Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arguing about politics

Lately I have had to do a lot of screening of my participation in, and even exposure to, what passes for rhetoric. It feels like the culture war going on right now is reaching a turning point, where even smart people are falling for the disinformation and manipulation being promulgated by the neocons.

People who normally argue for the importance of the rights of the little guy and support labor are reciting falsehoods about overpaid teachers and the public sector. People who are behind civil rights, balanced budgets, and healthcare one day are advocating extreme liberatarian ideals bordering on anarchism the next. The news is full of unthinkable atrocities: laws that would make a miscarriage manslaughter, strike down hard-earned basic rights for women or minorities or labor, and loony-bin politicians (not just the really obviously wacked-out ones like Palin or Huckabee, but a lot of more insidious ones) spewing the most inanely ignorant things -- and then people who are first in line to criticize them, unknowingly repeating the lies they originated, days later. All while the most telling results about the results of the decades-long campaign by the rich to return us to a time when their tax rates were absurdly low and the gap between rich and poor was at unthinkable levels. What could be more disheartening than seeing the same people who, just two weeks earlier, were calling out Sarah Palin for her latest head-up-ass statement, now roundly condemning fat-cat teachers, and remaining stubborly oblivious to the actual numbers?

Under the best of circumstances, I find these subjects mildly stressful, even slightly sickening. If I really stop to think of how thoroughly hoodwinked we are, how hard our country seems to be working at following in the footsteps of every once-mighty, now-fallen power in history, and what easily-disproven absurdities are getting parroted around, it's really painful.

But the worst of all is trying to argue with people about any of it. There is no correlation, or a negative correlation, between people who understand rhetoric, and people who want to join these arguments. The more ignorant, the more deceivable, the more unwilling to look into the facts, the more likely someone is to pontificate. One particularly damning lie: because you can lie with statistics, ergo, all statistics are lies. Because you can lie with numbers and distort facts, therefore, facts should be dismissed. Because you can reach different opinions, all opinions are equally valid, even those in contradiction of simple fact. This particular folly is like deciding that if you want to be the best baseball player in history, just sneak out onto the diamond in the middle of the night and run around the bases three thousand times. It's the same thing Hank Aaron did, and he took years and years, and didn't even get that many!

Ultimately I find the whole experience to be physically and emotionally stressful. I find myself forced to avoid participating. I just don't get involved in the conversations. When they happen in chat rooms, I just clear the screen. When they happen in Facebook, I resist the temptation to post links to the actual numbers that refute the underlying assumptions, or the Snopes articles which debunk whatever absurd nonsense is going around, because then I'll keep having the frothing folly fill up my notifications bar. It just ends up making me miserable. Sometimes I even get a hollow feeling in my chest, when I've succumbed to the temptation to join in, and then see someone's responded to something.

It's not just me. But a lot of people haven't realized that it's making them miserable, too. They have that ache to correct the lies and mistakes, based on the idea that not responding means you're tacitly agreeing, allowing the record to remain, and so they get sucked in. It's a hard one to resist. But ultimately, joining in really isn't going to change anything other than make you miserable too. When one side has convinced 150 million people to vote for cutting their own rights and undermining their own economies, and to do it with idealistic fervor, a few posts on a forum aren't going to dent that.

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