Creative Destruction

November 1, 2006

A Whiney Post About Faking Respectful Discourse

Filed under: Navel Gazing — Ampersand @ 3:47 pm

At Balloon Juice, long-time Republican John Cole writes:

In short, it really sucks looking around at the wreckage that is my party and realizing that the only decent thing to do is to pull the plug on them (or help). I am not really having any fun attacking my old friends- but I don’t know how else to respond when people call decent men like Jim Webb a pervert for no other reason than to win an election. I don’t know how to deal with people who think savaging a man with Parkinson’s for electoral gain is appropriate election-year discourse. I don’t know how to react to people who think that calling anyone who disagrees with them on Iraq a “terrorist-enabler” than to swing back. I don’t know how to react to people who think that media reports of party hacks in the administration overruling scientists on issues like global warming, endangered species, intelligent design, prescription drugs, etc., are signs of… liberal media bias.

And it makes me mad. I still think of myself as a Republican- but I think the whole party has been hijacked by frauds and religionists and crooks and liars and corporate shills, and it frustrates me to no end to see my former friends enabling them, and I wonder ‘Why can’t they see what I see?”

There’s more – it’s worth reading the whole thing. John Cole is a Republican I have a lot of respect for. It’s hard to name many others.

I’ve been trying for years now to approach political disagreement with respect for my opponents; to remember that I might be wrong, and to treat even those I disagree with as inherently deserving of decent treatment from me. Lately I’ve been losing that conviction. The Republicans are the party that tries to win elections by bashing gays, and by trying to lower black voter turnout; they are the party that believes that the President should have the right to throw people in prison indefinitely and have them tortured without representation, trial or oversight; they are the party that supports censoring inconvenient scientific findings.

I can’t respect any of that. And I have a lot of trouble respecting anyone – even people I genuinely like and consider friends – who votes for the current Republican party.

So where does that leave me? Can I really justify my participation in Creative Destruction, which is (as I understood it) predicated on the idea of right-wingers and left-wingers disagreeing in a forum where mutual respect is practiced? On the other hand, I still see no benefit to the kind of discourse that is common in the blogosphere; treating other people like crap, calling people who disagree “wingnuts” or whatnot, etc.. I agree with most of the left-wingers I read on the substantive issues, but I don’t like the arrogance, the spitefullness, and the contempt. (Most right-wing bloggers exhibit these same traits, too.)

I think that kindness and respect is better than being hurtful. I think a style of discourse based in hatred and power-over is supportive of everything I hate, and that trying to treat everyone decently is profoundly more radical than othering and cruelty. I don’t think that acting like arrogant jerks with no regard for anyone but our own group actually creates change for the better in any way: it doesn’t reduce racism, it doesn’t reduce inequality, it doesn’t fight sexism, it doesn’t do anything but support bullying and power-over relationships.

So I think it’s better to treat people we disagree with, with kindness and respect, when we can. But I’m not feeling much respect, lately. I’m faking it.

And I think it’s worth faking it; I think it would be a better world if everyone faked respect for other people, even when they’re not feeling it. But I have a lot more doubts about that than I did a year or two ago.

I’m honestly distressed by the rule changes in Congress over the past six years; rule changes that are about reducing oversight on the executive, and about cutting Democrats out of meaningful discourse entirely. This is not how American government was designed to work. It is not how any previous congress in living memory, Republican or Democrat, has acted. And it shows, I think, a profound lack of commitment to the ideals of representative government, of checks and balances, and of intellectual humility.

There’s an image of a donut of discourse. Inside the donut hole are the principles that everyone in the society who is at all respected, agrees on: A constitutional democracy is better than a dictatorship, racism is bad, cheating on elections is wrong, etc.. The donut itself is contested areas; issues that people can disagree with and still be seen as reasonable, rational, and deserving of respect. In this area we find the controversies – abortion, affirmative action, socialized medicine, war on Iraq, etc.. Finally, there’s the areas outside of the donut: 9/11 was a plot orchestrated by Jews and the Bush administration, Nazism is good, and so on.

I’m beginning to think that my picture of the donut looks radically different than the conservative picture of the donut. And if that’s so, is there really much basis for discussion?

9 Comments »

  1. …I think the whole party has been hijacked…

    He misspelt “country”.

    Comment by Daran — November 1, 2006 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

  2. And I think it’s worth faking it…

    If one is good at faking respect to the extent that a person cannot tell the difference, then I think such a thing is fine. However, if one is not good at it, then one comes across as facetious and patronizing. I think that only fosters greater disdain, animosity and distrust between the groups. It becomes as if people are speaking through their teeth, as if they are speaking at each other rather than with each other.

    Comment by toysoldier — November 1, 2006 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

  3. After reading Amp’s post, I’m left with the impression that the polarizing behavior of political folks (of all stripes) has become self-defeating. By that I mean that both the dominant party and those seeking influence, by ramping things up so such a distasteful level, literally create their own enemies out of folks like Amp who would rather be able to survey the scene with a greater amount of equanimity and disciplined involvement. But considering just how deeply offensive political action has become, it’s impossible to look beyond the rhetoric and corruption and perversion of process to keep faith in cherished principles of self-governance that are frankly no longer operational. So irony of ironies, even the ability to have a political point of view is radicalized — everything becomes radical, and all is lost in the resulting sea of confusion.

    Comment by Brutus — November 1, 2006 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  4. Welcome to activist government, 60 years later. It takes a couple of generations for the good political habits cultivated under a more libertarian regime to die, but die they eventually do.

    And the rest is a naked struggle for power.

    Comment by Robert — November 1, 2006 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

  5. There’s an image of a donut of discourse. Inside the donut hole are the principles that everyone in the society who is at all respected, agrees on: A constitutional democracy is better than a dictatorship, racism is bad, cheating on elections is wrong, etc..

    The problem is that there is no agreement about the meaning of all these definitions. For example, racism: Do you mean racism as defined by dictionaries or racism as defined by anti-racist activists?

    Either way, this can not be true: If one uses the dictionary definition one can easily find anti-white racism that isn’t considered bad by everyone, and on the other hand, if one uses the activist progressive definition (with power-over etc.) it can not be true either, because usually according to these activists racism is pervasive fact of society and thus it is inconsistent to argue that everyone at all respected agrees that racism is bad, because then racism can not be pervasive.

    Ideological tribalism and bunker mentality of supporting “our side” sucks, and to echo what RonF said in Alas, conservative does not equal Republican, or vice versa.

    Politics is depressingly dirty, but I suppose ideological disagreement doesn’t have to necessarily be that. I’d also say that faking respect can be a form of respect: It shows a willingness to moderate oneself for the sake of civil disagreement.

    On the other hand, I do agree partly with Toysoldier: It can come across as condescending, and sometimes saying what one really thinks is actually a better way of showing respect (as in: I respect you enough to let you know what I truly think).

    Comment by Tuomas — November 2, 2006 @ 12:12 pm | Reply

  6. The problem is that there is no agreement about the meaning of all these definitions. For example, racism: Do you mean racism as defined by dictionaries or racism as defined by anti-racist activists?

    I’d say that, in current US discourse, the unspecific principle that “racism is wrong” is in the donut hole. Everyone has to agree that racism is wrong, and claim to not be a racist, if they want to be considered in the range of acceptable views.

    However, the precise meaning of “racism” is, by and large, in the donut, not in the hole – it’s something that people can disagree on and still be seen as part of “respectable discourse.”

    Comment by Ampersand — November 2, 2006 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  7. Welcome to activist government, 60 years later. It takes a couple of generations for the good political habits cultivated under a more libertarian regime to die, but die they eventually do.

    And the rest is a naked struggle for power.

    A depressingly compelling thought.

    1. To what extent do we abandon libertarianism as being hopelessly unstable because it requires people in power to refrain from exploiting that power? Or is libertarianism no less stable than any other governing philosophy?

    2. Assuming Democrats regain power, what should they do about the “structural” advantages that Republicans have created for themselves? Specifically, should the Democrats seek merely to undue those advantages, or to build in their own advantages?

    A. District gerrymandering. The Supreme Court appears to have concluded that gerrymandering is irreducibly a political question. Should the Democrats seek to draw districts that reflect bona fide communities of interest, or should they draw them to promote the election of Democrats?

    B. The K Street Project. Republicans basically refused to work with any number of private firms unless the firms would hire conservatives and fire liberals. Should the Democrats respond in kind?

    C. Demagoging. It’s populist and powerful, and Republicans have successfully used it to bash Democrats about gays and health care reform and taxes. Arguably Democrats have used it to bash Republicans about Soc. Security reform. I suspect Democrats will have the opportunity to tie the Republican Party to a disastrous war, and use the issue to brand future Republicans that had nothing to do with the war. Similarly, we may be entering an era in which the public is inclined to regard high-profile religious leaders as hypocritical egomaniacs and public professions of faith as suspect. Should Democrats seek to exploit such advantages for partisan gain?

    D. “Faith-Based Initiative”-type programs. Recent books suggest that the Bush Administration’s “Faith-Based Initiatives” program was basically a taxpayer-funded vehicle to whip up the party faithful. Should the Democrats develop comparable tax-payer funded programs? (Latte trucks?)

    E. Instant run-off voting. Instant run-off voting would permit people to vote for their favorite candidate with the knowledge that their vote would roll over to benefit a second-choice candidate if their favorite candidate lost. The policy is arguably in the best interest of democracy, but not in the best interest of either the Democratic or Republican parties. Should the Democrats push for it?

    F. “Selling” public goods for partisan benefits. In a more innocent time, the public got exercised about whether or not Clinton permitted campaign contributors to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. Since then we have observed plenty of politicians trading much larger favors for campaign contributions and other private reimbursements, and inserting “ear marks” into spending bills. Think Enron deregulation, tax code changes, energy bills drafted by industry, Halliburton no-bid contracts, securities regulations, the Abromoff and Cunningham scandals. Should the Democrats maintain these practices for their own benefit?

    G. Karl Rove practices. Traditionally the White House had a policy staff and a politics staff, and they’d argue over the positions the White House should adopt. The Bush Administration is (in)famous for having subordinated (in effect, eliminated) the policy staff to Karl Rove’s office. Arguably even the question of whether to go to war in Iraq was engineered with an eye to the next election. And the practice has proven to be powerful way to govern a nation split 50/50. It has also resulted in the subordination of technical expertise to political practitioners throughout government, with predictable results. However, the disastrous results have not generally had electoral consequences (until now?). Should the Democrats emulate this practice?

    On another forum, I recall Robert throwing in the towel on libertarianism and openly campaigning for the job of Emperor or something. If people aren’t going to even try to play by democratic rules, why should Robert be the last Boy Scout? I’m not quite there, but I’m getting closer.

    Comment by nobody.really — November 3, 2006 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  8. Slight correction: I’d prefer a mild libertarian regime, but if we’re going to have a ginormous do-everything tax-sucking government, then I want a GDETSG that follows my policy preferences, not yours.

    The whole me being King thing is just the unattainable optimum that we hold out as an ideal.

    Comment by Robert — November 3, 2006 @ 2:26 pm | Reply

  9. “I’d say that, in current US discourse, the unspecific principle that “racism is wrong” is in the donut hole. Everyone has to agree that racism is wrong, and claim to not be a racist, if they want to be considered in the range of acceptable views.”

    yeap in Poland we have this too :L

    Comment by Animals — March 5, 2007 @ 1:03 am | Reply


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