Tuesday, January 05, 2016

It Makes Some Sense If You Believe It ...

On a friend's Facebook feed I came upon this Washington Post opinion piece -- "The Oregon Standoff and America's Double Standards on Race and Religion" -- by Eugene Robinson.  He's writing about the (armed) protesters that are currently occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. You can see where he's going from his first couple of paragraphs:
What do you think the response would be if a bunch of black people, filled with rage and armed to the teeth, took over a federal government installation and defied officials to kick them out?
 I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be wait-and-see. Probably more like point-and-shoot. Or what if the occupiers were Mexican American? They wouldn’t be described with the semi-legitimizing term “militia,” harking to the days of the patriots. And if the gun-toting citizens happened to be Muslim, heaven forbid, there would be wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the “terrorist assault.” I can hear Donald Trump braying for blood.

He makes the case that there seems to be a significantly different approach to dealing with these (White) armed law-breakers than we've seen in many, many, many recent encounters between police and unarmed African Americans.  He makes a good case, and he's not alone in making it.  The contrast between the way (White) Dylann Roof was treated, for instance, after fatally shooting nine women and men peacefully engaged in a Bible study stands in stark contrast to the way John Crawford III was treated as he lawfully carried a toy BB gun in the Walmart store where he was buying it (in an open carry state, by the way).  The disturbing comparisons are too many to try to go into here.

As I came to the end of Robinson's piece I found myself thinking, "How could anyone not see both the logic and the truth of this?  How could anyone not read this and both recognize and acknowledge that there's a problem?"

Earlier in the afternoon I'd been listening to the Rush Limbaugh show.  (Something I do from time to time to hear how folks who see the world extremely differently than I do are thinking about things.)  And he was on one of his usual rants, telling his listeners that they know what liberals are like -- all liberals want is power and they're willing to tell all kinds of lies to get it.  Liberals, according to Rush, will tell you that what they're doing isn't what they're doing and that what they want isn't what they want.  (He was, at the moment, speaking about how President Obama's assurances that the Executive action he was taking regarding background checks on gun purchases was in no way an attempt to "take people's guns away."  According to Rush, though, that's exactly what it is and we should make no mistake about it.)

I've written before about the irony I find in the ways that the political right and the political left describe each other in essentially the same ways -- both are deceitful, focused only on their own agendas (which is the gathering of power for themselves), caring about real people only to the extent that it serves their purposes, conspiratorial, so used to lying that they honestly don't even know when they're doing it half the time.  Virtually word for word I have heard pundits of each stripe describe the others this way.  (I've suggest that we should take all the things that the right says, and all the things the left says, and line them up next to each other.  Then, as in algebra, we should simplify things by removing from each side the elements that are the same and what'd be left over might approximate some kind of truth.)

Today, though, as I contemplated this op ed piece and my question of how anybody could fail to see the truth of it, Rush's assertions provided me an insight.  The people who aren't convinced by the clarity and logic of things like this aren't having a problem understanding it ... they simply don't believe it!

Imagine, if you will, that you actually make the assumption that virtually everything that comes out of the mouths of liberals is a lie.  Suppose you actually believe it.  Not every liberal is conscious of and intentional about it, of course.  Some are merely parroting the lies they've heard other liberals tell.   As the old joke has it:  "How can you tell if a [in this case] liberal is lying?  Their mouth is moving."  

So, imagine that you truly and deeply believe this.  Well ... among other things that would mean:
  • Everything that liberals, like Robinson,  have to say about the killing of African American men by the police is either a lie or a distortion.  It's what we want people to believe, but it's not really true.  Michael Brown?  Not the "gentle giant" liberals describe him as.  Even Tamir Rice ... have you seen this kid?  Do you know that neighborhood?  You'd be quick to defend yourself too!
  • Everything that liberals have to say about Mexicans or Muslims or any other minority group is just bleeding heart naivete or, again, intentional obfuscation of the "real truth" about how dangerous these people are.
  • The description of these courageous patriots in Oregon as "terrorists" is just another example of  liberals trying to skew the story so as to make honest Americans look like the bad guys and to further their cause of trying to solidify and increase big government's control over every aspect of our lives.
Trying to convince someone of the merits of an argument, when they fundamentally assume that virtually everything you are saying is a lie, is pretty much a fool's errand.  No amount of evidence is enough when all of the evidence is considered suspect from the beginning.

So ... it seems to me that the task ahead of us liberals is to figure out what we can do to demonstrate that we are not, in fact, manipulative and conspiratorial liars.  While I'm not sure that that's any easier of a task it is a different one, and a classic definition of "insanity" is trying the same thing over and over again hoping each time for a different outcome.  Sometimes the only thing to do is something ... almost anything ... that you haven't done before.

Here's one suggestions for one possible step:  what if we stopped assuming that they are lying (or, possibly worse, stupid)?  If they are like they say we are, then a great many folks on the political right are merely repeating what they've been told and, like a great many of us, they tend to trust their own sources of information.  We do the same thing, don't we?  So I wonder, what would happen if we could see "them" as "us," just a part of "us" that sees the world quite differently?  What would happen if we tried to emphasize their strengths and our commonalty?  And what if, Grumpy Cat aside, we could learn to listen past or through "the sound of how wrong [they] are" to find points of connection?

This is, no question, a long-term strategy.  But it might be crazy enough to work ...\

Pax tecum,


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1 comment:

Lucy said...

Smart idea to suggest a new approach!

Why do people believe their political party and not believe words coming from the other? Some political scientists say people are motivated by the worldviews they want/need to hear. These worldviews are like parenting styles explaining how life works and how to be a successful/safe/good person. The US's two dominant parties frame issues in very different worldviews:

Strict disciplinarian father (conservative)
Nurturant empathic parent (progressive)

Each political party thinks they are the most moral party. They can have such opposite views because they frame morality differently.

Being moral = being discliplined - so, if you're poor you deserve it bc it's your fault (conservative)
Being moral = empathy and social responsibility (progressive)

I lifted all this from political scientist George Lakoff's book "Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know your values and frame the debate." http://georgelakoff.com/about/the-all-new-dont-think-of-an-elephant_george-lakoff/

Insightful interview with him here: http://newdimensions.org/program-archive/strict-father-and-nurturant-parenting-styles-metaphors-for-political-ideologies-with-george-lakoff/