Many of us hold to a pretty staunch position with regard to politics. And chances are, we have friends or relatives whom we love dearly that tout viewpoints which stand in stark contrast to our own.
Some of the people we love most in this world have straight-up ignorant, uninformed, bigoted, sexist or archaic political views. We don’t know how they got there. And we certainly don’t know why they would ever stay there with all that’s going on.
And they often think the same thing about us.
In my case? They pity me. Poor, stupid liberal. So idealistic. So full of rage. Such a know-it-all. Change for the sake of change. Give everyone a free handout. Everyone is a victim. Personal responsibility is dead. They roll their eyes at each other and shake their heads and hope that I’ll eventually come around.
Which means…to seeing things their way.
And in the time since the election, I’ve really tried to. I’ve tried to not blow my top instantly when someone tells me they voted for Trump. Before I departed from Facebook, I tried not to just blanket-unfriend people I disagreed with. I’ve read books and magazines and college studies to help me understand other viewpoints. And instead of getting on my soapbox at family events, I’ll now force a smile and politely ask questions. Over and over again. To try to make sense of it. Why why why? Where does that come from? What’s the basis of that feeling? How did you decide that?
I think about this stuff all the time.
And by and large, people will try to answer those questions. Because they sense the sincerity and they think it means that they have a shot of returning me to the fold. They prefer the old days when I marched in lockstep with them, jingoistic young Republican that I was, Ronald Reagan the angel on my shoulder, whispering words of American Exceptionalism and urging me to polish the birthright of my capitalist future. Y’know. The good old days.
It galls and frustrates them that I went the other way. And they worry for my eternal soul.
So they email me stuff. For most of them, it’s a joke to get under my skin and sent with love. Like this text a couple of days ago. One of my oldest and dearest friends in the world is leaving Los Angeles, where he’s built a life and a small fortune, to return to the place of his birth: Georgia. This is a text he received, and of course, forwarded on to me.
Now, that’s not insidious, but I still have to fight the urge to respond with facts. I have to fight the instinct to reach out to my friend’s friend and prove them wrong. Veritas super omnia! But my friend knows all this, and needles me with it. It’s a version of meeting in the center. That said, I can’t wait for my next trip to L.A. with its fresh, new white streets and Brentwood lawns full of tiny houses for homeless people.
But some of the other stuff I get is toxic. And this is why I get high and mighty. It’s why, when I hear someone say something like:
“I just wish Trump’d take all the protesters and lock them up and throw away the damn key.”
I have to bite my tongue, if only to control the dripping condescension of my tone when trying to explain the basic tenets of democracy. And things like freedom. I’ve lost too many arguments with people like that. They either bring me to their level and beat me with experience or they flat-out refuse to listen. They talk over me. You can’t make a cogent argument with them because they won’t hear it, or they eventually backslide into ‘belief’ over everything. Parochial altruism. Over self-interest or fact or reason. 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume was never more right than when he said that reason was useful only to be ‘the slave of the passions.’ I see it every time I try to ‘educate’ or ‘inform’ my right-leaning family members and friends.
And, in fairness, they probably feel the same way when they try to educate and inform me.
We don’t see eye to eye about most things. And that’s too bad because the mechanism of progress in the United States truly should run more smoothly than one party jamming through whatever legislation it can inside of tiny windows of coercion or opportunity, only to have the other party come in and reverse it. And lately, at least, never the twain shall meet.
Our individual echo chambers are exactly that.
This chart below gives a real sense of how we share information. It’s from an NYU study about sharing moralized content on social media.
Depending on your perspective, I’m either lucky enough or unlucky enough to have a bunch of friends and relatives that are willing to hail mary a message across that ocean. And over the last year or so I’ve collected a bunch of the cartoons and one-frame talking points that are passed around in the other echo chamber. Waaaaay over there on the red side.
I’ve cherry picked the worst ones. Not for shock value, necessarily, but because there were so many. This post could have been several hundred images long. Every one of these is real, inasmuch as they were shared with me, and not created for me. They were floating around the ether of the red sector and my friends and family punted them my way.
I don’t know that they illustrate anything other than how far apart we all are. Some of them make my blood boil. Most of them make me long for a significantly better education system for all. There are a hundred Sun Tzu quotes that cover why it’s important to know what specific entrée your rival is cooking, and this exercise, at least, has some roots in that. It’s a good tool, at least, to know what we’re up against when trying to figure out how to scaffold a conversation that comes from a place of substance and integrity.
It would be unfair to assume that polarizing images like this represent the conservative mindset as a whole. More likely, they represent certain pockets of more entrenched opposition. I don’t know if they’re homegrown or created by foreign entities. I don’t know if they’re intended to be serious or more tongue-in-cheek. And that’s the power of them. They’re quick hits. Easily digestible pieces of visual stimuli. And they digitally soar across the country and the globe, making a targeted point at a certain type of person.
I’d argue that they’ve been notoriously effective.
Take a deep breath.
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