Sunday, November 11, 2012

There Is No Discussion

Andrew O'Hehir is one of my more well liked writers. He reviews movies, writes on a variety of subjects, and has a well-measured attitude on most things. As such, it's not surprising to find him as the most recent addition to the pantheon of writers and thinkers who ask "can't we all just get along?"
If we think we can understand this division better by using cute demographic shorthand or by trying to claim that it’s fundamentally about religion or abortion or sexual morality or the role of government or whatever other hobby horse we choose to ride, we’re kidding ourselves.

Defining it as libertarian vs. communitarian, for instance, or as a religious view of society set against a more secular one always simplifies or overlooks some aspect of the problem. It involves values or mores that people hold on a primordial or unconscious level, which are not easily expressed in language and not readily subjected to rational inquiry. Translated into the political realm, these fundamental cultural mores become entrenched ideological positions, modes of expressing the unshakable conviction that my side is right and yours is wrong.

We just had an election that was a de facto contest between America’s competing cultural factions, and one side won a narrow but decisive victory to the intense amazement and anger of the other. More name-calling isn’t going to help. If there were ever a moment to talk about this stuff dispassionately, this would be it.

If we can’t find a way to address the American cultural divide, beyond insults and quadrennial beauty contests, it is sure to destroy us.
And so is O'Hehir's point. While he blunts the false equivalency attack at a point early in the article, he misses another point: the uselessness of the discussion. I don't mean to say that understanding the conservative movement is useless, I mean to say that a discussion about dealing with them as humans is useless.

Even though both sides have abdicated logic and reason, at least to a degree, it is the conservative side that has abdicated it, and any hope for cogent language, to the extreme. They are relying entirely on nebulous, emotional concepts, and if we attempt to address these issues rationally, contradictions and problems are sure to arise. The instant that happens, and stress is thus caused, we have lost the people with whom we are trying to argue.

It is unfortunate, because I appreciate his feelings regarding the referenced video very well. I do feel bad for those who have been duped by the cynical patriotism of the modern Republican party. But at the same time, while I do not judge them, I will cast them aside without worry. They must be defeated in whatever way possible, because they represent the claws of the past, terrified by a brave new world, desperately trying to impede the future.

Moreover, I do not look at this battle in apocalyptic terms like O'Hehir does. I do not think that it is sure to destroy us. If the Civil War didn't, neither will this. Change comes, bit by bit, with every funeral. No matter how angry or contentious our current issues may become, and even if we accept that there is no way to resolve these issues, we will continue our march into the future as each generation rejects elements of the value system of those that came before.

We do not need to reason with the bigots, since they will die soon enough. And with few great works, with few marks in the sands of time, their sound and fury will be remembered as little more than a tale, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

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