Thursday, February 4, 2016

The very real faces behind the supporters of opposing views

Looking at FB posts for the past several years, I'm struck by the overwhelming contempt for others that I see, for the most part.  Anyone who holds a different view from a person posting a comment often is subjected to insults and invective.  Wildly unsubstantiated statements are made about what is supposed to be "typical" for those supporting a view contrary to the one making the comment.   Distressingly, at least a portion of the time, such nasty comments are not directed at the viewpoints, per se, but directly at the person expressing the viewpoint - they're ad hominem insults, not elements of a rational discussion.  If a generalization is made without intending to do so, at least be sensitive to the fact that what you might think to be typical is not necessarily applicable to everyone.  I try to remind myself of that - sometimes others do it for me, even though they may also be guilty of the very same thing.

These harsh and angry statements often generate a salvo of personal insults in reprise and the thread of the discussion then is totally lost in a hostile back-and-forth.  Whatever happened to a civil discussion of issues?  I wrote a blog about the topic of what constitutes a civil discourse, but of course my blog has no power to change the course of our society or the posts offered on social media.  I've seen examples where people make their strongly-held opinions known and then proceed to deny virtually anyone with a different viewpoint the capability to make a meaningful comment in response through the tactic of defining who is "qualified" to comment in such a way that only the person posting the statement (or those who completely agree with it) is qualified to respond.  This is not a basis for a discussion.  It's simply a "club" where like-minded folks can pat one another on the back and agree that theirs is the only legitimate opinion.  You might as well have a discussion with slogans printed on a political banner nailed to a wall for all the good it will accomplish!  If we unilaterally exclude opposing viewpoints, or drive those who differ with us away from the discussion, then the entire exercise becomes utterly pointless.  It's simply "preaching to the choir" rather than testing your ideas in the intellectual marketplace.  Of course, some may feel they are so certainly correct, they need no discussion at all - that is, their minds are closed with regard to that topic!

Now, shift gears to politics and we see that our government mirrors this tendency in our society to demonize and discredit those with whom we disagree.  The gridlock we have experienced so often for the past several years of the Obama administration in our Federal government has come about by a stubborn unwillingness to compromise in order that the legitimate needs of the people can be served.  In fact, of course, there are vastly different viewpoints in the political parties about what the people need, so the ugly, disrespectful clash of ideologies is directly related to the inability to serve the people.   You might think there should be many points where surely everyone would agree that a particular need is present that should be served, but if you think so, you're going to be frustrated in today's world where even the most basic human needs have become a point of departure, not a source of agreement.  Many on both sides see the "other" side as wrong-minded fools being duped by the opposing politicians to do harm to our society rather than to do good things for everyone.  And the politicians have observed that this works in their favor, although it's far from what this nation needs.

In fact, our political "leaders" have been complicit in this process, using the divisions in our society as a means by which to serve their personal political ends, rather that serving the interests of the people.  And many people have become blindly loyal to one side or the other of these divisions, despite the best interests of the very people who vote these politicians into office.  The demonization of the "other side" has become a pandemic.  I feel the frustration and perhaps sometimes am led by my emotions to participate in it to some extent, even though I prefer not to wallow in the political quagmire of insult and counter-insult.  I try to remember that the people who are saying things with which I disagree strongly have a right to think what they wish and may indeed have an opinion that contains elements of substance.  If we allow ourselves the luxury of insulting and de-valuing the opinions of anyone with whom we disagree, we forfeit the opportunity for a potentially useful discourse.  It is via the reconciliation of conflicting viewpoints through compromise that our nation was built, and the current situation is heading in a very different direction than intended by our national founders.

I've tried to have discussions with some of my acquaintances from the "other side" that have failed utterly to get past the "talking points".  They refuse to see the value of my views and getting any sort of a compromise has proven to be futile.  At this stage, I'm reluctantly declining further "discourse" with those whose viewpoints include a complete contempt for my viewpoint.  I'm pretty certain I've done nothing to merit that disrespect, but of course, opinions on that might vary.  I make no claim to be a saint, but I'm pretty sure I've not resorted to ad hominem insults.  If I have and I'm deluding myself in that regard, then I apologize.  To those with whom I can engage in civil discourse despite our disagreements, I thank you for your spirit of cooperation in trying to work out our differences and at least understand why we disagree so strongly.