Thursday, November 15, 2018

Finding the Right Words

One thing we learn from the midterm election is that we aren’t communicating well with one another. Some of us feel marginalized because we hear only opposing views in mainstream communications: entertainment, broadcast news, most cable news, academia. It’s an uphill battle when the controllers of the means of communication refuse to let you share the platform. They even denigrate you—calling you vile negatives like, racist, sexist, homophone, transphobe, bigot, hater, white supremacist—creating a climate in which your voice is not only invisible, but avoided as contemptible.

There are other means, alternative sources, for messaging. I use those all the time to try to get at the truth. But having a totally separate, parallel communication system doesn’t get through to the ones who would be our friends and agree with us on many things, if only they could hear us and come to know who we really are.

I don’t know the solution yet. I keep looking. Finding the right words, and then finding the means to get those words heard are still likely paths. I haven’t given up on them.

I’m ready to celebrate when, occasionally, the right message does get out. I wrote about an example last time, with the appearance of my new Congressman Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live, participating in an uncharacteristic apology from SNL.
Dan Crenshaw
at a house meeting in October

What worked so well for Dan was his total unwillingness to be offended. Maybe that toughness comes with being a Navy Seal. But since I first learned about him, during the primary election, what caught my interest was his ability to say things that were more than just the basic principles of freedom, prosperity, and civilization that I’m always looking for; it was his ability to inspire other people to come join the believers in those things.

I had a couple of friends on Facebook who posted his SNL appearance by the time I had. They liked him, and they liked what he said—even though they don’t like pretty much anything most conservatives think. This may not be a representative sample, because these are people on the opposite political spectrum who already accept me as a friend; we just don’t talk politics.

Anyway, as a follow up, Dan was able to write an opinion piece for The Washington Post, that furthers the message about how to get along:

I woke up on the Sunday morning after the show to hundreds of texts about what Davidson had said. A lot of America wasn’t happy. People thought some lines still shouldn’t be crossed.

I agreed. But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse: outrage culture. It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion—daily.

Was I really outraged by SNL? Really offended? Or did I just think the comment about losing my eye was offensive? There is a difference, after all. I have been literally shot at before, and I wasn’t outraged. Why start now?

So I didn’t demand an apology and I didn’t call for anyone to be fired. That doesn’t mean the “war…or whatever” line was acceptable, but I didn’t have to fan the flames of outrage, either.
Meanwhile, a couple of other conversations I came across today showed what we're up against. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, on Glenn Beck Radio, was discussing how to understand the opposition. Glenn showed a clip of protesters at a Ben Shapiro speech on a college campus. There wasn’t a protester who could identify an idea or a statement of Shapiro’s that was offensive; they just knew that everything about him was so offensive that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin on Glenn Beck Radio Nov. 15, 2018
(subscription required for viewing)

Rabbi Lapin talked about that as an ideological, worldview difference. And he said it wasn’t much different from historical incompatible religious/political disagreements, such as when Muslims (the Moors) overtook the Iberian Peninsula, or when Galileo was silenced for disagreeing with the ruling church’s worldview on the solar system:

Look, this is about competing faith systems. Literally, competing religions…. It’s not different from any time there’ve been clashes between competing and incompatible faiths. Ben Shapiro stands for—as do you, for Heaven’s sake, for so many years, Glenn—for a worldview based on a Judeo-Christian biblical model. And the mobs on the campus stand for a vision that is based on the Tower of Babel, essentially. I mean, nine verses at the beginning of chapter 11 in Genesis provide a complete matrix of understanding of the tension that is taking place there. Of course they don’t want to hear what he says. Why would they?
He's saying that the protesters see Ben Shapiro as a heretic. And for them to maintain their power, they must silence him. At least in our century, in our country, it’s done without beheadings, so far.

Then I read about a Seattle man who was running for city council, until yesterday. Christopher Rufo wrote an open letter explaining his withdrawal from the campaign. It was for the safety of his family. Here’s some of the abuse he describes:
Christopher Rufo and family
image from here

I had hoped that this would be a campaign of ideas, but I quickly discovered that the activists in this city have no interest in ideas. Since the campaign launch, they have harassed and threatened my family nonstop. I was prepared to take the heat, but unfortunately, they have focused their hatred on my wife and children. They've made vile racist attacks against my wife, attempted to get her fired from Microsoft, and threatened sexual violence. They have even posted hateful messages to my 8-year-old son's school Facebook page. I know that as the race progresses, the activists will ratchet up their hate-machine and these attacks will intensify significantly.
This is what is done by people who call this man—and any of us who disagree with their “social justice” religion—racist, bigoted, an any other evil epithet they think might have an effect. But these people are tyrants. They’re extremely concerned about race, but are against Martin Luther King’s advice to see the content of character rather than color of skin—so by any rational definition they’re racist. And their methods are the very definition of fascist: coercing agreement.

Mr. Rufo’s case isn’t an isolated incident. This is what is happening, with greater frequency, wherever those who love tyranny, poverty, and savagery rather than freedom, prosperity, and civilization gather and foment the angry mob.

Dan Crenshaw gained respect from the opposition because he didn’t take offense. Ben Shapiro doesn’t take offense when he’s attacked; he just insists on security so he can get the message to those who haven’t heard it—and who are now, because of the protesters, even more curious about what he’s saying that someone doesn’t want them to hear.

Unfortunately, sometimes the mob is too dangerous. And the infrastructure—the law enforcement and justice—in the city of Seattle were deteriorated beyond what could make it possible for an alternative voice to be heard even in a campaign.

We can’t have much of a dialogue with the actual tyrannical fascists in the mob. But outside the mob, where people are less angry, and where we get along with them in business and community, and they acknowledge that we’re human and good (although they may think we’re singular exceptions), we may be able to have discussions. Or maybe get conversions.

Further in the Rabbi Lapin interview, he said, “When people’s hearts change, so do their politics.” Conversion is a goal well beyond peaceful coexistence. I’d like that too. But first things first.
What do we do when there are two polar opposite sides on a political issue? Dan Crenshaw’s got an answer to that too:

There are many ideas that we will never agree on. The left and the right have different ways of approaching governance, based on contrasting philosophies. But many of the ultimate goals—economic prosperity, better health care and education, etc.—are the same. We just don’t share the same vision of how to achieve them.
How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist” who believes in an “-ism” because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.
Similarly, people too often attack not just an idea but also the supposed intent behind an idea. That raises the emotional level of the debate and might seem like it strengthens the attacker’s side, but it’s a terrible way to make a point. Assuming the worst about your opponents’ intentions has the effect of demonizing their ideas, removing the need for sound counter-reasoning and fact-based argument. That’s not a good environment for the exchange of ideas.
I’m glad Congressman-elect Crenshaw has had the opportunity to get this message out. I hope these opportunities keep coming to him. So far he’s had the right words to say at the right times, in a way that people who wouldn’t normally listen end up tuning in—and finding where we can agree. I pray he’ll always have the right words. And I’ll keep listening, because I think the right words plant the seeds for a great, positive effect.

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