I Heart Indies

Friday, May 27, 2011

Towards More Civil Discourse

What I have to propose might seem insensitive, so I don't want it to be misconstrued; I don't want people thinking I'm making light of the holocaust or facetiously indulging in bigotry.  But.  Hitler, we know, is a convenient touchstone for human evil.  If you ever want to know what "bad" is, just compare it to Nazism.  In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy defends Beethoven with, "Well, he never supported Hitler!" the only complimentary thing she can think of to say.
In our current polarized society, the right and left view each other across a no-man's land laced with barbed wire and pitted with mortar shells; there's a strong and all-but-irresistable tendency to indulge in hyperbole and ad hominem.  To my shame, I have done it myself.  Sometimes I felt provoked when I saw ideological oponents doing likewise.  But they were only oponents because I believed them to be.  They were really just other Americans.  The problem is, while the crude reductionism of other people's remarks is obvious to us, our own is invisible.
So what I propose is this.  Anytime you feel like saying something snarky or even just critical about the folks on the other side of the minefield and barbed wire, imagine saying the same thing, replacing the relevant words with "Good Aryan German" and "Jew."  If you're referring to institutions rather than individuals, use "Third Reich" and "International Jewish Conspiracy."
Here's how it would work in practice.  Years, and years, and years ago, in Piedmont Park I saw someone wearing a tee-shirt reading, "Die Yuppie Scum."  No doubt he thought it was clever.  No doubt he smugly picked it off the rack and paid the equally smug cashier feeling smug loathing for Yuppies for - among other things - their narrowness and intolerance.  (???)  But would he have bought the same shirt if it said, "Die Jewish Scum"?  I doubt it.
Think of all the people who tried raising doubts about Obama's birth certificate.  Would they have made the same silly attacks if they'd imagined how it would sound claiming he wasn't really a Good Aryan German but a Jew?
Or the phrase "War on the Middle Class."  Both sides employ that one.  If you've ever said the other party was waging War on the Middle Class, imagine saying it was the International Jewish Conspiracy doing it instead of the Republicans or Democrats or whatever and see how vile it sounds.
The beauty of this system is that if you say something reasonable, it doesn't sound despicable, just silly.  "The International Jewish Conspiracy is well-intentioned, but they aren't considering whether their healthcare plan is economically sustainable."  Or, "The International Jewish Conspiracy raises important points about the cost of healthcare, but they need to see that the moral obligation to care for our citizens comes first."
See how it works?  Of course, it's not as much fun going around being reasonable all the time as it is throwing ideological bombshells, but I'm sure it was lots of laughs being a brownshirt, too.
Maybe it's not too late to learn how to play nice.

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