Random Thoughts, Post-Charlottesville
Thoughts following Charlottesville:
Free speech—your right to free speech is about what the government can and can’t do to inhibit your speech. It has zero to do with your job, your friends, someone else’s Facebook page, or even your community getting together and saying you’re a dickbag and should just go away. And it does not now, nor has it ever protected you from consequences like getting arrested, getting sued, getting fired, getting unfriended, or getting punched in the face.
Quick to judge/A mile in someone’s shoes—you are shaped by your experiences, your circumstances, and your thoughts. Compassion comes from being able to put all that aside and really think about what someone else has gone through so you can acknowledge the truth of their experience. If you can’t do that, if you can’t put you aside, then you can’t contribute anything really meaningful to the conversation, because all you’re doing is engaging in an intellectual exercise with you as the star. And you will find in the course of your own life, if you haven’t already, that when what you thought you knew/would do/feel about something intellectually runs headfirst into the actual experience of the thing, it’s all something completely different. Reason—in the moment, when you are face to face with someone who wants to hurt you, you cannot reason with them. If you try, then you will be hurt.
“The US is too polarized”—the problem is not that the US is too polarized. Your notion that we ever all completely agreed on anything is simply untrue.
The problem is we still haven’t figured out how to normalize the social experience of the internet so daily we run into terrible behavior: trolls, dickbags who’ve decided contrarian is a valid personality choice, bored people who just want to argue to argue and have zero interest in figuring anything out, people who mistakenly think their uninformed opinion carries some kind of special weight, and people who live for nonstop outrage.
On top of that, as a whole, we don’t seem to understand that our experience on the internet exposes us to a wider range of people with radically different experiences and opinions than we have. Most people tend to think that everyone thinks and feels the way they do. This is reinforced by their real life friendships.
The problem too is that for decades and decades we have lived in a country with two branches of the corporate party. Each branch has pursued the same policies and only distinguished itself from the other by its advertising and where they supposedly stand on social issues. This illusion of difference has kept us squabbling with each other so we don’t notice them pursuing the exact same disastrous polices that benefit their corporate paymasters and not noticing that whenever there has been actual social progress on anything it has always come from the united will of the people not the political class. The policies of the two branches of the corporate party have left our country mired in endless war and left most of us, if we have a job, living from paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by, suffocating under a mountain of debt, and painfully afraid of getting sick. Our country is one of poverty and fear. Poverty is the mother of thieves, and fear is the bastard sire of hatred. It’s not that our country is polarized, it’s that you are finally seeing things being challenged, you are finally seeing other opinions.
The South—The government as a whole shafted the South a long time ago. The Democrats have ignored it for decades. Neo-liberals favorite insult is "redneck." The South has a history of exploitation by industry. And wowhere in the United States is income inequality more visible then in the South.
You want to meaningful combat hate in the South? Create jobs with livable wages—not training programs, actual jobs—and affordable health care. If the new legitimate Left truly wants to get anywhere, they should not ignore the South.
"This started with Trump”—The problems you are seeing now were there when Obama was president. These problems are long-term and systemic. The big difference between the two men is one talked nicer and made you feel better.
Compare the police response in Charlottesville to the police response in Ferguson…
“Well, both sides…”—You should not be surprised at the number of people I am sure you have seen who don’t want to have an opinion, who don’t want to take sides, who aren’t immediately against racism and white nationalism.
This is not new.
One of Martin Luther King’s most famous pieces of writings is his Letter from the Birmingham Jail he wrote in response to an admonishing letter by white clergy who were upset about how he was just making things worse. In response King wrote:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”