Friday, June 16, 2017

Toxicity In The 21st Century


Something that has become painfully clear over the past couple of days since James Hodgkinson went on his shooting rampage is that the whole idea of civil political discourse has been taking hits for quite some time. Hodkinson's rampage began at 7:09 AM. He was publicly identified a couple of hours later. Within minutes of this identification, the internet was flooded with people posting about how he was a Bernie supporter and this was evidence that the left is really the violent side of things and on and on and on.

I don't give a hot damn who this guy supported. He could have been sporting a "Voldemort for President 2016" tattoo on his forehead and would not have changed a single thing. The fact remains that James Hodgkinson was disturbed, and angry, and armed -- something that is becoming ever more prevalent in American society. And the thing is, taking away any one of these three conditions would have caused the entire tragedy to never happen.

His mental disturbance is difficult. It may not have manifested in such a way as to cause anyone to think there was anything wrong, and even if it had it's not something that responds to any kind of quick fix. Mental illness is tricky to diagnose, and difficult to treat, and results are by no means guaranteed so, while he would have benefited from help, there is a very real possibility that it would not have made a difference.

There are those who would argue that he should not have been armed in the first place, and I'm one of them. There is absolutely no legitimate reason in my mind that he should have had access to such a weapon. However, the reality is that we live in a culture that fetishizes guns and violence, and thanks to powerful lobbying groups like the NRA that is not likely to change any time soon (interesting side note: the NRA usually issues some kind of statement after events like this, but because it was one of their own -- Steve Scalise -- who is the highest profile victim, they have been strangely silent. Just sayin'). So the idea that we could have legislated the gun away somehow, while it is still a possibility for the future, would have done nothing to stop this.

That leaves anger. Political anger in this case. James Hodgkinson had been gorging himself from the same all-you-can-eat buffet of manufactured outrage from the Shriek Factories on both the left and the right as the rest of us. Unfortunately in this case, it was enough to send him over the edge. He had been fed a steady diet of "Republicans are all evil liars" for long enough that he had hit a saturation point and decided that the only course of action was to take matters into his own hands.

I'm sick of this shit.

Do I oppose trump? Absolutely. I don't think he's qualified. I believe he is corrupt. I think he is destroying our standing on the world stage. I think his ideas -- from climate change, to economic policy, to immigration, to health care -- are all horrible and cruel. I think he should be removed from office immediately, if not sooner, and that he should take that entire pack of bottom-feeders with which he has surrounded himself with him to whatever fetid, rotting hole in the ground he came from. I also think that Mitch McConnell is a traitor in that he always -- always -- puts party before country. Every. Damned. Time.

However, and here's the important point, I do not, for an instant, believe the same of all their followers. I'm sure there are some of them who are just as revolting, if not worse, than trump is. I am also equally as sure that there are many, if not most, who are kind, thoughtful people who voted for him for what they felt were sound reasons based on his rhetoric on the campaign trail. The fact that they voted for someone who was lying to them all along is not their fault, nor does it make them stupid or gullible in any way. All it means is that trump is really good at lying.

Now, it would be very easy for me to go off on an anti-trump tirade right now, pointing out all of his flaws, and maligning everyone who voted for him. That is not the point of this article, and would actually be a demonstration of the opposite of the point I am trying to make here.

There are plenty of media outlets -- from the Washington Post, to the Wall Street Journal, to NPR, to the BBC, AP, Reuters -- that provide thoughtful, balanced coverage of the current political climate. However, they are getting sucked into the same vortex of stupid that the rest of us are: focusing our energies and attention on the Distractor in Chief instead of paying attention to what matters. And in the process, they are feeding the more extreme outlets -- Breitbart, the Daily Caller, and InfoWars on the right; Occupy Democrats, Huffington Post, and the Palmer Report on the left -- and perpetuating this environment of toxic shriekery. As a result, people are conditioned to see the entire political debate as being a war between extremes, with the thoughtful middle being completely drowned out.

I am a liberal. I make no apologies about that. I disagree with the Republican Party platform on so many points that it's hard to keep up sometimes. However, what I have always striven to do (with varying degrees of success, and sometimes I have failed spectacularly) is to always be absolutely clear that my disagreement is with the politics, not the person.

The trick is to take this approach -- "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend your right to say it" -- and help others to adopt it. It is only through reasoned debate and compromise that anything is going to get done in this country; our current polarized environment will only continue to produce toxic results.
So, with that in mind, I am asking everyone who reads this to take the following pledge with me.

I will only involve myself in respectful debate. I will always remember the basic humanity of those with whom I disagree. I will not stoop to personal attacks. If attacked, I will not feed into it by responding. I will be open to points from all sides, because someone may present an idea I did not consider. I will not generalize about entire populations by using things like "all liberals" or "all Republicans" unless I can provide objective, verifiable data to back it up.

Above all, I will strive to treat anyone with whom I am debating with courtesy and respect, regardless of how much I may disagree with them.

Please share this with as many people as possible, and let's help start a new movement to change the tone of discourse in America.

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