Saturday, September 25, 2010

This Is Politics in America

I try to stay away from politics on this blog since the gods know there's enough political blogs out there, but I've been sitting on this idea for a post for awhile and I just have to get it off my chest.

About 2 months ago I came across a blog post - more of an online expose, really - about how a group of neoconservatives (I guess what we'd call Tea Partiers now) deliberately disobeyed digg's terms of service in an effort to censor content that was viewed as having a progressive slant. It's an interesting, if utterly unsurprising article. That's the kind of thing that extremists of every stripe do. But the really interesting part - the thing that inspired me to write this - happens in the comments (doesn't it always?). The interesting part starts here with a now-redacted comment by a one "jblanch", but the rest of the thread is still the way it was the first time I read it.

Read it. See how far you get before you feel like throwing something heavy through one of your windows. I'm sure a lot of you will dismiss "jblanch" as a troll, but I wouldn't be too hasty. This is not the normal behavior of a troll. Typically a troll is a lot like a mischievous kid who's anxious to whack the hornets nest to rile them up; the kid usually doesn't stick around long to see how the hornets react, and neither does a troll. I might be wrong, but I get the distinct impression that, somehow, "jblanch" believes he is right, and that it doesn't matter what arguments or evidence anyone presents, it doesn't matter how vehement or condescending or patient or rational the arguments are presented, it doesn't matter how the arguments are framed, he's right and nothing is going to change that reality for him. Because he doesn't just think he's right, he doesn't just know he's right, he believes he's right. No one's gonna change his mind but him. And if he can't change yours, he's got no use for you.

I went through the trouble of spelling this all out because, from where I sit, this is an exact microcosm of how politics works in America. It's easy to call politicians liars - and all of them are, just as surely as we all are - but the behavior exhibited by the Senate and Congressional Republicans goes beyond lying. They are like our friend "jblanch" - they believe. In what? Who knows. Honestly, that's neither here nor there. But they show the exact same pattern in their arguments; present all the evidence you like however you like and they'll just keep right on repeating the same old talking points. They have these new "purity tests" for their political candidates and electeds because, like "jblanch", no one is going to change their minds but them - and if they can't change yours, they have no use for you.

And Republicans aren't the only ones. I don't think you could call anyone in the Seattle City Council a Republican with a straight face and yet there are several massively important issues in Seattle about which they behave exactly the same way: facts don't matter, only what they believe.

If we can't manage to stop electing people like that to represent us, nothing in this country will ever change and no one - ideology be damned - will ever really get the things they want. And I think it's that idea of ideology that's the real culprit. I'd call myself a progressive because, well, who the hell am I if you can't label me and thus presume to know everything you need to know about my political positions in about 5 seconds flat? Political parties and ideology reduce the cognitive load required to evaluate candidates and thus reduce the quality of those evaluations. And, particularly in the last quarter century, their main purpose seems to be to give those in power tools with which to divide and conquer. For example, I reflexively mistrust Republicans. And that's stupid. Not just because there are also plenty of non-Republicans I should mistrust, but at one point in our history the words Republican and Democrat did not automatically mean conservative and liberal, respectively. Things have changed, and not for the better.

But I'm not nearly as eloquent as George Washington (and neither is Randall Munroe, but his version is way easier to read) - and his farewell speech to the nation does a much better job at explaining this last point. And, sadly, it contains a wealth of lessons that we have never learned - and probably never will.


For full disclosure, I voted for Obama in the presidential election of 2008. In fact, I volunteered for his campaign. I'm still enormously proud of that moment, and still very proud of my President. 

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