I’M DONE TALKING, MYSELF
I’m sorry. I’ve tried. For years I’ve participated in discussions with my Conservative friends and family and have sincerely listened to their side of the story. I thought they were wrong, but I believed that they had something to say. I assumed that they were coming from a good place. Small government. Traditional values. Stability that comes from a respect for law and order. Christian ethics. These aren’t bad things. I even agree with some variations of each.
Then Obama was elected and I noticed a change in the discourse. There was a higher level of vitriol followed by steadfast denials and self-righteous resentment should there be a suggestion that maybe this animus was motivated and tinged with a little racism. Conservative rhetoric seemed to abandon the patina of fiscal responsibility and small government in a turn toward more nationalistic, autocratic and even fascist themes.
Then Trump. And I just can’t. The Rubicon has been crossed. Now, the same people I had long, even fruitful, conversations with ten years ago have fallen into a dark, xenophobic rabbit hole and there just doesn’t seem to be any way to reach them. It’s a shame.
I mean, at this point, we are talking about people defending the indefensible. Nazis. Concentration camps for children. Gassing families. And no level of reason, no amount of data, no emotional or morally grounded stories, no appeal to basic human goodness can move them. How can a civilized individual, let alone a liberal or a leftist, find common ground with the Trump Right? How do you compromise on gassing families? As people who care about humanity, who know the above phenomena as morally bankrupt, what’s left to discuss?
I’m brought to Arlie Hochschild’s invaluable book Strangers in their Own Land. She was masterful in revealing what she referred to as the rural, white conservative “deep story”. Rural white communities are full of people who worked hard for a place in line toward achieving the American dream. However, as they look ahead of the line, they see people, specifically people of color who, with the help of the government, are able to cut in line ahead of them on the way to the good life.
I can see where she’s coming from. I can empathize with her subjects. The truth is, however, that this deep story is not something resulting from experience and interaction. The deep story motivating the right is a construct intentionally engineered by right-wing propagandists going back decades. It is a lie specifically designed to sow discord for political gain.
And the brilliance of this false narrative is that the framers constructed it in such a way that those who embrace it are convinced beyond reason that anyone who might challenge the lie is a Marxist, elitist who “drank the Kool-Aid.” Those who suggest that maybe there are better ways to handle a refugee crisis than gassing children are either dupes of the leftist cabal controlling the media, or they are part of some secret conspiracy to…I don’t even know what the conspiracy is, but they are convinced it’s there.
To my knowledge, there is no Arlie Hochschild of the right trying to make sense of the liberal deep story. On the right, we see only entrenchment and retreatism. At this point, discourse is fruitless. We are better served spending our energies trying to educate those who are open to learning, and even arguing with those who disagree in earnest as honest brokers.
I just have to accept the fact that having a discussion with those on the right is no longer possible. Maybe someday it will be. Maybe we’ll work our way out of the dogmatic rabbit hole. Until then, however, I must, for my own emotional health, disengage from the insanity.
The most cogent point you make here is one that rarely gets stated openly: whenever people are expected to have “dialogue” across political lines, it’s always liberals who are expected to accept conservative grievances, but conservatives are never expected to accept anything liberals say as valid. Where are the pundits telling conservatives that maybe we have a point that racism is bad and democratic values are worth preserving? Calls for understanding are usually insincere, and are really demands for progressives to compromise their principles without any corresponding concession on the other side.
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True enough. When I was very active in local environmental issues, my organization was successful in getting a chunk of land in our region designated as Density Restricted Groundwater Reserve. This was land in which density could not exceed one housing unit per ten acres and designated wetlands could not be disturbed. That’s great. Then the developers started coming in and applying for individual zoning variances for pieces of the DRGR. They demanded we compromise on the zoning and allow for 1:1 ration in this spot in return for a 1:15 in another spot. Then there would be another variance request and another demand to compromise. We were being unreasonable radicals if we weren’t willing to compromise. Then they went into the lands compromised at 1:15 and demanded we compromise back to a 1:10. That’s not unreasonable, right? Except that it completely eliminated the original compromise. So what we have is a piecemeal destruction of something the community supported.
Now we are being asked to compromise on internationally negotiated refugee policies and laws. We are being asked to compromise on gassing children and locking them up after being ripped from their mothers’ arms. How does one compromise on that?
I must admit to some confusion because I can’t tell whether your intent is to stop engaging in frustrating dialog wherever you may find it or just on blogging about these matters. I can understand both, but indulge me in arguing against them.
Let me stipulate at the start that the entities formerly identified as ‘conservative’ have reasserted the ugliest strains of American know-nothingness. I struggle with not telling such believers to sod off. Although it may not help, I sort of think of this in the same terms as ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ I just don’t want to write people off, even if they seem to deserve that. I’m not preaching; that’s my decision, not incumbent on anyone else.
The thing is, though, we need more conversations, not fewer. And we need people with a social science background because, well, understanding people and society is what we do. (I’m a mere practitioner, so forgive me for borrowing that mantle.)
Just to use your groundwater example, there’s a teachable moment there from any number of perspectives. There’s a politics of special interests story. There’s a structural-functionalist tale, too. Dust off the Grundrisse and there’s Karl reminding us “capital cannot abide a limit.” You could even, with only a bit of a stretch, talk about how language is perverted by power like the French guys I know you like.
I worry that democracy fails when we stop talking, because it’s never one and done. Ever. Especially for important things.
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Thank you for commenting, Tim. This is one of those cases where I need someone to convince me not to write people off. As a teacher, doing so is contrary to everything that I believe.
So let me clarify. No, I will not stop blogging about these issues. This is my platform. I’m referring specifically to my online and in-person conversations. I find myself in this rabbit hole scenario in which I’m arguing with people who are defending policies and positions that are simply indefensible by any moral, ethical, rational or human standard. I’m completely flabbergasted. I want to try to understand their point of view…but gassing children? I can’t understand that point of view. I want to find common ground, but we are talking about gassing children. Where can I find common ground. Arlie Hochschild elaborated the “deep story” or conservatives…but how does the willingness to gas children fit into the discourse of this deep story?
At the same time, I find myself expending great energy batting back false claims and rhetorical absurdities as the people I’m talking to try to defend the indefensible. All to no effect. Explain U.S. asylum policy and international law and it does not matter. I gain nothing from the conversation. The person I’m conversing with gains nothing because they are beginning with a false premise and building rhetorical walls within which to entrench themselves.
So how much time and energy do I put into this endeavor. I’m a firm believer that if you discover that the cause of your discomfort is that you are hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, using a smaller hammer is not the solution. I have to stop hitting myself at this point. For my own sanity, I must step away from those encounters so I can concentrate on other things that are more important to me, like this blog and having conversations with people like yourself and Sean above.
I think the problem is that we are living through a time of hysterics. And there’s just no reasoning with hysterical people. With my background in counseling, I know that in the face of hysterics, the first step is to wait out the hysteria while working on not making it worse, keeping it from spreading and minimizing potential damage. Once the hysteria burns out, then you can engage in reasoned therapy. So my position at this point is to put my energy into waiting out the hysteria. Unfortunately, I have not strategy for ending the hysteria.
On a side note, we are all just practitioners. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as a “mere” practitioner. We all have something to add.