlier, having an articulate black man defying racial stereotypes while simultaneously having a conversation about the 2008 Presidential Election is able to slip past those defenses. You aren't thinking about race at all. You aren't primed with your prejudices. You're never even asked to admit that you're wrong. You can just construct a new expectation of what black people look like.

And the data shows that's largely what happened.

I'd like to point out that a documentary of Obama the Not Scary Black Man would have failed in a similar manner. That primes people that "we're talking about race", and people dig up their current belief structure. It's not about talking nicely about politics. It's about always being visible and undercutting stereotypes while doing everything else. That is what is changing people's minds about race and sexuality and gender identity.

And it's slow. Painfully slow. There's a study that shows how difficult it is to change people's minds about actual welfare facts, due to the baggage people bring into the conversation. But as far as I know, public opinion studies have shown that it works better than anything else.

(And yes. This is limited to our ability to impact voters. We see different success in bureaucracy and the courts, which are far less democratic. But we started with a letter about a son wanting to deal with his father, who's only influence on the current state of things is as a voter.)
posted by politikitty at 12:50 PM on August 12


PMdixon: It wins some elections, not enough to get the GOP more than the House.
posted by argybarg at 12:51 PM on August 12


At a bare minimum, I acknowledge the right of my ideological opponent to hold views opposite to my own.

This is one of those lines that sounds great, but in practice winds up defending a lot of harmful beliefs (in fact, it's the concept behind the absolutely odious Hobby Lobby ruling.)

I remember that one of the defenses that was put out by people supporting Brendan Eich - that he was being attacked over a "difference of political opinion". Which, technically, was true - and glossed over the fact that this "difference" was about whether or not homosexual people should be afforded equal rights.

So no, my opponent doesn't get a free pass on holding odious views just because I am diametrically opposed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:51 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


No, I'm positing that being evil is dependent on intentionally doing evil. Good people can do evil things. It doesn't make them evil.
posted by corb at 12:52 PM on August 12


OK so there are no evil people in other words.

Which is fine but it's much simpler to just say that.
posted by PMdixon at 12:53 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


I guess I'm a very old-fashioned liberal, as in the phrase liberal arts or liberal education. I believe that we should hold open an enormous cognitive space in which rational argumentation should take place. At a bare minimum, I acknowledge the right of my ideological opponent to hold views opposite to my own. But at an ideal, I am seeking for my opponent to make her best case possible -- I want all arguments brought out with ideal clarity and depth and conviction, because we all live in a richer world that way. This includes looking on my opponent not as deluded or incapable of real reasoning, because the whole exercise and engagement disintegrates at that point.

Now, you may say: lovely old-fashioned ideal, but when one side acts in bad faith the whole thing falls apart and it's positively dangerous to hold to old ideals.


A belief in rational argument is a critical part of a society based on rationality, and indeed I'd say it's exactly that belief in rationality of all parties that allows the reasonable critique of arguments. I'm not saying that the people who make bad arguments are, in some cosmic sense, bad people. I'm saying that the arguments are so bad that they deserve to be crushed, and that it's OK to criticise people for the axioms that their arguments reveal.

If the axiom at the heart of the justification and active promulgation of a policy is (for instance) the belief that it is reasonable to deny equal rights to a group as the group is inherently worth less, then it's that foundation that can reasonably lead to a conclusion that someone is prejudiced and a desire not to associate with that person due to the harms they support. Likewise if someone is forming beliefs on global warming premised on the belief that a massive conspiracy of climate scientists exists and voting on that basis I find it impossible to respect the argument they are making to justify such massive harm. I find it impossible to conclude that the primary harm to the world is me taking the view that their beliefs have lead to measurably harmful outcomes compared to the alternatives.

This is also why it doesn't matter how much Pol Pot believed he was doing the right thing. Rational reasoning wins and should always do so.
posted by jaduncan at 12:53 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I am still grieving for this postmodern world where Reason has no place and only Belief and Will matter. But it seems to be the world we're in.

There's actually a lot of good post-liberal work on the intertwining of reason and emotion, how we interact both reasonably and emotionally and can create change in the face of power.

Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner's work on counterpublics looks at the question of minority interaction with majorities and the ways in which ideas pass back and forth, both confrontational and conciliatory.

Martha Nussbaum has a recent book on the role of emotions in democratic society: Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice. I wasn't taken with the entire argument, but she has a good discussion on balancing emotions of patriotic inclusion with the impulse to other that crops up in all human cultures (othering both parties within ones polity and those outside).

And speaking of inclusion, Iris Marion Young's Inclusion and Democracy talks about the emotional and language work we can do to identify and remedy disenfranchisement.

Finally, Douglas Walton's The Place of Emotion in Argument discusses how emotion functions productively in reasonable argumentation.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:54 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


No, I'm positing that being evil is dependent on intentionally doing evil. Good people can do evil things. It doesn't make them evil.

No, I'm pretty sure if you commit evil in the name of what you think is good, you're pretty much evil. CS Lewis said it best:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:56 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


No, I'm positing that being evil is dependent on intentionally doing evil. Good people can do evil things. It doesn't make them evil.

Again:
I'm going to avoid the Godwin, although it's left as an exercise to the reader. In what way does this matter if it leads to us having to be nice to Pol Pot or the Ayrian Nations and take that position that others should be harmed and treated as less than human as of equal value and deserving of respect? At what point is someone's political belief and polity so harmful that we should just reject it flatly?
Right now you're writing an apologia for the genocidal.
posted by jaduncan at 12:59 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


You're positing that doing evil is dependent upon the intention to do evil.

No, I'm positing that being evil is dependent on intentionally doing evil.


Is there some meaningful distinction here I'm not seeing?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:02 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Quite honestly, I don't see how this moral relativism is any more defensible if we substitute "evildoers" for "evil people."
posted by tonycpsu at 1:04 PM on August 12


Is there some meaningful distinction here I'm not seeing?

It's a semantic argument to change the conversation from the evil done by people to whether it's okay to call those people 'evil people.' You see the same thing all the time w/r/t 'racist' and 'sexist' and etc.

I don't care whether someone is an Evil Person in their secret heart of hearts, just like I don't care if someone is a Racist Person in their heart of hearts. I care whether their actions are evil or racist, because those actions are objectively bad and hurtful, and people should stop doing those things whether they do them for noble or ignoble purposes.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:06 PM on August 12 [16 favorites]


politikitty, I actually don't know what you are claiming. You said that "Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy." But that can only be said if one is ignorant of the massive accomplishments of gay rights and AIDS groups like Act-Up. But now are you saying that the actions of those groups caused public opinion to turn against them, thus nullifying anything they accomplished?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:06 PM on August 12


Thanks to the mind-reading technology which I stole from the CyberLord of Seattle in 2120, I can tell when someone is intentionally doing evil things over and over (for instance, the CyberLord) and when someone is unintentionally doing evil things over and over like some murderous Inspector Clouseau.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:08 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


No, I'm positing that being evil is dependent on intentionally doing evil.

Ok, I fundamentally disagree with this point but I appreciate your being upfront and clear about it.
posted by elizardbits at 1:12 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


The functional difference between being evil and doing evil is that you can change the deeds of the former, but not the motivations of the latter. Good people doing the wrong thing can realize it and change - bad people doing the wrong thing glory in it.

(Also, if we're using the racism argument, then perhaps it will help to think of it as a more basic form of 'You are a racist' / 'That thing you said was racist' )
posted by corb at 1:14 PM on August 12


Ugh, switch the position of those two. I thought of editing but it's probably too significant a change.
posted by corb at 1:16 PM on August 12


It's a semantic argument to change the conversation from the evil done by people to whether it's okay to call those people 'evil people.' You see the same thing all the time w/r/t 'racist' and 'sexist' and etc.

Which is probably a big part of the problem. There was a comedian up in these parts who once put on some atrocious Cartoon Asian Person caricature for a TV commercial spot. When he was informed that it's racist to pull back your eyes with cellophane tape and buck out your teeth to mimic Asians, his reply was, "You know it's not like I woke up this morning deciding I wanted to offend Asians."

Well, good for him! He just wanted to make people laugh. But this is substantially meaningless against all the hurt other people were experiencing as a result of his actions.

I don't care if someone engaging in or abetting systematic harm of others "means" to do it. They're doing it anyway! They need to stop.

The functional difference between being evil and doing evil is that you can change the deeds of the latter, but not the motivations of the former. Good people doing the wrong thing can realize it and change - bad people doing the wrong thing glory in it.

(Your word order fixed.) On the other hand, history. People can rationalize their actions to their grave, no matter how awful they were.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:16 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


When I said move policy, I was speaking in a more democratic fashion. Success in the courts and bureaucracy are not democratic and are not influenced by voters. That's not to say that the success isn't real. But in a conversation about a Republican father whose only impact on policy is the ballot box, it isn't relevant.

Again, I don't think there is a backlash. I think there is gridlock when controversial groups like Act UP or PETA or Greenpeace engage with the public. Their message activates mental defenses that make it impossible to change minds. They aren't engaging with the opposition. They are engaging with their supporters. To the extent that they dominate the airwaves they make people continually commit to their current view.
posted by politikitty at 1:17 PM on August 12


politikitty, you've clearly thought about this a lot. Would you be willing to talk about how the Tea Party fits in with your analysis?
posted by benito.strauss at 1:17 PM on August 12


The functional difference between being evil and doing evil is that you can change the deeds of the former, but not the motivations of the latter. Good people doing the wrong thing can realize it and change - bad people doing the wrong thing glory in it.

Who over the age of 5 thinks that people who disagree with them glory in doing the wrong thing? Do you think that your military opponent of choice went to bed twisting his moustache and laughing at how wrong his/her actions were? *Nobody is saying this*.
posted by jaduncan at 1:18 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Good people doing the wrong thing can realize it and change

So, if they change, we can know they are a good person; if they don't change, they are not a good person. This is a the matrix you've set up. You really don't see how problematic this is?
posted by rtha at 1:18 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


This good vs. evil discussion is getting too abstract to be meaningful.
posted by agregoli at 1:21 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, history.

Yeah, I mean I am pretty sure that plenty of the Spanish conquistadors really honestly felt that they were doing the right thing, the righteous thing, the main thing utterly required of them by their faith, in forcibly converting indigenous americans to catholicism under pain of gruesome prolonged torture and death but those best of intentions don't really make genocide okay.

See also: Manifest Destiny
posted by elizardbits at 1:22 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I'm also interested in the argument that change made by the bureaucracy is not democratic or influenced by voters, given that federal agency leadership is appointed by the individual with the best (only?) claim to a national democratic mandate.
posted by burden at 1:25 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I mean I am pretty sure that plenty of the Spanish conquistadors really honestly felt that they were doing the right thing, the righteous thing, the main thing utterly required of them by their faith, in forcibly converting indigenous americans to catholicism under pain of gruesome prolonged torture and death but those best of intentions don't really make genocide okay.

I think we can all agree that it was in fact the disagreement of the indigenous Americans with the Spanish that genocide was OK that was the real harm to their society. Surely the truth was in the middle and they should have settled for merely decimation without impolite criticism or anger.

/Incan guinea pig
posted by jaduncan at 1:27 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


I think there is gridlock when controversial groups like Act UP or PETA or Greenpeace engage with the public. Their message activates mental defenses that make it impossible to change minds. They aren't engaging with the opposition. They are engaging with their supporters.

This is a pretty bold and sweeping statement to make, and I'm not sure how it could even be backed up in an evidence-based way. To put it nicely.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:28 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


If only they hadn't been so intolerant of opposing views!
posted by elizardbits at 1:28 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Perhaps they could have held a round-table discussion moderated by a neutral third party and found common ground. You know, focus more on their similarities than their differences.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:33 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


"Life During Wartime: Emotions and the Development of ACT UP" by Deborah B. Gould [pdf]
Emotions figure centrally in my account in two ways. First, I argue that the emotion work of social movements—largely ignored by movement scholars—is vital to movement development and persistence over time. After exploring the political and emotional environment that street AIDS activists faced, I investigate the ways they worked—sometimes consciously but often less purposively—to nourish and extend an emotional common sense that was both amenable to their brand of confrontational activism and responsive to the psychic conflicts that lesbians and gay men were experiencing
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:36 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


You know, focus more on their similarities than their differences.

"Oh yes hmm, well I went to CVS with the sniffles and they were out of Robotussin, so I know how you feel. Now here are antiretroviral drugs that we just made!"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:41 PM on August 12


I think the Tea Party is natural. The Republicans are on a demographic losing streak that started after the Civil Rights Act passed. Imagine the election after the Civil Rights Act. If Nixon hadn't tried the Southern Strategy, he would have been Civil Rights Lite, unable to really compete. I mean, imagine if Paul Ryan stood up and reversed himself on all the things you don't like about the Republican Party.

Are you really going to vote for them?

They can't credibly ditch the folks who vote for Republicans because they fear Democrats. And it's the only base they can really count on. As demographics shrink smaller and smaller, fear and hate become the most reliable Get Out the Vote tool you have.

The biggest problem with the Republican Party is Democrats. To change, they need the moderate Democrats to step in and vote for them. They need moderate Democrats participating in the primary elections with the same fervor as the Tea Party kids. It's a huge ask. The main reason Democrats were able to move away as the losers of the Civil War is because candidates were chosen by the party. Republicans don't have that opportunity.

Considering how difficult it is to create a Third Party that seems legitimate to the voters, I worry that the transition is going to be The Ugliest.

On Bureaucracy, I can't believe anyone can say that it's democratic. Read Weber. This is political science 101. Bureaucracy was created to be insulated from the political whims of the times. That's the whole point.
posted by politikitty at 1:42 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


No one has suggested that they not be allowed to raise children because of their open carry taint.

I consider myself very open minded, far left, body positive, etc etc. But I have to admit I might be a bit dubious of the child rearing capabilities of someone who went around open carrying their taint.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:42 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


PMdixon: It wins some elections, not enough to get the GOP more than the House.

1) House is plenty if all you care about is stopping federal action.
2) "not enough" has not yet been demonstrated. Talk to me after the midterms.
3) There are these things called "state legislatures." It turns out they do important things! And that they're even more susceptible to these kinds of discourse destruction!
posted by PMdixon at 1:45 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


On Bureaucracy, I can't believe anyone can say that it's democratic. Read Weber. This is political science 101. Bureaucracy was created to be insulated from the political whims of the times. That's the whole point.

Democratic != the political whims of the times.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:45 PM on August 12


someone in my office was eating pepperidge farm linzer tart cookies earlier and i was like "i haven't been able to enjoy those since i was unwillingly exposed to goatse" and now i have ruined those cookies for them forever

ha ha ha
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


(that was an act of deliberate evil btw)
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


you and the fucking cuttlefish
posted by PMdixon at 1:47 PM on August 12


[cackling intensifies]
posted by elizardbits at 1:49 PM on August 12


Democratic != the political whims of the times.

Sure, but that was why it was purposely insulated from democratic influence. The President is not supposed to influence the necessary day to day function of government. The FDA might be influenced by him, but they also purposely have quite a bit of autonomy. Hence not particularly democratic.
posted by politikitty at 1:50 PM on August 12


I don't see how what Weber thought about bureaucracy writ large or the reasons it was originally created means that decisions made by the U.S. federal agencies in the 21st century are undemocratic. People vote for the candidate based in part on the candidate's agenda, the candidate who receives the most votes (usually) wins, the new President appoints agency heads who will implement his or her agenda, including by promulgating or repealing regulations. Looks pretty democratic to me.

It's arguably more democratic than the normal legislative process, in which tiny minorities are given veto power.

Sure, the federal agencies have ministerial powers that aren't supposed to be influenced by politics (e.g. the amount of taxes you pay in any given year shouldn't be based on how much the party in power likes you personally), but you can't ignore that the agencies have considerable policymaking powers as well. Again, why aren't policies made pursuant to those powers democratic?
posted by burden at 1:55 PM on August 12


Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy.

I'm sorry, but this is incorrect. AIDS activism, by groups like ACT UP in particular, pushed US government agencies to change and improve drug approval and distribution policies:
When [FDA Commissioner Frank] Young appeared in Boston at the Lesbian and Gay Health Conference in July 1988, he confronted a hostile audience of one thousand; the first three rows were filled with ACT UP demonstrators holding signs saying "FDA, YOU'RE KILLING ME." While some demonstrators conducted a mock "die-in," others held up their watches with alarms ringing: for people with AIDS, time was running out. But to the surprise of the audience, Young had come to announce that the FDA would now permit the importing of unapproved AIDS drugs in small quantities for personal use.[64] In a remark to a reporter after his talk, Young described his motivations: "There is such a degree of desperation, and people are going to die…. I'm not going to be the Commissioner that robs them of hope."[65] But according to a reporter for Science , the change in policy "stunned" many in the research community: "One official in the federal government's AIDS Program went so far as to suggest that the FDA commissioner had gone 'temporarily insane.'"[66]
Further:
By early 1989, it began to appear that AIDS treatment activists had won a partial convert to the cause: Anthony Fauci himself, the head of NIAID and the government's AIDS research program. To a greater extent than his counterparts at the FDA, Fauci had cultivated good relations with treatment activists, opening up channels of communication with people like Martin Delaney of Project Inform and Mark Harrington and Jim Eigo of ACT UP/New York's Treatment & Data Committee.
You should read Epstein's book, it's pretty good.

But, more to the point, that one example of confrontational activism alone pushed government and society forwards and saved the lives of millions.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:06 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]


The President is not supposed to influence the necessary day to day function of government. The FDA might be influenced by him, but they also purposely have quite a bit of autonomy. Hence not particularly democratic.

It's been a while since my most recent poli sci class, but I think this is confusing "not democratic" with "not subject to a spoils system". The fact that we no longer replace wholesale the staffers at the various governmental agencies every time the incoming president is of a different party than the previous one does not render those agencies "undemocratic" or somehow in opposition to representational government.
posted by Lexica at 2:08 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the role of PETA and Greenpeace in American political gridlock cannot possibly be understated enough.
posted by PMdixon at 2:08 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


corb: The functional difference between being evil and doing evil is that you can change the deeds of the former, but not the motivations of the latter. Good people doing the wrong thing can realize it and change - bad people doing the wrong thing glory in it.

OK, then will you agree to stop hectoring people about civility if they, instead of saying "these people are evil", instead say "these people are doing evil things, and though I don't know their motivations for doing so, and maybe they think they're doing it for the right reasons, it nonetheless has a direct negative impact on my life?" We might need some shorthand for that, but if it can prevent these type of "YOU DON'T KNOW WHETHER THEY'RE TRYING TO BE EVIL OR NOT" derails in the future, it's worth it.

I mean, we all have the potential to do evil. Some people turn that potential evil into kinetic evil. At the point that they're doing kinetic evil, I'm not so worried about unfairly labeling them as evil even though they might some day change their ways. Surely there have been plenty of war criminals who regretted what they did at the very end, but as far as I'm concerned, they were still evil (as human beings) when they were doing those things.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:21 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the role of PETA and Greenpeace in American political gridlock cannot possibly be understated enough.

Easy for you to say, you're not battling their mindless obstructionism over an initiative to put a seal fur and whalebone dome over your sports arena.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:29 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I think there is gridlock when controversial groups like Act UP or PETA or Greenpeace engage with the public. Their message activates mental defenses that make it impossible to change minds.

Well, I am most definitely not someone who's studied this stuff academically like you, politikitty, but I've felt for quite some time there's an error that creeps into these discussions that involves the time scale over which we are doing our mental modeling.

Others have mentioned this sort of thing above, but, for example, the Civil Rights movement didn't begin and end with MLK--there were decades of agitation and "extremism" (and even outright violence going back more than a century, à la Harper's Ferry or Nat Turner) that occurred before, and that laid the groundwork. It's not like all of those people who revolted and failed before the end of slavery, say, accomplished nothing. On the contrary. Sure, they scared the shit out of conventional society in their day, but they sowed the socio-psychological and political seeds of what was to come. A more modest version of this is contained in the concept of the Overton Window, as was also mentioned above.

So while the "controversial groups" might frighten or otherwise turn off voters in their own time, they can still move society. Gar Alperovitz likes to say that his "heroes and heroines are the people who worked for Civil Rights in states like Mississippi... in the 1930s and 1940s before the modern era--when the necessary prehistory of the 1960s Civil Rights movement began." (Emphasis mine.)

My point being that a lot of political theorizing and modeling that people do today is overly focused on the next election, and inadequately and therefore often incorrectly assesses the possibility for real change. IMO, the Right since the Depression has not made that mistake, and so they've reached a sort of ascendancy, whereas the putative Left (the Democrats, sadly) in the US after FDR was cowed by the Red Scare and became generally wonkish and overly cautious, right up until it decided it had no choice but to sell out to Wall Street during the Clinton era. Alperovitz' idea of having activists engage in creating a prehistory is all about understanding that social change is a multi-generational project.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:34 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


But in a conversation about a Republican father whose only impact on policy is the ballot box, it isn't relevant.

I'm not sure why you keep insisting this, given that we seem to both agree that normal citizens can certainly have impacts on policy in ways that do not involve the ballot box (for example, contributing time and money to activist causes). Further, because political and personal conflicts are not cleanly separable (queer rights are a good example), a normal citizen's behavior can also have large impacts on other people in their lives, in a way that has little to do with "policy" per se yet is still an expression of their political beliefs. Acting in a prejudiced way against racial or sexual minorities, for instance, is very different from a formal political act like voting in a particular way, yet it can still harm real people.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:38 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Tonycpsu, sure, that's a phrasing I would have zero problems with. I still think it's better both tactically and morally to understand their motivations, but if someone just doesn't, I get that. There's stuff I don't understand either even when I try.
posted by corb at 2:58 PM on August 12


PEACE IN OUR TIME.
posted by corb at 3:01 PM on August 12


I think that most of the time, it's pretty easy to understand the motivation of hate. Doesn't really help to know that, since that's one of the hardest things to overturn in a person.
posted by agregoli at 3:01 PM on August 12


I've been staying out of what I see as the very large, but ultimately tangential to the central issue, discussion.

But...

First off, while I'm sure the number of people who, like the villains in Captain Planet, cackle evilly while rubbing their hands together and monologuing about how they want to be evil is small enough they fall into the low tens at most, I think its disingenuous to pretend that all policy differences are equal.

Disagreement about the top marginal tax rate is categorically different from disagreement about whether gay people are really people and deserve all same rights that straight people do.

When politics starts getting into the territory of denying the personhood of people, or killing people, it is a much more immediate and visceral sort of politics than politics about matters that aren't ultimately about whether some people are really people, or whether or not the government should be killing people in group X.

If nothing else I'll agree with the forced birth advocates in that abortion politics are not the same as tax politics, or zoning laws, or what have you. One is literally and immediately about life and death, a being defined either as a person (and therefore entitled to all the rights we give people) or defined as not a person and therefore denied those rights.

To expect that people treat those issues with a debate club comity and view those who disagree with them as perfectly fine people you have a minor, inconsequential, disagreement with, is absurd. I'd question the sincerity of any advocate of fetal personhood who viewed the matter as an abstract philosophic question to be debated in a detached academic sort of way.

Which, oddly, brings me to corb's comment here. In the past I've often suggested that the forced birth faction in American politics is less interested in actually reducing abortions, and more interested in other matters, and I've been told that my doubts as to their true goals were bad.

I think corb is quite right about a lot of what the American right wants, they don't particularly have what I'd term real goals, but rather emotional/ideological goals. Reducing abortions isn't the objective, feeling superior in a legalistic moralism sense of things is. We see this in the obsession with "correct stance" that is present in the mainstream Christian evangelical movement. Actions are deemed secondary, at best, to having the proper moral stance.

And I argue that represents a very real and disturbing difference between liberals and conservatives. I, and I suspect most other liberals, are much more interested in outcomes than proper stance.

If, for example, slavery persisted in a widespread way despite being outlawed, and good statistical evidence could be assembled demonstrating that slavery rates actually declined when slavery was legal and that outlawing slavery had the perverse effect of increasing percentage of people enslaved, I'd have to endorse legalizing slavery; I'd really hate doing it, but I'd see that as the correct choice. Because my goal would be reducing human misery by reducing the number of people held as slaves, not feeling morally superior.

But, per corb and I agree very strongly with him here, that's not the way the right wing measures success. The number of abortions is irrelevant, all that matters is having the correct moral/legal stance regarding abortion. The damages and misery that will result from unchecked climate change is irrelevant, all that matters is strict adherence to the dictates of free marketism. Actual human suffering is irrelevant, all that matters is that you prove yourself superior to "those people" by making homosexuality illegal.

Interesting that when he says it none of the supposedly liberal apologists for the forced birthers pop out of the woodwork to scold him, while when I say that there appears to be a fundamental dishonesty in the forced birth position I'm immediately beset by "liberals" who find that truth to be horribly offensive and insist that I must never say such vile things (even if they are true).

And that's one anecdote, out of far too many to count, explaining why I find the comity at all costs crowd to be tiresome. Their hectoring lectures and scolding are strictly for liberals, conservatives get a pass. Limbaugh, Coulter, etc can demonize liberals 24/7 for decades and that's ok, but when I get a mite tetchy at the unrelenting attacks from the right, I'm a horrible person for dehumanizing the right wing.

And when did we agree that "dehumanizing" meant being angry at, impatient with, or otherwise behaving in less than a perfect sweetness and light way towards? See, I had this crazy idea that "dehumanizing" meant things like the Liberal Hunting Licenses that are popular among many on the right. But apparently that's not dehumanizing in the slightest, nor is it dehumanizing when Limbaugh paraphrases Hitler and says that he doesn't want to completely eradicate liberals but rather a few should be kept in zoos or museums so future generations can know their dangers. That isn't dehumanizing and doesn't merit scolding from the keepers of comity. But getting a tiny bit irked at the constant, dehumanizing, attacks from the right is dehumanizing them and must be immediately scolded.
posted by sotonohito at 3:08 PM on August 12 [10 favorites]


corb is a she.
posted by futz at 3:15 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


corb: I still think it's better both tactically and morally to understand their motivations, but if someone just doesn't, I get that. There's stuff I don't understand either even when I try.

Yes, but (a) how much effort are people required to put into understanding the motivations of their adversaries, many of whom have shown that they don't give a shit about being understood, and (b) what makes you so certain that these people haven't already worked hard to try to understand the other side? These are people who are already harmed by the policies of others, and now you want to micromanage exactly when they're allowed to show contempt for the other side?
posted by tonycpsu at 3:23 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Acting in a prejudiced way against racial or sexual minorities, for instance, is very different from a formal political act like voting in a particular way, yet it can still harm real people.

Yes! Exactly!

It is not enough to simply require laws that treat people equally. (This is certainly possible. But I am a believer that Public Opinion is a marker of government legitimacy, and the farther between the two, the more unstable the underlying government.) But it is a hard question on how you change prejudice.

I think the advice AndrewWK gives is spot on. It's difficult. But both engagement and disengagement don't work to change the minds of people who want to enforce their idea of Right onto others. Indirect engagement, being non-threatening while visible, has had the most success.

It sucks that you can't tell racist dad "Hey, stop being racist." You can only ask him to stop engaging in that behavior and hope he remembers. But I think it's great that by dragging my conservative grandmother through Castro, she sees the world not being destroyed by gay love while we are talking about where we should have dinner.
posted by politikitty at 3:24 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Telling people that their options are limited to either making a stand for themselves or to be "non-threatening" until such time that they (a) are publicly terrorized in such a fashion that a majority of people react with revulsion, or (b) somehow maaaaagically convince people who have thus far been unconvinced, is exactly why the fight for basic rights for so many people are being fought for and so often lost. You've provided exactly zero evidence apart from happy-go-lucky anecdotes that this is how minds get changed enough to enact policy. It's no different from all the other "both sides are equally guilty" nonsense that keeps on getting rehashed here.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:38 PM on August 12 [11 favorites]


Acting in a prejudiced way against racial or sexual minorities, for instance, is very different from a formal political act like voting in a particular way, yet it can still harm real people.

Yes! Exactly!


And the reverse is true. Speaking/acting against prejudice does good for people, even if done in ways that offend the decorum of those who support prejudice (and speaking against prejudice always offends their decorum, even when done in as genteel a manner as possible, e.g. women's suffrage marches).

"Outrageous" protest and activism leads to changing social attitudes leads to change in policy. Social change doesn't always work this way (sometimes policy change precedes wider social attitude change e.g. the integration of the Army) because social change is messy, but it is only in the narrowest, context-limited frame that we can say "Indirect engagement, being non-threatening while visible, has had the most success." The history discussed in this thread proves otherwise.
posted by audi alteram partem at 3:39 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Well said, sotonohito. I will add that "proper stance" is believed by some as the thing that will get them to heaven.
posted by agregoli at 3:40 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


PEACE IN OUR TIME.

Oh dear. I am so not gonna go there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:44 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Well that was embarrassingly andronormative of me, especially given that I'm a self identified feminist and I id'd corb as male due to her mention of being in combat. Internalized misogyny meet self, self meet internalized misogyny.

corb, I apologize for misgendering you.

futz, thank you for pointing out my error.
posted by sotonohito at 3:44 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


(That's not internalized misogyny, that's just a sexist assumption. But it's cool when people apologize for misgendering on Mefi).
posted by agregoli at 3:47 PM on August 12


I'd argue that internalized misogyny is an essential component of sexist assumptions. Unless I've internalized, to one degree or another, the idea that women are weak, or that their "natural role" is to nurture, there's no reason for me to assume that a person who mentions having been in combat is a man.

But that's getting us rather far afield.
posted by sotonohito at 3:53 PM on August 12


I provided evidence that the visibility of Barack Obama actually reduced white racial prejudice among conservatives. It wasn't a happy-go-lucky anecdote. It was a peer reviewed panel study published by a well-respected journal.
posted by politikitty at 3:59 PM on August 12


And there have been a ton showing that racial animus is the prime motivation among his opposition. Show me a trend.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:09 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


In fact, from the same journal:
Much published research indicates that voting behavior in the 2008 presidential election and evaluations of Barack Obama were importantly influenced by anti-Black sentiment. Various psychological theories made opposing predictions as to whether exposure to the first Black president during his first term would strengthen or weaken the alignment between general attitudes toward African Americans and evaluations of the president in particular. Using data from national surveys conducted in 2008, 2009–2010, and 2012, we compared the associations of prejudice toward Blacks with presidential approval in those years and with electoral choices in 2008 and 2012. As predicted by theories of individuation, attitudes toward Blacks became increasingly disconnected from evaluations of Mr. Obama and from people’s electoral choices over time. However, levels of prejudice against Blacks rose between 2008 and 2012.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:14 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


politikitty: I get what you're saying within the sphere of debate, this can be true. I'd like to note that the discipline of political science, as distinct from political philosophy, takes the underlying liberal democratic system at its face value, and that's a sort of willful blindness that I believe is terribly unhelpful at confronting power.

And, power is what you're not addressing in your arguments.There are really two ways to accomplish one's political goals 1) change one's opponent's minds, and prevent them from opposing you 2) physically prevent one's opponents from acting, either by force of arms or non-violent direct action. In other words, 2) is the exercise of power.

1) can fall into the realm of the traditional, and much beloved by the John Stewart's of the world, public debate. But it can also be a subtle breaking of one's opponent's will to resist, by encouraging them to believe that they cannot contest power. This is extremely effective when combined with 2) physically preventing one's opponents from acting. You claim that the Right is demographically becoming a minority, and that simply the exercise of the franchise will secure. You write that The Republicans are on a demographic losing streak that started after the Civil Rights Act passed.

I don't agree with you. I think that, despite the fact that in coastal areas and among younger people, that LGBT and women's rights have advanced, in the interior areas this is not the case. And, more importantly, in one significant area that touches almost every American, the right has won a series of ongoing victories.

As to women's rights, access to abortion is actually dropping. From the link:
By 2011, when states enacted a record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions (see box), that picture had shifted dramatically: 26 states were hostile to abortion rights, and the number of middle-ground states had cut in half, to nine.

How has the forced birth succeeded in reducing abortion access? Well among other things they have assassinated abortion providers as well as committing vandalism, arson and bombings. They've intimidated people who think differently from them into leaving the states. It wasn't about changing minds-- the right made conditions so bad that all the liberals departed. Which was the goal.

But it is in the realm of the economy that the right has been most successful, given that wages have remained flat for a decade, and that for many incomes have dropped, while income inequality has grown since the 1970s and is now the highest it's been since 1928. In fact, this process has accelerated under Obama, who provided a nice multi-cultural face for oligarchy to entrench itself even more. So Obama got elected-- so what?

Since I was a child in the early '80s, I've been listening to well intentioned liberals talk about how we just have to be nice and change the minds of the right, since we can have some nice policy debates , good people will change their minds, and then everything will be fine. We just need to be civil, and keep in mind that everyone is wrong, and that we're dehumanizing our opponents if we raise our voices and have naked, public, ugly disagreements.

But it's not fine. Everything is not fine. It just isn't. The data are there to show that it's not fine.

So, you'll have to excuse me if I am having hard time believing that I should take Andrew WK's call for civility seriously, as anything other than a tool to weaken people's will to fight and win.
posted by wuwei at 5:24 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


First off, while I'm sure the number of people who, like the villains in Captain Planet, cackle evilly while rubbing their hands together and monologuing about how they want to be evil is small enough they fall into the low tens at most, I think its disingenuous to pretend that all policy differences are equal.

So: Are any Republicans good people?

Republican voters care about their friends and family, and are concerned about the future. They're not really evil. Just misguided in my opinion. I'd make a distinction between the voters and politicians here.

You know who really is evil? I'll tell ya: Rupert Murdoch.

Rupert Murdoch is almost literally cackling evilly while rubbing his hands together, and he probably doesn't even really care about American politics personally, he just knows he can make some euros by fanning the flames of American malaise, and then feeding off of the corpse of the putrid discourse.
posted by ovvl at 5:40 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I agree on Rupert Murdoch. I'm pretty sure Rush Limbaugh is evil, too. He just likes stirring the pot and raking in the cash. I'm inclined to think most trolls are pretty evil, actually.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:47 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I provided evidence that the visibility of Barack Obama actually reduced white racial prejudice among conservatives.

I don't think you can pin that exclusively to Barack's middling tone. In fact the journal doesn't even mention it as a factor. Others in this thread though have provided some pretty good material (1, 2, 3) on how charged language and action can push social progress forward for the better. It demonstrably rallies people to act, confronts those in power directly with its message, impressing upon them the dire importance of attending to this problem. It's been in the toolbox since forever, and it works. And I think that's exactly what tone arguments are hoping to stave off, by directing the cause for alarm to word choice and "messaging".
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:56 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


The problem with this thread is that I think a lot of people do not understand what the article is suggesting and what it means to recognize the humanity of others.

Well, we only have the author's words to go by:

"The world isn't being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist -- the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they're truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen."

Seems to be a lot of ahistorical blather completely divorced from the real world inhabited by actual human beings. As even the most casual stroll through history, including the one unfolding today, shows in abundance.

The author is talking about Othering. About reducing people to a set of political views by assigning people a label and judging them as if they necessarily have the worldview you have ascribed to them. He isn't talking about acknowledging that other people are homo sapiens. He is talking about acknowledging that they are unique and identifiable people and not just fungible placeholders for a worldview you detest.

Oh. So, if only Jews, Gypsies, gays and other "undesirables" had a full understanding of the unique humanity of each and every Brownshirt brawler who beat them up in the street, murdered them in their homes, attacked them in their places of work and worship, well, if only they knew them as unique individuals, all of that subsequent mass murder unpleasantness could have been avoided? Or if that is too distant of a continent, no worry, we have our own history with pretty much the same "undesirables" (at one time or another) of Jews, Gypsies, gays and racial minorities thrown in for good measure. And no need to go particularly far back, as genocidal sentiments expressed by Tea Party types are very current, as are the particular victims and casualties of deadly police and state violence, a vast prison complex and institutionalised discrimination, voter suppression and disenfranchisement eagerly supported by a powerful political party. Today.

What details the victims know of the 'unique individual', makes absolutely zero difference to their ultimate fate. Knowing whether Hitler had only one testicle, whether sausage caused him indigestion, his preference in dogs and postcards, makes not a lick of a difference. What would have made much more of a difference is knowing his political views as in - get ready:

"reducing people to a set of political views"

Yes, yes it would have been much better if everyone back then reduced Hitler to a compact set of political views, and then acted on that perception, whether by fleeing or by fighting - much, much better than prattling about the whole glory of the unique individual that Hitler was. Because

"Anything as infinitely complex as life, reality, and the human experience can never be summed up or organized in a definitive system."

Yes, yes it can, with respect to what it means to you, and yours. I don't care if he's a vegetarian or a million - "infinite" - other complexities of his beautiful soul. I only care about how he can implement his political views - that's what I'm reducing him to, because that's what impacts my life and those dear to me. Because what impacts me is not his complexity, what impacts me is only his political power as in: "especially one based on "left or right," "A or B," "us or them." This is the fatal flaw of binary thinking in general." No, this is the life-saving clarity of a binary choice - will I live or will I be killed.

Do we really need to point out something so very obvious - the completely ahistorical assertion:

"the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world"

So, Jews, Gypsies, and generally people in the 1930's and 40's who believed that the Axis powers were destroying the world, were therefore complicit in its destruction, indeed were co-authors of its destruction? And this passess for deep thought? Is this the sound of one hand clapping? Perhaps the sound of a forehead being slapped, at the notion that no group can actually be destroying the world, and can have completely innocent victims. A slap in the face of such ignorance of not just history, but the present.

The reality is that what the victims of discrimination and genocide, yesterday, today and tomorrow, believe about their executioners is completely irrelevant to their fate. We know it's true because with the millions and millions of murdered victims, surely among such victims was the entire spectrum of beliefs about their executioners. And yet, they all were murdered. No matter how much of the humanity of your executioner you knew - and after all, these were frequently your neighbors, who lived cheek by jowl for generations - or how little, what you thought of them in all its complexity or none at all - it didn't matter.

It didn't matter what the federal workers in Oklahoma thought - or as the case is, didn't know at all - about Timothy McVeigh. It didn't matter what the passengers of an airliner shot out of the sky over Ukraine thought of the humanity of the men who did this, or their politics, or anything else. It doesn't matter what the kid shot point blank by a cop thought of the humanity of that cop. It didn't matter to what those lynched thought of the complexity of the souls of those who were lynching them.

So we can quit nattering on about how it's important to focus on the "humanity", and concentrate on the actions and beliefs that translate into action.

The kind of pleading Andrew engages in, is of course well known and has a rich history, from time immemorial. And during WWII, in the Jewish ghettos, there were also all sorts of views sometimes reflected by various actions of the Judenrat. If only we gave them our last jewelry, if only we were more cooperative, if only we'd complain less and cooperate more. What did it buy them? A quicker death at the hands of all the unique human executioners. No, it never buys you anything, but the Andrews of this world never lose faith. Hate dark skin? If only we'd whiten it and straighten our hair, surely they'd accept us. If only gay people weren't so flamboyant, if only women were less outspoken, if only, if only, if only. Failure, each and every time.

And what actually worked? A cold assessment of the political actions, not the humanity of the opponents. Those who had a clear-eyed view of the Nazis, fled and survived. Whether hard-nosed Zionists, or people who knew anti-Semitism when they saw it and had no faith in the Nazis being won over by generosity and humanity and comity and good manners. No amount of lines of communication, and pleading and begging and understanding changed anything - because, desperate victims tried all those, and perished by the millions. Indeed, it was those with an unrealistic faith in the humanity of their opponents, who said "it cannot happen here", stayed and perished. Countless families have these stories, of division, of those who stayed optimistically, and those who fled, and the resulting tragedies. For victims, what counts, is not how complex is their view of their enemies, it is how clearly they can see the threat. Always and forever. Matthew Shepard didn't die because he wasn't sufficiently communicative and friendly and aware of the rich humanity of his murderers. He died, because he extended them the geneous benefit of belief in their good nature.

Political opinions have consequences. It doesn't matter what the personalities are. What matters, is action, and beliefs translated into action. What you believe about your political opponents matters only to the degree that it is accurate. Deadly accurate.
posted by VikingSword at 6:23 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]


en forme de poire: did you read the journal article? It does not actually refute Goldman's findings in the slightest. It acknowledges the effect of the 2008 campaign on the levels of prejudice. It then finds that the levels of prejudice increased slightly. The study does not attempt to find the reason behind that prejudice, nor identify if it is the same white conservatives who were Goldman found in 2008.

wuwei: I haven't forgotten power. But power without public opinion isn't legitimate. It cannot sustain itself. On the cusp of social change, power can legitimize that social change. But eventually it still comes down to the consent of the people.

That isn't to say that politics shouldn't be knock-out dirty. Each side should fight for each inch of policy change. But I genuinely mean those who are working on policy. Not the average voter who is watching the political process and treating it like their sports team. Those fights over thanksgiving dinner or at the bar is all extraneous and divisive without purpose.

Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: You might want to dig in a bit farther. I never said it was Obama's middling tone. They specifically mention the effect through conservative television, which did not highlight Obama's conciliatory attitude. The change in attitude is attributed to black visibility countering stereotypes in a context that is specifically not about race. Conversations about race reduces ignorance. But it fails to reduce prejudice, which is based more in misinformation. It is exposure to diversity in a non-threatening situation that reduces prejudice.
posted by politikitty at 6:51 PM on August 12


It is exposure to diversity in a non-threatening situation that reduces prejudice.

Obama's media image is a very narrow scope of what shapes racial attitudes in the US, especially with the counter-examples you're glossing over. I'd suggest considering that maybe there really isn't anything compelling that says being "non-threatening" is The Way, or even more effective than direct, charged, confrontational delivery of the message. And that's aside from the already lopsided conditions this puts on the aggrieved.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:09 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


The world certainly isn't divided into Republicans and Democrats.

For one thing, your political boundaries really don't translate to the rest of the world.

And also - from the generally-radical/anarchistic circles I run in, even in the US the liberal/Democrat types are seen as not really all that different from the Republicans.
posted by divabat at 7:33 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


It is the situation that is non-threatening, not Obama or his tone.

The point is that they saw a black man defy their stereotypes at a point when they weren't thinking about their stereotypes and prejudices. There are studies that show that same information when primed as a conversation about (subject matter, race in this case) is not as persuasive.

As I said above, wish I had unlimited access to jstor like the old days.
posted by politikitty at 7:44 PM on August 12


But what if it becomes such that they are never in a situation where they are not explicitly being primed for their stereotypes and prejudices?
posted by PMdixon at 7:47 PM on August 12


FYI: The word "gypsy" is offensive, I believe "Roma" is the preferred word these days, though if that has changed or Tumblr has misled me and there are others please correct me. I also saw one user use "transgendered" earlier; the prefered use of that term is "transgender", as the -ed suggests that transgendering is something that happened to them as opposed to something that they are.

Carry on!

posted by NoraReed at 8:47 PM on August 12


I should note that I am neither Roma nor transgender and so I don't speak for those groups; I just would want to be corrected if I was using anything wrongly so I knew for future reference.
posted by NoraReed at 8:48 PM on August 12


politikitty, I did read the article. I thought this part, from the discussion, was interesting:
During the first four years of the Obama presidency, anti-Black prejudice appears to have increased slightly. This is consistent with the notion that people generalized from negative attitudes they harbored toward President Obama and his policies to their attitudes toward Blacks in general (RQ1).19 However, increased prejudice could also have occurred partly if the reduction of prejudice observed during 2008 (Welch and Sigelman 2011; Goldman 2012) was due to short-lived effects of the campaign and was therefore temporary. This might have occurred if people subtyped Mr. Obama instead of generalizing to all Blacks from their attitudes toward him.
Indeed, the author of the study you originally linked to conceded that this "Obama effect" could certainly have a short lifespan:
What matters is recent “top of mind” exposure, so if the amount of exposure to Obama changes, then so should levels of racial prejudice. This account is consistent with a growing body of research documenting important yet fleeting effects of mass media (e.g., Chong and Druckman 2010; Gerber et al. 2011; Mutz and Reeves 2005).
As for who is responsible for the shift in racial prejudice since 2008, I suppose it could be due to people other than white conservatives, though this would surprise me since that was the group posited to show the largest changes in the "Obama effect" - if indeed the model is that the "Obama effect" was temporary, that would mean that the reverse change was likely to be from the same group of people.

The authors of the second paper, incidentally, describe "subtyping" in the following way (emphasis mine):
In contrast to the notion of attitude generalization, the subtyping model of stereotype change (Weber and Crocker 1983; Johnston and Hewstone 1992) anticipates little or no change in prejudice toward Blacks resulting from exposure to the first Black president in action. People sometimes protect their group stereotypes by “subtyping” out individuals who seem to contradict and therefore threaten the validity of those stereotypes. Such individuals are viewed as not representative of the group and not informative about other members of it (Fiske et al. 1987; Devine and Baker 1991; Hewstone 1994).
According to this model, simply being present in the way you suggest would not necessarily leads to any change in prejudice, especially in environments where there are (for example) few out gay or non-White people and it is thus easier to make exceptions.

Beyond this, it also seems strange to use this as an example of the superiority of non-threatening exposure to activism, since without the gains made by the Civil Rights movement (many of which were achieved through protest) Barack Obama could not have even been a presidential candidate in the first place, let alone the Democratic party nominee.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:47 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


[OT] NoraReed, you are right, of course, and in each and every other instance of my posting history I was careful to use "Roma". In this particular case, I was hoping to be sensitive to the era and the victims of Porajmos themselves, as I was describing a very specific historical period, where the victims were identified and identified themselves as "Gypsy" ("Zigeuner"). It seemed to me jarring to use the modern term in this context - sort of like referring to slaves as "African-Americans", rather than a term that was still respectful in its historical time, or referring to such a time, such as "Negro" (and which would also clearly not be appropriate for anything contemporary). This was the term ("Zigeuner") used in all the documents of that time (see f.ex. "Adolf Eichmann recommended that the "Gypsy Question" be "solved" simultaneously with the Jewish Question"). I really don't feel confident about what is the proper protocol to follow in such a very particular case. If told that I am wrong/mistaken, then I absolutely will change any and all such terms to what is the preferred terminology. But in principle, yes, you are exactly correct - although I think at this point there is more nuance than just "Roma", because - I believe - there are more specific terms used by Romani from a particular region, such as Sinti or Manouche. I think it would be best to seek guidance in this matter from a more authoritative source. I don't know if this would qualify: HOLOCAUST TEACHER RESOURCE CENTER, where I see Roma and Sinti used for identification (to contemporary readers?), whereas "Gypsy" is freely used without qualification in a more historic context.
posted by VikingSword at 11:03 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


> The word "gypsy" is offensive, I believe "Roma" is the preferred word these days, though if that has changed or Tumblr has misled me and there are others please correct me.

It's a little bit more complicated than that. Romani people aren't a single monolithic ethnic group any more than speakers of Germanic languages are, though they share a common origin. The Romani people who were first targeted for sterilization and later extermination by the Nazi government, because a lot of them lived in Germany, actually refer to themselves as Sinté rather than Roma.

"Roma" is used as an ethnic self-designation by Romani people in Eastern Europe. Its use as an all-encompassing term for all Romani people everywhere, as advocated by some Roma activist groups, is controversial among some of the people it's supposed to encompass, to put it mildly.

posted by nangar at 11:29 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


(And, yes, VikingSword, the Sinté are usually called Sinti in English.)
posted by nangar at 12:10 AM on August 13


en form de poire: The very next sentence of your first block quote is "We look forward to future work that may be able to disentangle these two explanations."

They don't know why the change happened. Whereas the first study showed in panel studies that increased television coverage led to decreases in prejudice. This was limited to television, so yes, radio nuts could have become more intolerant while television watchers retained their new leanings.

I didn't say that Obama's campaign ended prejudice as we know it. The mass media woefully under represents black folks, which is why people are able to conclude "well he's not like the rest". Like any change in habit, it must be reinforced continually.

But people insisted there was no instance where visibility and non-engagement succeeded in moving public opinion.

I have made it clear that I am discussing the way we can change attitudes on prejudice. You pass Lawrence v Texas in Iran, it doesn't actually create any safeguards. Political wins must have some level of public support to be enforceable. Protesting the government, court battles, elections, lobbying and other types of activism are all the mechanics by which we measure the change in public support and integrate those changes into the system.

Like the "free market", institutions determine how much support is necessary to implement certain actions.

You can't just point to history and say "see! Activism!" That's a huge ball of cause and correlation tied in a Gordian Knot. There is a degree to which activism 1)implements changing social opinion, 2)supports activists doing the hard work of implementing those changes and 3) actually creating that change in social opinion. I think the activism that you are discussing mostly did the first two things, which is no small shakes. Crafting policy is hard. But I think that change was mostly created by 1) generational displacement and 2) visibility that demonstrated how misplaced their fear was. (I do believe policy change can help legitimize a belief. But Americans have a lot of distrust in government propaganda, so a healthy amount of support is a prerequisite)

Nobody has actually put forth any other evidence on how to change public opinion. The three links provided by Aya all link to the benefits activism has on the activists well-being. Not a bad thing. But not what I'm talking about at all.
posted by politikitty at 12:54 AM on August 13


The very next sentence of your first block quote is "We look forward to future work that may be able to disentangle these two explanations."

Yes, the point I was trying to make in quoting that section was that both of these explanations appear to be plausible and that the authors don't appear to have any evidence for which one is correct.

But people insisted there was no instance where visibility and non-engagement succeeded in moving public opinion.

This is a much stronger statement than what I at least am arguing, and you also seem to be arguing a much stronger version of the opposite, i.e., that "visibility and non-engagement" are the only viable ways of moving public opinion. In particular, I am primarily interested in contesting your assertion above: "Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy." By both their own accounts and the accounts of people at the FDA, ACT UP was able to influence people working at the FDA to change their policies. I have to say I remain kind of at a loss as to why you appear to believe that instances like this don't constitute an example of changing key players' minds using confrontational, angry tactics, or that they have nothing to do with the situation here because this hypothetical Republican dad doesn't work at the FDA and/or ACT UP didn't go after the hearts and minds of Jane Everywoman instead of demanding change from the people who actually had the power to help or hurt them.

And while I agree with you that public opinion can lend legitimacy to a particular argument, I disagree that it is the only important marker of political legitimacy. I would even say that I would find it hard to imagine a society with adequate protections and opportunities for minorities where this were the case. For example, civil unions only exist in Vermont because judges made rulings that were hugely controversial and contentious at the time: this ruling enabled an environment in which people's prejudices could be challenged that would not have otherwise been possible. The legitimacy of civil unions came from interpretation of our state's constitution, not a referendum. I'm not sure Iran is such a useful point of comparison here (though I have to point out that what you're imagining has basically happened in reverse: the British empire, for instance, exported sodomy laws to its colonies, changing local standards of sexual morality in the process). If something like ENDA that didn't suck passed in the USA over the objections of some state representatives, of course there would still be discrimination against queer people; however, the individuals living in those states would now have legal recourse if fired for their sexual orientation, regardless of how their neighbors felt about queer people. To me whether or not there is "popular support" for ENDA+ in that state is immaterial to whether ENDA+ is a law that has claim to legitimacy, because its claim to legitimacy derives from other parts of the political system in which we operate.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:33 AM on August 13 [10 favorites]


I'd like to note that the discipline of political science, as distinct from political philosophy, takes the underlying liberal democratic system at its face value, and that's a sort of willful blindness that I believe is terribly unhelpful at confronting power.

I find this a very strange thing to say. Political theory is a subfield of political science, and it certainly doesn't take the 'underlying liberal democratic system at its face value'. Moreover, you can't just handwave away empirical evidence or even a whole discipline for some abstract and vague reason.

What does the research show? Does the research show that 'angry' speech by activist groups polarizes public opinion? I don't know, I'm not familiar with it. I would suspect slightly, but I also don't think it matters, because that is not the goal of activist groups--the goal is to change policy, not change the results of public opinion polling.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:31 AM on August 13


And for politikitty, again I'm not an Americanist and as an IR person I don't really care THAT much about public opinion research (although that's changing in my field) but from what I know about public opinion research is that almost no one makes generalizable claims and is very very careful about extrapolating the results of their research to broader issues. For example, you are simply not going to find a scholar arguing that an experiment where people were shown favorable images of Barack Obama and afterward had a lower amount of racial prejudice, indicates that activists groups should not use angry tactics or language.

There's a guy at Brown who does this type of research on healthcare and the 'spillover' of racialization. He's found that Obama merely expressing support for expanding healthcare causes people's people's support for healthcare to be conditioned on race.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:36 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


There are studies that show that same information when primed as a conversation about (subject matter, race in this case) is not as persuasive.

This research looks at a particular situation from which we can't extrapolate:

Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:42 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


But people insisted there was no instance where visibility and non-engagement succeeded in moving public opinion.

Providing examples of other ways that public opinion - and, more importantly, policy - are moved is not the same as saying the in literally no instances does just visibility succeed.

And one journal article that is equivocal about the effects (and their length) of one very particular person's visibility on public opinion is not exactly a slam-dunk that visibility and non-engagement by anyone are always and only the way to succeed.

You can't just point to history and say "see! Activism!" That's a huge ball of cause and correlation tied in a Gordian Knot. There is a degree to which activism 1)implements changing social opinion, 2)supports activists doing the hard work of implementing those changes and 3) actually creating that change in social opinion.

Your initial assertion was that it has never changed public policy. Not opinion. Obviously, it's not as simple as "ACT UP has die-in in front of FDA, gets invited to testing protocol roundtables" but it's also not as "Who can know??!" as you make it out to be, what with the FDA saying that yeah, it was the kids on the barricades that made them rethink.
posted by rtha at 5:49 AM on August 13 [9 favorites]


Nobody has actually put forth any other evidence on how to change public opinion.

I'll go out on a limb and say I care much much less about changing public opinion than I care about creating and maintaining a system of power that enshrines the rights of minority citizens even when public opinion is against them.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:03 AM on August 13 [11 favorites]


Nobody has actually put forth any other evidence on how to change public opinion. The three links provided by Aya all link to the benefits activism has on the activists well-being. Not a bad thing. But not what I'm talking about at all.

That's a very selective reading of those links. One of them even goes into detail about ACT UPs effects on a change in policy at the FDA. But overall it's strange to make assertions like "confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy", ignoring any evidence to the contrary, but present a very shaky correlation=causation study on Obama's "non-threatening" image being influential in reducing prejudice in America. I don't know why it's so difficult to accept that maybe there isn't a single magical formula for influencing policy, and that maybe there all kinds of dynamics that shape and change policy. But stating flat-out that direct action does not move policy, and that the "messaging" of confrontational activist groups "activate mental defenses that make it impossible to change minds" is just demonstrably wrong.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:11 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


but present a very shaky correlation=causation study

Can we not do this? We don't have to throw the baby out of with the bathwater. There is nothing in the study (I actually read it) that is 'very shaky', nor does the author casually state that correlation=causation. The causal mechanisms are adequately defined.

For example, "these data permit fixed effects analyses of within-person change--that is, an assessment of the impact of change in mediated exposure to Obama on change in racial prejudice at the individual level--a technique that provides the strongest possible causal evidence short of an experiment"

The article just doesn't show what politikitty says it shows. But please respect the research and the researchers.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:44 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


The article just doesn't show what politikitty says it shows. But please respect the research and the researchers.

No disrespect intended, to the researchers or anyone else, and I apologize if I came across as dismissive of the article as a whole. My point was just that there's some pretty selective validation of what constitutes evidence in this thread, and as you said, the article doesn't say what it was claimed to have said.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:07 AM on August 13


Sotonohito, you're far from the first person here to make that assumption, but I appreciate the gender correction.

Let me clarify, though, that I don't believe there is necessarily a "fundamental dishonesty" in abortion opponents simply because of the focus on correct morals/stance. And I don't think that focus on stance is about feeling morally superior.

I was raised Catholic, and have a lot of the attitudes, if not the tenets, rolling around in my head. And so I can suggest that "correct stance" is often more like "get right with God." Religiously, at least as I understand it, you are responsible for your own sin and the sin that you support or create. Thus, if you believe it is a sin to murder, and abortion is murder, then acting to legalize sin or to fund sin would itself be a sin. And if you believe in a literal Hell whose pain is worse than anything on Earth, then any suffering you create is mitigated by less people sinning and in Hell.

MIND YOU, I have a sneaky suspicion that some people are using the pro-life crowd's sincere convictions to attempt to ensure that birthrates are high in the heartlands to keep up with urban demographics. You couldn't test that without fucking ladies in the red states, but that's my conspiracy position.

But in terms of your question about dehumanization - in my eyes, it's whenever we reduce people to a faceless Them, or define them by a single characteristic as though it were the totality of who they are. But don't think conservatives get a free pass - they don't. But I'm not sure you're in the spaces where they're getting called out. They're certainly not on Metafilter.
posted by corb at 7:09 AM on August 13


Let me clarify, though, that I don't believe there is necessarily a "fundamental dishonesty" in abortion opponents simply because of the focus on correct morals/stance. And I don't think that focus on stance is about feeling morally superior.

I was raised Catholic, and have a lot of the attitudes, if not the tenets, rolling around in my head. And so I can suggest that "correct stance" is often more like "get right with God." Religiously, at least as I understand it, you are responsible for your own sin and the sin that you support or create. Thus, if you believe it is a sin to murder, and abortion is murder, then acting to legalize sin or to fund sin would itself be a sin. And if you believe in a literal Hell whose pain is worse than anything on Earth, then any suffering you create is mitigated by less people sinning and in Hell.


There is most definitely a "fundamental dishonesty" in many abortion opponents. Exhibit A, the (re-)election of Rep. Steve DesJarlais:
If you look at actions, rather than words, it just doesn't add up. Lots of people oppose abortion, but with very few exceptions, they very plainly don't react to it the same way they react to a genuine murder. Their emotional response gives the game away, even if they've convinced themselves otherwise intellectually.

DesJarlais is a good example. If he had encouraged the murder of two children—real murder, of kids who were a year or two old—he wouldn't merely be having a tough primary. Regardless of whether he had managed to avoid conviction for his acts, he wouldn't even be able to run for office, let alone be even odds to win. He'd be a pariah. That's how people react to actual killing. But it's not how they react to encouraging abortion. As long as DesJarlais is otherwise on the right side of the culture wars, it'll be shrugged off as unfortunate but not disqualifying.

So don't tell me that all the conservative Christians in DesJarlais' district believe that abortion is murder. They may say they believe it. They may even sincerely think they believe it. But they don't.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:16 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


But in terms of your question about dehumanization - in my eyes, it's whenever we reduce people to a faceless Them, or define them by a single characteristic as though it were the totality of who they are.

I guess we need to ask ourselves what effects this outlook has on the groups we're talking about. When pro-choice people reduce anti-choice people to right-wing caricatures, are their freedoms somehow curtailed? Are they being oppressed? Because when anti-choice people reduce pro-choice people to caricatures of welfare cheats, uncaring of human life, far too sexual or whatever else, there's an observable effect of curtailed freedom and oppression that has injured or killed. Which is why I find it really difficult at best to put these two forms of "dehumanization" in even the same ballpark.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:28 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: Which is why I find it really difficult at best to put these two forms of "dehumanization" in even the same ballpark.

It's also a case of selective enforcement, at least in how it's expressed here on MetaFilter. People on one side of the issue (in this case, the pro-choice side) are expected to take their adversaries claims at face value, and always assume good faith, while anti-choicers are given free rein to assume that women who choose to terminate are doing so carelessly. I've never seen the people in this thread pushing the "can't we all just get along" message criticize the rhetorical approach of someone they agreed with on the merits. It's always when they don't like the message that they find a way to criticize the tone.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:12 AM on August 13 [4 favorites]


Nobody has actually put forth any other evidence on how to change public opinion.

You are not operating from a place of facts.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:05 AM on August 13


rtha: I also clarified by later saying And yes. This is limited to our ability to impact voters. We see different success in bureaucracy and the courts, which are far less democratic. But we started with a letter about a son wanting to deal with his father, who's only influence on the current state of things is as a voter.

You are having a different conversation than me. And you are getting angry that someone on the internet believes something that they have actually stated they don't believe. I am talking about changing public policy through changed public opinion. And it isn't clear that the FDA changed their policy on AIDS due to a change in *prejudice*. Epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani discusses her discomfort that they were able to move policy considerably once they were able to show that even moral straight folks might get AIDS in her book The Wisdom of Whores.

Changing public policy can reflect the changed opinion. It can even precede the changed opinion because political elites can be swayed by different criteria than the masses. But the letter AndrewWK answered wasn't about political elites or implementing policy change. It was the hope that changing his father's opinion might in some small part move American towards the policy change that he would like to see. And frankly, I think that without moving that political opinion, the change in policy is not legitimate. Not that it isn't what I think government should look like. In my America, things would be a lot more liberal. But if policy strays too far from public opinion, you risk government instability. And that is why I am so focused on what it is that changes the mind of the prejudiced.
posted by politikitty at 11:13 AM on August 13


And you are getting angry that someone on the internet believes something that they have actually stated they don't believe.

I think people are angry because you said "Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy." Which is empirically wrong.

Now you seem to be saying that you're not actually making claims about policy qua policy, but only making changes in policy via changes in public opinion. Which is fine, but its a fundamentally different claim than the one you initially made so don't be surprised when you get pushback.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:43 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]


And you are getting angry

Would be great to not project emotions onto people responding in good faith, on top of the goalpost moving.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:11 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


Now? No.

Aug 12 11:49AM Confrontational angry groups serve to support oppressed minorities, but don't actually move policy...But they don't change the mind of the middle class housewife who represents the tipping point in changing public opinion and policy

Aug 12 12:50PM And yes. This is limited to our ability to impact voters. We see different success in bureaucracy and the courts, which are far less democratic. But we started with a letter about a son wanting to deal with his father, who's only influence on the current state of things is as a voter.

Aug 12 1:14PM When I said move policy, I was speaking in a more democratic fashion. Success in the courts and bureaucracy are not democratic and are not influenced by voters. That's not to say that the success isn't real. But in a conversation about a Republican father whose only impact on policy is the ballot box, it isn't relevant.

Aug 12 3:24PM It is not enough to simply require laws that treat people equally. (This is certainly possible. But I am a believer that Public Opinion is a marker of government legitimacy, and the farther between the two, the more unstable the underlying government.)

Aug 12 6:51PM I haven't forgotten power. But power without public opinion isn't legitimate. It cannot sustain itself. On the cusp of social change, power can legitimize that social change. But eventually it still comes down to the consent of the people.

I quickly and pointedly clarified my meaning when I realized I did not speak narrowly enough to be clear. I misrepresented my opinion but I took ownership of correcting that misrepresentation as soon as it was pointed out to me. The difficulty in correcting that misinformation only 61 minutes after it was out in the public sphere is a perfect example of why I believe confrontation of most political beliefs does not change public opinion (see also Kuklinski 2000). Instead I am getting accusations of failing to make that correction. And an accusation that I'm moving goal posts rather than clarifying my position in a way that is not as contentious as readers initially thought.
posted by politikitty at 1:17 PM on August 13


The discussion in this thread encouraged me to revisit the "Militant Resistance" chapter [pdf] in bell hooks' Killing Rage where she talks about the complexities of anger and its role in social change (and the repression thereof):
Confronting my rage, witnessing the way it moved me to grow and change, I understood intimately that it had the potential not only to destroy but also to construct. Then and now I understand rage to be a necessary aspect of resistance struggle. Rage can act as a catalyst inspiring courageous action.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:17 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


To be fair, politikitty, it doesn't seem that any of that was clear to anyone. It certainly wasn't to me. Now I understand what you are saying.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:22 PM on August 13


Uh, yeah, not angry, thanks. Annoyed, I guess, or I was when I was caffeinating this morning.

And I appreciate the clarifications, but it still reads as goalpost-shifting, since you started with a flat assertion that angry activists don't move policy, and now you seem to be saying that they don't move it correctly, or in a legitimate fashion, or in a sustainable way.
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


The difficulty in correcting that misinformation only 61 minutes after it was out in the public sphere is a perfect example of why I believe confrontation of most political beliefs does not change public opinion

I don't see how one is related to the other, at all. The "confrontation" here has been people civilly challenging your assertions, some of them even providing evidence that was summarily dismissed anyway. If there was difficulty in clarification I think it had less to do with "confrontation" on everyone else's part and more to do with simply being unclear. It happens, and that's fine.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:47 PM on August 13


It wasn't a flat assertion. It was an assertion made in the context of discussing the political opinions of voters.

I believe angry activists are an integral part of the political system, and one of many cogs that interact to create policy. In the same comment where I mention that they don't change policy I said that their work is a critical part of the process. How does this imply that they are not doing it right. But just because they are integral to implementing social change doesn't mean they create the legitimacy for social change. That comes from the public opinion.

We know that public opinion is moving on these issues, and public opinion and policy are trending in the same direction on gay rights. But it absolutely does not follow that angry activists caused that social change. Instead we find that having a gay family member or friend is a stronger predictor of tolerance than whether or not the FDA approved retrovirals.

The political is absolutely personal. But it doesn't follow that you can most successfully change personally held opinions through political action. What works in Washington doesn't work at the Thanksgiving table.
posted by politikitty at 1:52 PM on August 13


The "confrontation" here has been people civilly challenging your assertions, some of them even providing evidence that was summarily dismissed anyway.

Given the subject of the linked op-ed, it is ironic that even being polite is not enough.
posted by Mr. Six at 2:08 PM on August 13


I am pretty sure I understand the distinction you're making, politikitty, but I don't think you're applying it in a consistent way. Changing the mind of this one right-wing father is changing fewer minds than the demonstrations at the FDA did, so if that doesn't count as moving the needle on public opinion then it seems like neither should the first thing, no matter what the tactics are. If what you mean by "public opinion" is more like "majority support," then I guess we just fundamentally disagree that this should be the only way that legitimacy is conferred. For example, a slim majority of people supported quarantine for AIDS victims in a newspaper poll as recently as the late 80s: I would question that such an action would have been "legitimate" despite apparent majority support. If you mean something less strict than this, though, it doesn't seem to follow that changing the opinions of a targeted subgroup of people wouldn't then count as an example of changing public opinion.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:09 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I don't see how one is related to the other, at all. The "confrontation" here has been people civilly challenging your assertions, some of them even providing evidence that was summarily dismissed anyway. If there was difficulty in clarification I think it had less to do with "confrontation" on everyone else's part and more to do with simply being unclear. It happens, and that's fine.

When I say confrontation, I'm not implying anger. All the evidence I have dismissed has been related to an argument that people thought I was making. None related to how activists changed public opinion. Instead they supported each other and increased well-being in the activists lives. They swayed political elites to change harmful policy. But it's not clear political elites became less prejudiced, or if they simply felt prejudice was not sufficient to maintain the current policy.

Read the linked article to Kuklinski. It's a study about how to correct misinformation. Bottom line, it's really really hard. It was my fault for planting the misinformation of my beliefs. It's human nature that you gloss over my subsequent comments looking for a continuation of the argument based on that initial misinformation. It is human nature that it is extremely difficult to digest information that contradicts your original understanding.

It's not that you're doing anything wrong. It's frustrating. It's maddening how difficult it is to try and change that misconception you have even when it's *my fault*. But that's the whole thing about changing someone's mind. I'm not simply pointing it out because I need to be understood. I'm trying to show how easily it is for people to gloss over five different instances where I tried to correct my mistake. And this is just a stupid internet conversation with no real stakes. Imagine how stubborn I must be to reconsidering my closely held beliefs.

That's exactly what I say whenever I think about reasoning with my Tea Party dad.
posted by politikitty at 2:15 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


It's not that you're doing anything wrong. It's frustrating. It's maddening how difficult it is to try and change that misconception you have even when it's *my fault*. But that's the whole thing about changing someone's mind. I'm not simply pointing it out because I need to be understood. I'm trying to show how easily it is for people to gloss over five different instances where I tried to correct my mistake. And this is just a stupid internet conversation with no real stakes. Imagine how stubborn I must be to reconsidering my closely held beliefs.

Well, another thing to consider is that you can think you're being perfectly clear, in your own mind as you read your own words, without it being really that clear to others. I think this is something everyone's experienced on both sides at one point or another. I know I sure have. But regardless, it might be a bit of a stretch to extrapolate this thread to the myriad of forces that shape and change public opinion/policy/whichever - even if I get what you're driving at, I still think it's a little too easy to see this thread as policymaking-in-microcosm. Like you say, the political landscape is complex, with a lot more acting on people's perceptions and opinions than we have going on here. I guess we have to just agree to disagree in terms of what things, historically, can and do foment social progress for the better.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 2:39 PM on August 13


Given the subject of the linked op-ed, it is ironic that even being polite is not enough.

Why? I didn't say that it was politeness that decreases prejudice. I said that even having the political conversation reinforces political beliefs. This is a great way to spread political information, so it's not like we should stop. But it is absolutely counter-productive in changing a belief. The irony is that I'm trying to convince the internet of anything. But it's a theory of social change that I enjoy discussing. So as frustrating as it might be that I'll walk away without changing minds, it's enjoyable writing up the information.

Changing the mind of this one right-wing father is changing fewer minds than the demonstrations at the FDA did, so if that doesn't count as moving the needle on public opinion then it seems like neither should the first thing, no matter what the tactics are.

It isn't clear that the demonstrations at the FDA reduced prejudice. The political elite have different considerations. The Court is concerned with any precedent that might weaken the bill of rights, so they have a stronger incentive to ignore prejudice. Likewise, the FDA had to consider what policy needed to look like if the AIDS epidemic ever spread beyond the gay community.

If what you mean by "public opinion" is more like "majority support," then I guess we just fundamentally disagree that this should be the only way that legitimacy is conferred.

This is a tricky question. Mostly because my answer is Yes, BUT! And what follows is difficult to articulate. It is important that a majority of Americans do not strongly disagree with policy. A strong vocal minority can push policy. Actually changing the policy is hard. But if they succeed and the rest of America is kinda unhappy, but not enough to organize, than that weak malaise is tacit consent and adds to the legitimacy of that policy. This is usually the trajectory we see on civil rights. While the political system is changing, the population acclimates to the new social norms.

And I think this is why people focus on the political system and don't worry about whether or not the population will shift in the same direction.

But it clearly isn't always the case. With abortion, we are not seeing that social change. It has stayed steady, and both sides have refused to become complacent. There's no real legitimacy for either side. We pass a law, and we will always have to be vigilant that the next law could undermine that position. Unless we find a way to change public opinion, that will never change.

And that's part of what makes me care. Wouldn't it be great if I didn't have to donate to preserve abortion rights? If my donation to planned parenthood could just go to cheaper contraception? Or maybe divert it to other issues. We take for granted that nobody is going to put up a bill ban interracial marriage. And Loving v Virginia was only six years before Roe v Wade. If activism changed minds, we wouldn't be here.
posted by politikitty at 2:53 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


But it's not clear political elites became less prejudiced, or if they simply felt prejudice was not sufficient to maintain the current policy.

I don't think anyone argued that this was the case, or that it was the point of e.g. ACT UP protests. I don't think I know anyone who was in ACT UP who cared about making elites less prejudiced; they wanted them to change the way drug trials worked. Changing hearts and minds was not the purpose, though it might've been a nice bonus.
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


If activism changed minds, we wouldn't be here.

Oh my flippity heck but your dismissal is utterly infuriating.
posted by rtha at 2:59 PM on August 13 [11 favorites]


See? Now that's anger.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:05 PM on August 13


And by that I mean I agree it's infuriating when the entirety of activism is dismissed as having no lasting or "legitimate" impact on public opinion/social policy for the better. First, because sometimes public opinion is temporarily irrelevant when what matters, right now, is to Stop/Change The Thing, and second, because the gentle scolding to not be so angry and confrontational in the work I do is entirely unhelpful and ahistoric. Though I have to say this thread has been a very enlightening rollercoaster of meaning and evidence.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:32 PM on August 13 [4 favorites]


Direct counters ample to polikitty's claim: smoking bans. Activists drove and changed that policy. Ther was no push by public opinion to ban smoking from many buildings. Activists did that, and pupils opinion followed.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:01 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


And by that I mean I agree it's infuriating when the entirety of activism is dismissed as having no lasting or "legitimate" impact on public opinion/social policy for the better.

Oh bullshit. I've said multiple times that angry activism has a vital role to play in the political system.

Just because a hammer is exactly the wrong tool to fix a hard drive doesn't mean it is without use. It just isn't relevant in a conversation about what we need to fix the hard drive.

Legitimacy is not a value judgement. It is the state in which a government has settled a policy point. In a democracy, this means wide spread acceptance of any given policy. Given that people have non-attitudes on most positions, much of our legal system is legitimate. By definition, Activism challenges the legitimacy of the status quo. However the change should also gain legitimacy.

It's not a failing that Roe v Wade didn't convert all the pro-lifers. But it is a challenge. The legitimacy of both sides is continually in contention. The law cannot be legitimate until we laugh that a whack-job introduced a Partial Abortion Ban, rather than have to consider it a serious threat (because it is a serious threat). It can be the right decision, but that isn't what legitimacy means.

Sure it sounds very fighty. But the theory of legitimacy and public opinion all stem from Locke's idea that democracy stands in for constant civil war. Democracy strives to balance stability while allowing these wars to happen in a peaceful manner. But I'm genuinely just using that language because I was taught it was the correct word for the concept I'm discussing. Not because I'm trying to bring a fightiness into it.
posted by politikitty at 4:05 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


You know how Economics is split into two parts, Microeconomics, where they get a few people together in a room, set rigid rules, and see what happens, and Macroeconomics, where they track how trillions of dollars are exchanged. Microeconomists are found at Universities, Macroeconomists are found running the Federal Reserve, and people often wonder why the results of microec don't seem to apply to macroec? Politikitty, I think you're doing Micro Political Science, and other people are talking Macro.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:13 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


That's not what separates macro from micro Econ. That would be one market or more than one market.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:18 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Activists drove and changed that policy. Ther was no push by public opinion to ban smoking from many buildings.

This isn't really counter to my claims. Most people have non-attitudes on a lot of what government does. It is not really a matter of national importance which side of the road we drive on. It's only important that we all agree on it.

It is easy to shape public opinion when the the public is either uninformed or unopinionated. This is where a lot of early research went into debating the Political Elite Theory of Government. The question is how we change existing beliefs when they are strongly held.

Again, if you've got the time, the Kuklinski paper is really absolutely fascinating. I remember it just stopped me dead in my tracks when my teacher was telling us about the study. They found that highly informed people are just as likely to be dead wrong on statistics, but less willing to change their mind. The least informed are the easiest to influence, but given they avoid information, they're also the toughest to reach. It's a relatively new stream of research just because we previously conflated uninformed with misinformed, but additional studies are bearing similar findings.

And sure benito.strauss. I totally see the comparison. Except I feel that I've been pretty clear that I'm talking about the best way to change public opinion outside the political process. It would be one thing if people were not engaging my comments because they thought it was a stupid derail. But instead they are trying to apply my views on public opinion to public policy. If I thought people didn't want to discuss this with me, I would step back from the thread. And I've had some internal monologue about whether I'm thread shitting. But instead there are plenty of comments engaging mine, even if they are disagreements. And I enjoy the topic so I'm happy to clarify.
posted by politikitty at 4:31 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


It isn't clear that the demonstrations at the FDA reduced prejudice. The political elite have different considerations. The Court is concerned with any precedent that might weaken the bill of rights, so they have a stronger incentive to ignore prejudice. Likewise, the FDA had to consider what policy needed to look like if the AIDS epidemic ever spread beyond the gay community.

Sure - but likewise, my initial aim might be to get my parents to stop saying homophobic things around me. If this is something I feel strongly enough about I might say that if they say something like that where I can hear it, I'm going to hang up or leave. Or I might loudly and firmly contest that what they're saying has a basis in reality. In this case, if either of those things works, I won't know that they've stopped thinking homophobic things, but I have at least won the victory of setting and enforcing a boundary, and the victory of them understanding that saying these things in front of me will hurt our relationship and/or lead to them being embarrassed.

Being kind of a hard-ass about what you will and won't tolerate in a relationship can be painful for everybody, and it can certainly end some relationships altogether. But I would argue that in an oppositional relationship with an unequal power structure like this, that type of principled confrontation can be necessary before the process you're describing here of gradual, non-threatening exposure can actually take place. That's the main analogy that I see here with activism.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:12 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


From my first comment: Taking Andrew WK's advice would not leave you shackled to a relationship with the man. You can detach with love. You can acknowledge that he was a flawed man, and either by biology or choice, he was unable to be someone who could be a part of your life.

Tolerance and compassion isn't about No Boundaries. It's about taking the vote, acknowledging everything being equal, the majority would win in a civil war. Then vote again later down the line.


Engagement works to inform people. Informing people of your boundaries isn't wrong. However engagement doesn't do much to change their mind. And estrangement doesn't even engage them.

Estrangement could very well be the best scenario in many cases, especially personally. And politically, you don't need to convince everyone to achieve legitimacy. But if you can tolerate it (either through strict boundaries or a thick skin), maintaining that visible diversity in his life while engaging him on everything else is one of the best shots shifting his opinions to the win column.
posted by politikitty at 5:31 PM on August 13


Just a data point, but I never would've had the guts to come out and be visible if it weren't for all the screaming queens and determined dykes at protests and pride parades alike. I don't know if the drag queens, trans women, rent boys, and other assorted homosexuals at Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall actually changed anyone's mind, but they kicked the doors in for all the rest of us who followed to be out and visible. I don't know if there's a study showing that because of their actions, anyone's prejudice was lessened.
posted by rtha at 5:54 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]


As a data point that I acknowledged yesterday: They give a powerful outlet to vent their frustration. They build the courage to live in the open and the support when society turns their back on their humanity.
posted by politikitty at 6:29 PM on August 13


However engagement doesn't do much to change their mind.

I am not as confident of this as you are: in the short term, I can certainly believe that, but that's not where the impact of engagement necessarily stops (I would imagine this is rather where it stops being convenient to measure). More importantly, though, if activism acts as a catalyst to make this kind of passive, non-threatening engagement at all tenable, then I would argue that activism is ultimately just as responsible for any changed minds that result from that approach.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:50 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


> They give a powerful outlet to vent their frustration. They build the courage to live in the open and the support when society turns their back on their humanity. ...

... And then they organize, and change the policies, and get themselves into the positions where they can change people's minds and gain legitimacy.

I have no idea how often that's the story of social change, but it's definitely a pattern I'm familiar with.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:19 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


en forme de poire: That's true, but not helpful. The entire reason I got down into these weeds was not to argue if activism had a role in implementing social change. It was to explain that the same angry rhetoric that you use out on a protest to prod political elites into changing policy is not useful when dealing with Racist Uncle Rick during Thanksgiving.

And this isn't just abstract political philosophizing. While we have seen public opinion move on certain civil rights, we have not seen public opinion move on reproductive choice. And when it comes to race, legal rights get sidestepped by prejudice every day. Blacks get decreased attention when they are victims of crime, increased attention when they are the perpetrators, and harsher criminal penalties. Public opinion has enormous influence on the criminal justice system, so everyone who has said that they care more about policy than prejudice really aren't thinking it through.

We should still be working the political system as we've been working it. It is important and I applaud it's success. But we need new strategies on actually addressing prejudice. And parsing the distinction between what changes policy and what changes minds is part of how we figure out how to overcome this gap. It's not enough to know that the car works. We need to understand the mechanics so we can make it work better.
posted by politikitty at 8:34 PM on August 13


It was to explain that the same angry rhetoric that you use out on a protest to prod political elites into changing policy is not useful when dealing with Racist Uncle Rick during Thanksgiving.

I don't think anyone here actually argued that it is. Did I miss it?

Getting Racist Rick to shut his trap at the Thanksgiving table can be done a few different ways, and what you use depends on what you want. Wanting to change his behavior is different from wanting to change his mind.

While we have seen public opinion move on certain civil rights, we have not seen public opinion move on reproductive choice.

That's incorrect. Well, it's not that simple. Gallup historical polls

Depending on what questions you ask, opinions (pro- and anti-) haven't changed a huge amount, although it's interesting to note that the percent of people calling themselves pro-choice in 1995 was 55%, and is now 47%. But the percentage of people who think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances has barely shifted.

Policy sure as shit has changed, though.
posted by rtha at 10:47 PM on August 13


I don't think anyone here actually argued that it is. Did I miss it?

Nope. Though most of the thread seemed to be leaning towards "Excise Republicans from your social group, no good can from being around people who fail to acknowledge my humanity." That's why I piped up that I thought not excising them could have positive consequences. Nobody has disagreed with that central thesis. But most of the responses have also failed to acknowledge that all my other statements they find so disagreeable are in support of that thesis, and not a demonization of activism.

That's incorrect. [...] the percentage of people who think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances has barely shifted.

Now I feel that you have to be trolling. You agree with my argument but need to frame it as though you've told me what's up? Really? Gallup doesn't go far enough, but opinion barely shifted when abortion was illegal in most states. Policy sure as shit changed in 1973 without any corresponding change in public opinion.
posted by politikitty at 12:05 AM on August 14


What? No, not trolling. But your argument that policy ahead of opinion is unsustainable and so on just doesn't seem to have support here. The anti-choice movement has used an interesting combination of things to shift policy over the last forty years, including assassinations, noisy protests and blockades, and getting pols elected who will bring noxious bills that close clinics to pass. At what point should we expect to see cracks appearing - longer than 40 years?

Re: Racist Uncle Rick - boy I do not get your insistence on arguing against a thing that no one here was arguing for, with people even presenting stories from their own lives about trying their best to keep their "Racist Ricks" and the like in their lives without making too much drama.
posted by rtha at 5:54 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


I've never known rtha to troll, fwiw.

This isn't really counter to my claims. Most people have non-attitudes on a lot of what government does. It is not really a matter of national importance which side of the road we drive on. It's only important that we all agree on it.

So you're claim is further qualified: activists can change attitudes on subjects that aren't sufficiently polarized?

It was to explain that the same angry rhetoric that you use out on a protest to prod political elites into changing policy is not useful when dealing with Racist Uncle Rick during Thanksgiving.

Well I think its useful insofar as it gets him to shut the fuck up. Anyway, its almost irrelevant, because most recent public opinion research shows elite cues are extremely powerful for changing public opinion on a variety of matters.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:28 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


This is not directed at any particular person in particular, but:

There is never only one surefire way to persuade the public, let alone to effect concrete change. Every situation is different. Every individual act of communication is different. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Styles which, by themselves, would have theoretically produced one effect, can produce another effect entirely when combined with different styles. "Polite" approaches can be inextricably linked to "militant" approaches, with the connection running in both directions: oftentimes, neither approach can legitimately claim to have been "the" deciding factor in whatever societal change we would like to attach to it.

Person-to-person communication is yet another beast entirely. Those things which, on a macro level, in the long run, would produce changes in the polls, are not necessarily the same things which "work" in a face-to-face discussion, or an online conversation.

The Politics of Moralizing contains some good papers related to this general topic.

Sometimes, it's frustrating for me to read arguments about whether or not approach XYZ works, even when it's a perfectly intelligent discussion. For me, it can feel like people arguing over whether broccoli or chocolate is better. You could never live on only one alone. In certain contexts, one may need one and not the other. Some people might personally not stand one or the other, but that's not necessarily meaningful in the bigger picture. And there will always be ways to screw up entirely: to make soggy broccoli, or cardboard chocolate.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:14 AM on August 14 [4 favorites]


I've never seen the people in this thread pushing the "can't we all just get along" message criticize the rhetorical approach of someone they agreed with on the merits. It's always when they don't like the message that they find a way to criticize the tone.

Speaking for myself, I am much, much more irritated by stupid, deceptive, or illogical arguments for positions I agree with. They make "my side" not just look bad, but actively dumber.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:05 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah, and that can lead you to a situation where all your finest critiques are of stances you agree the most with. "No, I'm only pointing out your mistakes because I agree with you and care about what you say." Doesn't always work well with friends. Never works well with girlfriends.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:26 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Is it really so hard to believe this shit is complicated? Or at the least that I believe this shit is complicated?

This is a lot like economics. Supply and Demand actually explains 90% of economics. But that remaining 10% requires a lot of study. And that 10% is what interests most people because it is what we want to improve upon.

I apologize this became a book. But trying to discuss the issue narrowly has obviously caused a misconception that my belief in a narrow instance should somehow be universally applied.

There is widespread support for the idea of America. This can't be taken for granted, ie Israel and Iraq. We are complacent with most of the actions our government takes, even when we might disagree if asked our opinion. This is why a vocal minority can shift policy. The FDA changes regulations, and the people who are opposed don't care enough to bring new legislation. Or don't have the political clout because they aren't as strong and as vocal a group.

The Political Elite Theory of government is old. I hold on to my college notes because I wrote down the following example: In 1956 when Nuclear Testing became a political hot button. Shortly before it was well known, supporters for Nuclear Testing were non-partisan. 40% for Ike, 40% Adalai, 20% undecided. Adlai Stevenson says that he's against Nuclear Testing. The same polling question showed that supporters of Nuclear Testing were 75% for Ike, and 25% for Adlai.

I can't find the original source, but I hope eventually google will prevail.

When it comes to opinions born out of low information, political elites absolutely shape opinions. We haven't been able to dig into the issue, but we trust [X] has. This works because a high number of American voters are found to be uninformed. So it's a great theory that explains most attitudes, and I agree that there are tons of studies that are a hundred percent valid. But there are exceptions!

Low information is not the same as low quality information. It's that I haven't been able to find data I trust on [X]. A Freeper who totally believes facebook post about 9/11 being an inside job is a high information voter. A person can be both a low information voter on most issues, but a high information voter on others.

Research has shown that high information voters are immune to the influence of political elites. Instead we see evidence of rationalization. Unless it is highly advertised, they will assume that politicians of their party agree with them, and vice versa, regardless of the facts.

High information voters who respond with a high confidence are also just as likely to be wrong as low information voters who know they're guessing. Obviously it's hard to research who is right and wrong on abortion. But the Kuklinski paper showed that people who are against welfare stridently believe we spend insane amounts on welfare. They are highly confident of their information, and they showed to be highly resistant to change. If Grover Norquist could come by and tell them we've cut spending enough,they'd be disappointed Grover sold out.

It's these enduring attitudes that surround misinformation and prejudice. With further research we might be able to tease out the differences that affect the two. But misinformation and prejudice have more in common than misinformation and ignorance which were previously lumped together is studies. So I feel more comfortable relying on what alleviates misinformation over what what alleviates ignorance.

These issues are the exception. It would be a footnote in a complete explanation of public opinion. But by definition, they are also the issues we care most about. They are the enduring problems we struggle with.
posted by politikitty at 1:17 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


I am much, much more irritated by stupid, deceptive, or illogical arguments for positions I agree with. They make "my side" not just look bad, but actively dumber.

I fail to see how a foolish argument for a position I think is fundamentally sound is more irritating than a clever argument for a position I think is wrong.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:26 PM on August 14


rtha: You're starting from an incorrect assumption. There is no obvious legitimacy for Roe v Wade.

There has always been a strong vocal group for the legalization of abortion. There has always been a strong vocal group for the criminalization of abortion. The rest are weakly held opinions that can be swayed by framing effects and can't be arsed what our policy actually is.

To be clear, I am eternally grateful I was able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and not live with the consequences of being young and stupid. I am an ardent supporter of reproduction rights.

But neither policy choice has legitimacy. The continuing battle is exactly what we should expect because public opinion hasn't shifted.
posted by politikitty at 1:28 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I fail to see how a foolish argument for a position I think is fundamentally sound is more irritating than a clever argument for a position I think is wrong.

Because the first makes your cause look like idiots, whereas the second, you can at least admire on a technical and professional level. The "honorable opposition" and all that.
posted by corb at 1:33 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Because the first makes your cause look like idiots

To whom? To people who, presumably, think "your cause" is idiotic in the first place?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:41 PM on August 14


And if "the opposition" is so honorable for cleverly advancing positions that you may believe are anywhere from wrong to actively harmful why don't your poorly spoken allies get the same benefit of the doubt?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:50 PM on August 14


I mean, "I'm more irritated by people who agree with me badly than by those who disagree with me cleverly" is exactly the path to circular firing squads that so many movements take.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:54 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I suppose because I feel more in common with intelligent people who happen to disagree with me than I do with idiots who happen to agree with me. I'd certainly rather be friends, spend time, or discuss matters with them.
posted by corb at 1:55 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Well, wishing to spend time with someone is different thing from merely being annoyed by an argument. I may not wish to spend time with people I fundamentally agree with for a variety of reasons.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:59 PM on August 14


And if "the opposition" is so honorable for cleverly advancing positions that you may believe are anywhere from wrong to actively harmful why don't your poorly spoken allies get the same benefit of the doubt?

This isn't the point. I will make dark jokes with my family and friends. I have a running gag with a lesbian friend where I will feign horror at her immoral lifestyle and having the temerity to do it in front of good God Fearing people. She thinks it's hilarious and often apologizes that her heathen ways offend me, and she's grateful I look past her sins.

It's a great way we shrug off the weight of how shitty the world is right now. Tomorrow we'll get to work making it better. You can pry those insensitive jokes out of my cold dead hands.

But it's absolutely not an appropriate joke in public, and I try to be very mindful of my audience. Part of this reason is because it has the potential to hurt allies who don't realize I'm joking. But it's also because this reinforces a culture of prejudice and reinforces stereotypes among Dicks. Dicks you think we shouldn't care about because they're already homophobic.

Poorly reasoned arguments just reinforce the stereotype that we're idealist college kids that haven't thought through the issue clearly. I don't want to kick them out of the tent at all. But I do wish they'd keep it in the tent.
posted by politikitty at 2:25 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Intellectually, however, you're saying that you judge arguments on their rhetorical merits primarily and on whatever other qualities they may have after that. You find a repugnant sentiment cleverly argued for superior to a ineptly argued benign one.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:34 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


I mean, yes. Isn't that the point of argument? If you were judging arguments just based on whether you already agreed with them, why even bother showing up?
posted by corb at 2:36 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Yes, that is an attitude ideally suited to debate teams, tumblrs, and internet fora.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:40 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


you're saying that you judge arguments on their rhetorical merits primarily and on whatever other qualities they may have after that.

I can't speak for corb, but that is not why I enjoy a reasonable conservative twitter to a blathering cheerleader. The cheerleader is noise. Even personally, I don't feel the need to talk about how terrible homophobia is and it should be stopped. I know it's there. I don't want to be talking about it unless I can be useful. And that might be venting, or listen to a friend vent. But that general rah rah platitudes that sound like they came from some stoned teenager just feels the opposite of useful. I will usually just be polite and deal with it. But it's grating. And if the conversation ever turns towards the efficacy of different types of political speech, I have opinions...
posted by politikitty at 3:29 PM on August 14


It was to explain that the same angry rhetoric that you use out on a protest to prod political elites into changing policy is not useful when dealing with Racist Uncle Rick during Thanksgiving.

But again, I feel like statements like this are an over-reach, and overstate what you say elsewhere that your main points are. I absolutely agree, for example, that positive media depictions of actual minorities doing positive things is helpful for reducing prejudice. But first of all, "dealing with" Racist Uncle Rick is different from "changing his mind" -- i.e., doesn't this depend on the outcome you want? If you want to just not hear prejudiced stuff at the dinner table, you can "protest" Thanksgiving by, e.g., physically leaving and going to go get takeout if he doesn't shut up about people of color (or how gay people shouldn't be teachers or whatever). Second, depending on the exact situation, using a more direct, confrontational approach can also be helpful, since it's possible that rather than deliberately trying to provoke, Racist Uncle Rick hasn't actually thought through the real-world implications of what he's saying for people that he at least nominally cares about. And of course, if either of these strategies (or both) leads to a Thanksgiving where you feel like you can at least stand to be there, then that can catalyze this sort of non-threatening exposure you're talking about -- but it doesn't seem to follow from anything that you've said that being a non-threatening presence is therefore the only tactic that is ultimately responsible for changing someone's mind.

I think this is an overreach also: Public opinion has enormous influence on the criminal justice system, so everyone who has said that they care more about policy than prejudice really aren't thinking it through.

I mean, I feel pretty confident that while racism in law enforcement and the criminal justice system is a real-world outcome of prejudice that has dramatically awful effects, for instance, this doesn't negate the importance of overturning Jim Crow laws. Discrimination against gay people is certainly bad, but a generation of gay people dying slowly and painfully of untreatable AIDS was much worse. I definitely care about both prejudice and policy, but I would strongly argue that often, changing policy really is a matter of greater urgency, and you can't afford to wait around until enough racist or homophobic people come to their senses in order to start mitigating these harms. I suspect that we don't even disagree about any of this, which is why I don't understand why you're saying that people who care more about policy must do so because they fail to understand the harm that prejudice does.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:32 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry, but you're making assumptions about my argument that simply don't exist.

I'm not trying to change the way we deal with policy change. As I've stated, I believe that liberals should play political hardball and play however dirty they can. They should win policy on technicalities. Gay Marriage because it violates our 14th amendment and not because it's the right thing to do. We did good in ending the Jim Crow laws. I would not change that for the world.

However there is a gap that needs to be filled. We are at a point where the rule of law is at odds with the reality of black citizens due to the way that prejudice can sidestep policy. You brought up abortion in Mississippi, which has happened precisely because we haven't been able to tame the opinions of the pro-life movement.

We need more. We need to go beyond changing policy, ignoring whether or not the citizenry follows. We need to move them. And while it might be nice to get Uncle Rick to shut up about your unholy union, and it might be easier to decide to walk away and not deal with a douchebag for an evening, there is value in smiling, and introducing him to your America and letting him see how those dudes making out in the corner aren't really ruining our evening.
posted by politikitty at 6:22 PM on August 14


I suppose because I feel more in common with intelligent people who happen to disagree with me than I do with idiots who happen to agree with me. I'd certainly rather be friends, spend time, or discuss matters with them.

Yeah, and considering that the topic of TFA is basically one of hanging out with people you disagree with– it seems like leaping much too far to assume that anyone who is a conservative is a Racist Uncle Rick– this seems the relevant sentiment.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:45 PM on August 14


politikitty, indeed, I don't necessarily disagree with anything you're saying in the first part of this (though I didn't bring up Mississippi, that was wuwei), but that is pretty scaled-back compared to saying that "everyone who has said that they care more about policy than prejudice really aren't thinking it through."

I still do think it's more than "nice" to get Uncle Rick to shut up about your unholy union: for example, as I've said a few times, you don't seem to admit the possibility here that negotiating this kind of a concession can be a necessary precondition to having a functioning relationship with someone at all.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:01 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


That comment was mostly in response to these beauties:

Nobody has actually put forth any other evidence on how to change public opinion.

I'll go out on a limb and say I care much much less about changing public opinion than I care about creating and maintaining a system of power that enshrines the rights of minority citizens even when public opinion is against them.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:03 AM on August 13 [11 favorites +] [!]


and

[...]I don't think I know anyone who was in ACT UP who cared about making elites less prejudiced; they wanted them to change the way drug trials worked. Changing hearts and minds was not the purpose, though it might've been a nice bonus.
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on August 13 [2 favorites +] [!]


I don't think they literally mean that they don't care about prejudice. It seems clear by their passion for changing policy, they probably do care about minorities (particularly when it's themselves)*. But I do think when they crafted that response, they didn't walk through the ramifications of that initial opinion as stated.

*though wouldn't it have been the slightest bit charitable to think that I've been talking about reducing prejudice because I also want to better the lives of minorities? So I probably actually do like all the policy that has changed? But Metafilter: Please don't make the same assumptions about me that I've made about you.
posted by politikitty at 8:13 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Neither of those comments says that they don't care about prejudice.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 PM on August 14


Sure, but both of those comments say they aren't concerned with changing prejudiced public opinion.
posted by politikitty at 9:12 PM on August 14


But I do think when they crafted that response, they didn't walk through the ramifications of that initial opinion as stated.

Are you kidding me?

Give me - and more importantly, the ACT UP folks who were actually doing all this work - some fucking credit. In some very specific set of actions that I mentioned here, yes, people absolutely prioritized changing policy over opinion, because if they'd waited another thirty years for opinion to shift, everyone would have died. Public opinion at the time thought that maybe burning down the houses of children with AIDS was not so bad; Ed Koch's inaction left men literally dying on gurneys in the hallways of public hospitals.

It's also enormously and ignorant to act like no one else was doing the more low-key outreach at the same time that dying men were dumping the ashes of their dead lovers over the White House fence. People came out to their parents. People put up with and had conversations with Aunt Homophobic Harriet at the Christmas dinner table.

It seems clear by their passion for changing policy, they probably do care about minorities (particularly when it's themselves)*.

What the fuck is that. We stood up for ourselves because no one else was doing it and we didn't have the luxury of patiently hoping if we were kind enough that public opinion would shift and we wouldn't all be dead by then. Christ.
posted by rtha at 9:35 PM on August 14 [16 favorites]


You want credit? I have bent over backwards trying to explain that I do actually respect all the work that you seem to think I take so glibly. You have taken the tone argument with me up and down, and I have patiently accepted it because I wanted to be clear that I did not mean the offense you originally took. I have patiently walked through every statement and acknowledged when issues are slightly more complex than my initial statement may have communicated.

You have questioned my claim to being a liberal this entire time. The whole point is that I haven't felt the need to do that to anyone else in the thread. You minimize the importance of changing prejudiced minds quite pointedly. Nobody cared about making political elites less prejudiced. Not that it wasn't their highest priority. Not that they would get to it later. Nobody cared.

And you correctly understand that reasonable people will assume that you must mean it in a narrow context, because surely rtha is not a fan of prejudice.

It would be great if you could extend the same courtesy and make the very short leap that someone who cares about reducing prejudiced Uncle Rick probably isn't pissed off about civil rights policy changes. Instead each comment has been accusation and disbelief that I'm not quite really in the liberal tent. It's bullying behavior, and I saw quite enough of it growing up in a very Republican household.
posted by politikitty at 12:19 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


It seems clear by their passion for changing policy, they probably do care about minorities (particularly when it's themselves)

I am MeFi'ing Under the Influence because a good friend of mine is leaving town tomorrow, so I'll just say for now that I think you may be making some inaccurate assumptions about Greg Nog?

I really wanted to make a grapefruit joke here but couldn't figure it out in time b/c beers
posted by en forme de poire at 1:19 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


But I do think when they crafted that response, they didn't walk through the ramifications of that initial opinion as stated.

And what are those ramifications? because they aren't clear to me.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:22 AM on August 15


I've said nothing about your political persuasion. You have my comments confused with someone else's. I don't give a shit about tents and who's in them (and I'm not a liberal anyway). I care that you've put Being Nice and Changing Hearts on some kind of pedestal, to the point where you felt the need to argue against a thing that no one here was arguing for.

I care that you accused the ACT UP activists of narcissism ("particularly when its themselves" is a pretty fucking galling thing to say) because they prioritized changing policy over changing hearts when people were literally keeling over dead. And your assumption that people didn't consider the ramifications of direct action is just...It seems to imply that (even though you acknowledge that direct action opens doors for other kinds of communication to take place) direct action is harmful and that people who take part in it aren't considering what's *really* important, which is the kind of communication you prioritize.
posted by rtha at 7:04 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


they probably do care about minorities (particularly when it's themselves)

i don't know what the charitable reading of that is.
posted by twist my arm at 7:48 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]


Because there isn't one.
posted by wuwei at 8:04 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Geese are assholes, it's true.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:25 AM on August 15


I think you may be making some inaccurate assumptions about Greg Nog?

no I used to be straight and cisgender but then an LGBT activist bit me and I turned into a minority too, it basically works the same as werewolves
posted by Greg Nog at 3:44 PM on August 15 [5 favorites]


There's a great werewolf bar at 10th and Folsom
posted by en forme de poire at 4:37 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


This popped into my inbox today from Senator Bernie Sanders who has a different take than Andrew W.K. on disagreement, the appearance thereof and what's really hurting the world:
Despite the media’s insistence that the country is irreparably divided, let me give you a few examples of where the American people are largely united, not divided.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:11 PM on August 15


en forme de poire: "There's a great werewolf bar at 10th and Folsom"

There IS? Why do I not know about this?
posted by gingerbeer at 5:17 PM on August 15


Next meetup at the werewolf bar!
posted by rtha at 5:19 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]


Werewolves? Eons ago , that was a vampire neighborhood, and my favorite vampire spot was a couple of blocks away at Folsom and 6th.
posted by wuwei at 8:26 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah I heard wonderful things about The Bronze but it was sort of before my time unfortunately. Gentrification, man.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:47 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Werequeers must become queer during the full moon but many of them choose to transform more often than that and some are actually queer full-time. Many form packs, either with regular queers or fellow werequeers; originally it was thought that this was a hunting strategy but recent evidence suggests it's mostly just a way to form social groups without cishets, who are terrible
posted by NoraReed at 10:43 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


....Asian raver vampires. Ah, memories, thank you Spundae.
posted by wuwei at 11:07 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


There's a great werewolf bar at 10th and Folsom

I hate California Nazis.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:38 PM on August 15


I thought we hated the NYC cabal?
posted by en forme de poire at 1:08 AM on August 16


ROU_Xenophobe: "There's a great werewolf bar at 10th and Folsom

I hate California Nazis.
"

Excuse me?
posted by gingerbeer at 5:23 PM on August 17


Extensive googling leads me to believe it may be a reference to this meets this?
posted by en forme de poire at 7:54 PM on August 17


There's a great werewolf bar at 10th and Folsom

Giving the address ruins the opportunity to ask, "Where wolf bar?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:08 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


True. Because I know exactly where the bear bars are near here. I don't need to ask where bear bar are.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:08 PM on August 18


I have to admit I've been sitting here for *days* waiting for someone to clarify whether this is a joke and, if so, what kind, because frankly I would totally hang out at a werewolf bar even if the commute was awful.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:44 PM on August 18


Yeah, I was riffing on both Greg's comment and SoMa having a high concentration of other gay woodland creatures. Sorry to be opaque and to ultimately disappoint!
posted by en forme de poire at 5:13 PM on August 18


I don't think werewolves qualify as "woodland", since if they stayed in the woods they'd be less of a problem. They're sorta urban/forest. Like raccoons. And some bears.

It would be fun if being bitten by the slang version of a bear turned you into a werebear. They'd have to schedule pride events around the full moon.
posted by NoraReed at 5:36 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I don't think werewolves qualify as "woodland", since if they stayed in the woods they'd be less of a problem.

Fuckin' Glass Walkers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:21 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


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