Saturday, June 10, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Over on Bitch,PhD, as an outgrowth of comments on non-commenting about a grad-student survey, Dr B. posed the question of, essentially, civility in discourse:

"...So. The readers of this blog are a pretty diverse group, actually. And mostly, I hope, more interested in discussion and conversation than in simply reinforcing prejudices (our own, or other people's).

And we all know that the current political climate is a … nightmare. What do you believe? Where do we overlap? Where do we differ, and why, and what does that mean? And what in heaven's name do we have in common?

And can we manage to talk about all without taking offense, or being offensive? ...

Her post covers more than a few data points on the issue, but she manages to get across her view, and her question’s basis. The comments thread is diverse (and growing like a weed) and, like Twin Peaks coffee from the RR Diner, is “Damn fine.”

That said, I don't know if the current climate can be made to support actual dialog over any extended basis.

The very first comment to her post illustrated some of what I see is a deep symptom of the issue -- there are factions on both the right, and the left, who don't want a dialog.

From my own (lefty) perspective, it is obvious that those on the right of the aisle (of course!) seem to be the more of a multitude who don't want to seek a common ground, but there are lefties who are just as much buttheads as anybody on the right.

But (and here my progressive bias shows), it also seems that a certain faction of the right-wing, who I will label, for want of a better term, as being "pseudo-conservatives," are actively interested in forcing their views on everybody else without even a pretense of dialog or compromise.

Some of them admit this, and claim it as a virtue, saying they are "being more honest" in their espousal of these views. I don't know if "honest" is the proper phrase, or "naked and scary."

As a case in point, last year, when I was somewhat new to publishing my own blog, there was a blogger who made an open invitation to both sides of the aisle to come to her space and dialog about a particular issue, and to do so in a controlled and non-violent manner.

It worked, for about 3 days.

Then the rightists decided that, essentially, they would *not* tolerate any dialog with those from the left unless it was on the terms of unconditional surrender to all the stipulations of the right. The expressed, collective, opinion was that there was no need for tolerating the expression of differing viewpoints. That to do so would be to somehow sully the purity of their thought. And, yes, that seemed to be the collective opinion. And the writer who had issued the invitation decided to join the collective.

There are some on the left who make the same claim. From what I can see, however, most who make that claim from the left are usually engaged into dialog with others from the left, and if they persist are usually ignored (by the left) or given a pat on the hand and told to come back when they can deal with the prospect of dissent in the ranks.

Of course, as I alluded above, this is informed and colored by my own political perspective, where I style myself as "progressive."

I grew up in a blue-collar household in Boston, firmly entrenched in the teachings of the post-Vatican II spirit.

(And if you want to see "Christian bashing," view how some the "religious right" express, in unguarded moments, their feelings toward Roman Catholics -- "Papist Cult" and "Whore of Rome" are among the gentler descriptions)

For me, being "Christian" means being a liberal, means being someone who believes in the social compact that members of a society owe responsibility to other members of that society.

Because of issues I have with the “conservatism” I saw take over that church, and the unwillingness of even the “old and enlightened” hierarchy to realistically address the place of women in the Church, or the simple anti-survival stance the church took toward both “artificial birth control” and abortion, I left off dealing with organized religion of any stripe for a good number of years, until I was serendipitously introduced to the Episcopal Church (“Anglicanism” to you readers on the European side of the pond). And, bless their pointy hats, they’ve even got me teaching Sunday school.

However, that RC upbringing skewed me pretty firmly towards concerns with “social justice,” “Equality before the law,” and a firm conviction that, “if the poor will always be with us,” it didn’t mean I either had to accept or feel comfortable with that dubious reality.

But part of the process of belonging to a Christian denomination that *was* considered fair game for “attack” (even though it is the single most populous denomination in the country) is that you learned to listen to “the other side” and offer counters to their thesis, or else to respectfully disagree.

Somehow I think that, in a public political climate characterized by Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove and the aftereffects of Newt’s Contract On America, the “respectfully disagree” path is not an option. And I really don’t know what will be.

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