Archive for February, 2014

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We Americans are in the midst of a civil war. It is not so much a battle of blood and glory, but of ideology and what is at the core of the American identity. More and more often, I have found my point-of-view attacked by the social network commenting class. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy a robust discussion of diverse opinions and I am certainly not beyond reproach. However, I have been surprised by the frequency and ferocity of these attacks, especially after posting a rather innocuous opinion, or one that had the purpose of uniting. While my political beliefs might be difficult to pin down, they really aren’t very extreme. I mostly believe in sensibility between people, and I use my social media platforms to express my thoughts on current issues. With all of the outrage generated by my posts, I began questioning my values. Was I really that far off-base, to garner such opposition? Was I simply some nobody who should just shut-up and get out of the way of the real thinkers? But I soon discovered that there was a deeper, underlying issue at play here.

ImageWhat mostly set me apart from my critics, is that I actually took the time to articulate a well-thought-out, researched response. I didn’t just spew out someone else’s talking points or resort to using simple-minded bumper sticker slogans. I respected the intelligence of my opponents by responding thoughtfully and intelligently. But, that was the problem. I assumed their intelligence. What I encountered from my opponents, more often than not, was a complete disregard for facts, an unwillingness to parse specific issues within the greater context, and disinterest towards a deeper engagement over the issues. Mostly, their comments and responses amounted to nothing more than childish blurts.

After encountering this so often, I realized that the blurting didn’t bother me as much as did the spirit behind it. Most of the time, there was a distinctive tone of superiority behind what my critics were saying. It didn’t matter what I said or how well I said it, they responded with an “I know better than you” attitude. They weren’t interested in what I had to say. They were merely outraged at the audacity that I would say anything, let alone post it for the whole world to read. These critics adopted the personae of the Protector, crusading against the spreading of all my dangerous ideas.

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Rather than allowing my smarmy critics to take charge of the discussion, I really dug into the issues, presenting a researched opinion. But they consistently failed to answer my points with like-consideration. Instead of a nuanced, intelligent discussion, I was faced with commenters who valued ignorance above open-minded reason. So, after much soul-searching, I concluded that my perspective wasn’t the problem; it was just as unique and valid as the next. The problem really lied within the mindset of the ignorant individual.

This person doesn’t take the time to research or formulate his/her own original thoughts on a subject. He/she accepts half-truths as long as it aligns with his/her world view. There is no room for debate. No room for the finer nuances that might challenge their black and white view of reality. This embracing of filtered reality, of fiction-over-fact has led to a type of American Schizophrenia, one with many competing and often contradictory voices. I have outlined a few recurring themes that keep coming up in my social media circles.

Here are my observations:

mad_max A tribe called America. There is a very vocal contingent of right-wing extremists calling themselves “Tea Party,” who are actually anarchists. The most extreme of this group aren’t calling for less federal regulations, they’re calling for no regulations. In this nightmare scenario, our society would regress into neo-tribal, secessionist territories with questionable or no food, environmental, educational, transportation, or public safety standards. Strangely, these people are at ease with violent upheaval. They (in their disgruntled anguish) are quick to forget that you usually trade one set of problems for another. Mad Max, here we come!

  • Today is opposite day! As Americans, we have learned to accept the complete antonymical identification with the terms “Liberal and Conservative.” In other words, people call themselves one thing and act or speak on behalf of the opposite. Look up the origins of the words, liberal and conservative. Do these definitions really match the values of their respective parties? Why is environmental conservation usually associated with being a liberal value? Why are Liberals so quick to restrict the liberties of others by use of more government regulation? Black is white and white is black. Orwell had a term for this: doublespeak.

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  • Might is right. Most Americans use the terms “democracy and republic” interchangeably. If only we lived in a true republic! But alas, the tide has shifted towards a populist democracy. The problem with this, is that when you have a growing population, the opinions grow ever more diverse as well. It becomes impossible to accommodate all persuasions. With media influence becoming ever more democratized, truth and facts become diluted with half-truths and outright lies. If you don’t have a well-informed public, bad ideas can spread like a virus, leading to fractured factions of mobs who cling onto falsities and misnomers. People think they’re right because they’re mightier. Power perceived translates into real power. Instead of a relatively stable Union, we become captive to the populist political movement du jour.
  • Behold the martyrs! There is a false perception among popular groups that they are in the minority or are being persecuted. Two examples are Evangelical Christianity and what I call the “gun-hugging community.” Both groups are highly popular in America, and indeed dominate the landscape of religious and political influence here. But both groups continue to perpetuate the belief that they are being persecuted. Gun-huggers spread unfounded conspiracy theories by claiming that Liberals, or Obama, or Peaceniks, or shadowy elements within our government, or some other mysterious force is trying to take away their guns. Ok, maybe there is a tiny, outspoken group within the U.S. that would go as far as to abolish ALL guns. But they are demonstrably fringe and non-influential. In fact, despite higher rates of gun violence, guns have become even more popular. It’s like the high school football team saying that the small group of nerds somehow kept them from playing football. It just ain’t so. The same goes for Christianity in America. Christians claim they are being persecuted, all while enjoying tax-exempt status, political power, and absolute constitutional freedom to practice and spread. Christianity is the most popular religion. Period.

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  • The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. The internet is full of “yacktavists” opining from their ivory towers, spewing out one set of standards for the rest of the world, while holding themselves to a different set of standards. If you’re for smaller government, but unwilling to cut defense spending, then you might just have a double-standard. If you complain about your lack of freedom of speech by ranting on YouTube, you might have a slight disconnect with reality. If you’re sick of this bad economy, but refuse to identify with those less-fortunate, who really have been negatively impacted by the economy, you might be a bit out of touch with the suffering of others. I mean, it’s not like you lost your house, or second vehicle, or even your internet connection.  C’mon! If you’re going to make these grandiose proclamations, loud political rants, scathing social commentary from the safety of your home computer screen, at least follow your own rules. This is passive-aggressive hypocrisy at its worst. Fellow citizens be damned!

These are just a few symptoms of the greater disorder that is American Schizophrenia. Most of these points illustrate how divided we are as a nation, politically and philosophically. However, I don’t think that people realize that these differences are mostly cosmetic. I think that deep down, we agree on the most important issues: reduced suffering for all, personal freedom (as long as it harms no one), a greater understanding of the world, etc. If you actually go out and meet more diverse people, the level of fear and xenophobia goes down. You realize that the angry blogger from next door might actually be a decent person when you strip away the self-righteous posturing. It’s good to remain humble because you haven’t walked in another person’s shoes, and you never know when you might need a hand up. Even when help might come from someone you disagree with.

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