Thursday, January 30, 2014

Othering

Quote of the Day:
"MSNBC, on whose shows I have happily participated, engages daily in the othering business, of making conservatism itself (and sometimes libertarianism, and other non-Progressive ideological strains) a disreputable condition, explicable in terms of pathology. That this is done in the name of tolerance and sensitivity to punitive stereotypes is one of the ironies of our age."
There are characteristics of both proponents of conservatism and proponents of Progressivism (what is erroneously called "liberalism" in America today) that I find distasteful and unsettling, all of which revolve around an attitude of absolutism and a claimed (though rarely demonstrated) sense of moral righteousness. While there is plenty of overlap, certain characteristics are far more prevalent on one side.

On the right, the religious aspect that permeates political conservatism in this country lends itself to a disquieting, creepy certainty on some topics that doesn't admit of the slightest doubt, flexibility, or openness to new evidence, discussion, or compromise. Typically, this manifests itself in the arena of social issues like abortion or gay marriage. As the phrase goes, "God said it, I believe it, that's the end of it." Of course, not all conservatives are rigid on these subjects to that extent, but a great many are. I am always wary of, and put off by, any assertions that are declared off-limits for discussion from the get-go. "I think X, and nothing can ever change my mind" is the deathbed of human thought.

On the left, one of the most disturbing characteristics is definitely the "othering" described in the quote above. There is no respectful or honest disagreement with a Progressive. If your view conflicts with the down-the-line Progressive view, you don't just disagree. You are not merely entertaining a different perspective or voicing a different opinion, no matter how well considered or what evidence is offered.

Your opinion is not merely wrong, on the Progressive view, there has to be something wrong with you as a person. Your disagreement is only, as in the quote above, "explicable in terms of pathology." No decent person would disagree with us, therefore you are not decent. You couldn't possibly be disagreeing on any meritorious grounds, because there aren't any, so therefore, you must be disagreeing because there is something wrong with you. You must be bad, or evil, or damaged in some way. You can't just think something different, you must be something awful.

If you disagree with X, you *must* be a Y.
If you think Obamacare will damage health care, you are a racist.
If you think Hillary bears some responsibility for Benghazi, you are a misogynist.
If you question the wisdom of going eyeball deep in debt for education programs with a dubious track record of effectiveness, you obviously hate children.
If you think that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs and hurt the economy, you clearly hate the poor.

Unlike on the right, this phenomenon is not largely restricted to one area. It permeates everything. You name it, from abortion to the environment to the economy to the size and role of government--disagreement is tantamount to admitting to mental illness or moral desolation. A cigar is not just a cigar, it is an icon of your deep-seated, patriarchal, arrogant white privilege.

Just like on the right, not everyone on the left is this extreme, but a lot are. It is also worth reiterating the distinction I alluded to earlier regarding the difference between liberals and Progressives. While all Progressives are liberal, not all liberals are Progressives. It's an important distinction in this context because, in my observation, the split between those who purvey the group think mentality described above and those who do not is largely one along liberal versus Progressive lines. Progressives are to liberals what the sun is to a campfire, and the mentality is a Progressive one much more so than a liberal one.

And again, there is certainly overlap of these traits on both sides. There is ample deafness to argument and demonization of opponents at both ends. Conservatives demonize Progressives as socialists, leftists, America haters, radicals, etc. Progressives dogmatically embrace convenient narratives that fit their worldview, independent of evidence. But generally speaking, in my experience, certain traits shake out along ideological lines the majority of the time. Though I am not solidly in either camp, I am also guilty. I try to be aware of it and correct for it if I catch it, but I often fall short. Hell, I guess you could say that I am generalizing even now, perhaps unfairly. How's that for irony?

Maybe it's an inevitable side effect of passionate advocacy. Maybe it's because reasoning deeply and contemplating opposing perspectives thoroughly is hard, while dismissal and generalization are just so damn easy and tempting. Perhaps it is just the nature--or a nature--of public discourse in general. I really couldn't say. The one thing it doesn't seem to be, whatever the case, is helpful.

1 comment:

  1. Right on bro! Good thing I agree with you. Otherwise there'd be something wrong with you and I'd be forced to have you committed to a psychiatric facility. ;-) #WhitePrivilege

    ReplyDelete