Friday, November 14, 2003

Hornet's nests

And why you shouldn't whack them with sticks.

I never cease to be amazed at folks who are willfully obtuse. These are the people who prevent true discourse, debate and discussion of any meaningful issue due to their unwillingness to actually listen and understand what's being said. They are ideologues who must "win" at any cost, and they exist on the right and on the left. They may talk about "meeting in the middle", but in practice what this means is "you give up your position and admit that I'm right." If the other side refuses to capitulate, they are then accused of "being unwilling to compromise." These are the people who attribute only positive motives to their own side of the issue and only negative motives to the other side. If you disagree with them, you are a hater or a bigot or evil or some other inflammatory pejorative. They will not so much as admit the common humanity of the other side.

If there is a right way and a wrong way to interpret what you say, they intentionally chose the wrong way to maximize the gap between you. If there is only one way to take what you say, they look beyond the words and question your meaning or your motive. These are the people who respond to "you look nice today" with "what are you saying? I looked like a slob yesterday?" or "you're a disgusting pig. Keep your eyes to yourself."

We are becoming more polarized every day, and as we do, the number of willfully obtuse people grows and the number of topics that can be meaningfully debated dwindles. Abortion, patriotism, homosexuality, race, separation of church and state, the environment; all are issues that have people on either side who are unwilling to yield and who are unwilling to understand. Instead, they are constantly on the lookout for "gotcha" moments from the other side.

And that leads me back to the title of this post. Mark Bryon whacked the hornet's nest with this post. Now, this is not something I think I would have posted (because of how easy it is to take out of context), but when you read it IN CONTEXT (starting with the previous post), you can see that he is NOT advocating the murder of Supreme Court justices or Congressional Democrats. But some want to use this as a "gotcha" to show that Mark is an evil, right-wing, "Christian" advocate of murder and violence, in an "I told you so" kind of way. At this point, no matter how much Mark attempts to explain, it will do no good. The willfully obtuse will never see his point or believe his explanation.

So I have a question: is the capacity to imagine such a scenario the same as the capacity to embrace such a scenario? Mark's critics say yes. I say no.

About 15 years ago, I read "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. I was very disturbed by the evil characters populating this book. They were sadistic and twisted and rendered in such detail that I almost stopped reading as a result. Does that mean Ken Follet is sadistic and twisted and evil like the characters of his imagination? Or does that mean that Ken Follet is wishing that people would do things like his characters did? Or does it mean that Ken Follet is wishing HE could act like the characters he created?

How about a more personal example? Two years ago on September 11th, I was listening to events unfold on my radio. After the initial attacks on the towers, but before the towers fell, I was very afraid of something happening. As I listened, I asked myself, "If you would have planned this, what would happen next?" My answer was to have a second wave of attackers on ground level to spread poison gas and biological agents among the crowds gathered below. Such an attack would multiply the terror and increase the number of dead and wounded many times over. And that is what I feared would happen as I sat listening to the radio broadcast. Does that mean I WANTED it to happen? After all, I was capable of thinking it. To someone who has already decided I am on the wrong side of whatever issue they have, this would be all that is necessary to "prove" that I secretly wished for it to happen.

I feel for Mark. He doesn't deserve the abuse.

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