Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Poison the hood: drive-by shoutings

I have no idea. I may not be able to write another entry after this one because I see I am as tangled in the vile communication habits of our era as anyone. I was so tempted to title this post "Bubblegum Mind".

OK, I have a wispy little string of an idea. But it holds for me because I can see it at work everywhere from the boondocks of Nevada to the burbs of Boston. It's a tad McLuhanesque but originality is not much of a goal. Basically, I see that the "mechanization" of communication and the depersonalization of it have ushered in a deterioration of the tolerant and civil attitudes that are the sina qua non of meaningful dialogs.

I suspect the phenomenon is just an outgrowth of our natures because analogous coarsening of interaction takes place in other spheres of activity. When we walk or bike to our destinations and the ways aren't too crowded, a little courtesy is a common thing and most of us can muster it easily when face-to-face with the other wayfarers. Even in cars, driving a deserted dusty farm lane in some outback an hour's distance from any real town, you will wave a greeting to the guy in the oncoming pickup even though you barely know him and suspect he is a closet white supremacist. But once there are a few too many people and a few too many miles for you deal directly, once you need motors and electronics to move you or your messages, the other person ceases to register as a person on your disposition. In transportation, the last step in the progression of depersonalization is road rage. [And whether you consider acts of road rage explicable or despicable, do you know any that got people where they were going any better than patience does?]

In communication, broadcasting, blogging and to a lesser degree print, the lack of face-to-face presence of the subject, [especially a class or group of persons: there generalizations are almost always more lie than truth], of whom and to whom you are speaking gets many of us into bad habits of hyperbole, dismissiveness and sarcasm. The last step in the progression of depersonalization is something like Ann Coulter. In her June 1 posting where she excoriates the Republicans who brokered the filibuster compromise she says "the Democrats — a minority party whose reign of terror controlled the U.S. House for over 40 years". She writes that without any qualifying ameliorations in comparing the Democrats to the Sunnis in Iraq. This woman wants you to buy her book "How to talk to a liberal". If I talked that way, I couldn't talk to a Labrador retriever without getting bitten. Does she really not know of any sacrifices liberals have made for this country in war or peace?

Divisive? Sure. But even worse, its an unpersuasive technique: its just cheer leading with an unwholesome mix of glee and gore. I take her and others, of any political hue, who work in the same fashion to task for breaking and coarsening the communication, the vital dialog that should help the country function. We have problems enough without throwing up offensive verbal barricades. The extreme statements designed to cast a bad light on parties at the other extreme only hide the basic political landscape in smoke: the heavy lifting is always done by the voters and taxpayers in the middle.

Why does it go on? Why do we not exercise restraint? I have less than an idea here.

Once we have drawn a little blood, we do not pull back from our mistake, for then we see that we have also drawn a crowd.

I got far and away the most traffic to this paltry blog when one of the pack of right wing attack dogs, "liberal larry" did a put-on of and linked to a posting of mine that was on the topic of this post. He put words in my mouth I would never say and so lied about what liberals think but did so behind a cover of humor and can't be called to account for his slandering. The meanness and sloppiness of my own writing in that post, implying that the distortions and depersonalization of groups on the left is a handmaiden of fascism [which, read your history folks, IT IS], got the nasty response. The strange thing I must report is that the vigor of that response was gratifying...as if I had actually stung them where they are touchy. The traffic and the smell of blood are seductive. In the end, that little exercise showed I can't take my own advice though it actually underscored the validity of the advice. "They started it" is cheap ticket to this fight.

You can't turn away from an insult. But you can't make any political progress with an insult either.

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