By lex, on November 28th, 2003
Fear and loathing in the blogosphere
Once, at a nice Irish pub (I know many) in Alexandria, Virginia, I was having a soothing pint of Guinness (for strength!) while the ladies of the household were Christmas shopping. A young lady walks in to the rather crowded, very republican (in the Irish sense) place, plops down next to me and smiles to me nicely. Which doesn’t happen all that much, having passed that age where things like that usually happen (and having missed them having happened at all, the first time through). She strikes up a conversation, and it’s quickly apparent to me that 1) she is an employee of a rather sensitive government agency (at the clerical level, I gathered) and 2) this wasn’t the first bar she had frequented that winter afternoon. Sort of explained why she was being so nice to a gent at least 15 years older than her: she had her beer goggles on! Still, company is always pleasant on a cold day, and who was I to judge another’s use of that ol’ demon rum? Been there, done that, myself.
We’ve been chatting amiably for a while, with her doing most of the talking, while I nodded encouragingly, saying “oh,” at all the right moments and trying to follow the gist of the convo. No mean feat, she was that soused. Suddenly she looks over her shoulder to the doorway, where two couples in their 50′s had just walked in and were shaking off the cold. Nice looking folks, I thought. My “companion” jumped off the bar stool, headed quickly over to them and immediately started saying something, I couldn’t guess what at my distance. The couples exchanged shocked looks and quickly left the pub, leaving me briefly bemused… what could she have told them? That their house was on fire?
She came back to her spot, and breathing heavily, somewhat flushed, clearly proud, leans over and breathes into my ear, “Did you see me get rid of those people?” I answered that I had, and asked who they were – “They were JEWS,” she said, and leaned back with a look of triumph on her face.
You ever hear the expression, “my blood ran cold”? It was exactly like that. I felt a little sick, and a little dirty and I wanted nothing more than to get out in the fresh air without making a scene. Yah, I know, that last part is rather cowardly. Color me unprepared, but the “flee” part of my fight or flee instinct kicked in.
The detached, analytical part of me wanted to peel the rotten onion back a little, find out what had made this person think that such a classification was important enough to cast aside civility for, find out what I had said or done that would have led her to believe that what I must believe, I have to believe, is a rather confidential world view could with impunity be shared with me. I wanted to engage her in a debate, clear the haze from her head, lift her out of the fever swamps. She had seemed like such a nice young girl, well dressed, important work, etc. But that same detached, analytical part of me also knew that it would be fruitless – these aren’t logical positions, they are emotional ones. Arguing with them is the proverbial pig wrestling contest – you just get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.
How do people come by these kind of beliefs? Oh, some folks may have had trauma somewhere along the way I suppose, but by and large it has to be received knowledge: parents, siblings, peers. I have to believe that we’re not all out there looking for someone to hate, right? Right?
The blogosphere makes me feel the way that woman did sometimes too… a little sick, sometimes a little tired.
Someone found my blog one day, left a nice note – which took me to their blog, seemed only fair. And of course, there are comments from other nice folks that take the curious to their sites. Many of whom will eventually express their peculiar views of the state of the union, international politics and the rights of humanity.
And this eventually allows you to see the cognitive lenses with which otherwise normal, sane, fully-realized human beings view the political landscape. Some of it you’d maybe agree with. Much of it you find unobjectionable, if not entirely to your taste. But some of it makes me very, very tired.
Disclaimer: I am proscribed by military law from making disparaging comments on general and flag officers, senior cabinet members and occupants of the Oval Office, even if I was so inclined.
So I really don’t know how either of my readers come down on the whole, “Bush Lied,” or “Bush is stoopid,” memes, or even more the “Bush is a stoopid liar!” combo platter. I don’t go there, personally. The guy’s got degrees from our two most prestigious institutions, owned a baseball team, made his own fortune, governed our second largest state and won the big one (for politicians) by getting to use the owner’s door at the White House. How dumb could he be?
Yah, yah – I know his pop was an Eli and a Senator, and that couldn’t hurt his chances of attending either Yale or Harvard, but there are plenty of kids with solid backing who don’t amount to much, and are not routinely traveling in the best seat on Air Force 1.
Educational degrees aren’t everything of course: the world is full of over-educated buffoons. But some of his most famous critics here in California never even finished (or attended) university. They made their money looking good, or acting well, and feeling vaguely guilty about that perhaps, are given to Taking A Stand on political issues that they clearly either do not understand, or understand only dimly. But that’s OK, everyone has a right to free speech, even if they do end up looking faintly ridiculous. And prove the need for spell-checkers on their web-ware.
I guess the thing that saddens me most about this on the web is that it’s really a kind of shorthand for a whole constellation of world views – it’s code: those who agree with me will nod their heads, we will not disagree about anything. Elections in Florida, the Christian Right, Global Warming/Kyoto, the ABM treaty, Oil Money, abortion, Halliburton, federal jurisprudence, gun control, sensitivity training, SUVs, WMD’s in Iraq: all of these topics are wrapped up into the “Bush is a stoopid liar!” ball. Nothing more need be said. None of this will be debated or discussed – those who don’t agree are free to click the “next” arrow.
Getting too long again, I know. Sorry, sorry.
But it’s also another kind of code – this code says, “I’m a smart person and Bush doesn’t agree with my position on things, and that therefore makes him stupid. Or evil. Maybe both.”
And that kind of moral absolutism, regardless of what side of the political spectrum it emanates from gives me shivers. To re-use an expression from the first half of this entry, it makes my blood run cold.