Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seasoned with Salt

Lately I have been struck by the amount of fear and hatred permeating internet postings and chats, whether it be an article, an event, or a personal facebook post. There are words like "idiot" and "stupid" and a combination of those two plus a myriad of other derrogatory epithets referring to intelligence, religion, race and morality... and these monikers are being flashed around by people as quickly on one side of an issue as on the other.

For some reason, it makes me feel ashamed of my country that otherwise well-meaning people feel they must resort to such a base level in order to express their disagreement with another's political or religious opinion.  The issues that I have seen that are most incendiary are: gun-control, abortion, homosexuality, Obama, and you can probably fill in a few more yourself.  What shocks me though, is that even though I hold very strong opinions on all such matters, never have I been under the illusion that calling someone else a "freaking idiot" is going to sway them to my point of view. As a matter of fact, it seems to do just the opposite, creating an even greater chasm between us, and lessening any chance of real dialogue as to why they and I would hold differing viewpoints.

When I listen to the hearts behind the dissenting statements and fears, I hear strikingly similar things. Most people want a safer country (they just differ about how that might be best effected), most want less poverty and less crime, most want children to have a better childhood, and young women and men to live to their full potential, most advocate responsibility and caring for your neighbor... and then with a very wide brush malign anyone with opposing opinions on how that should come to be. And that brings me to my third discomfort: we have forgotten how to disagree.

Why does this bother me so much? Well I'll tell you. Whenever we call someone else a name that demeans them, we are exalting ourselves and deeming them "less" than we are in one way or another. In the worst-case scenarios, we de-humanize them - someone who breathes the same, bleeds the same, is filled with the heights and depths of emotions the same as we are, someone who listens to music, appreciates art, loves their children, and enjoys good food and a good b.m. just as much as we do - just over a difference of opinion. And why is that such a terrible thing, you might ask? Why shouldn't I exercise my first-amendment right to free speech to express my disgust with someone else's opinion? It may just be that that is the one thing that we do have to fear... our irrational, media-fed, reactionary fear and lack of basic civility one to another.

It brings to mind troubling times in history (and present) when such fear and epithets have used to debase and subjugate whole sectors of the population... and in some cases to justify physical violence. Words like "bitch," "nigger," "kike," "fag," "spic," "cracker," "dog," "whore," "cockroach," "monster," and an endless list of others that are just as well left off of here as being entirely unproductive (in my humble opinion) unless you're trying to produce hatred, injustice and violence.  In skimming the internet I stumbled across this article about the Darfur genocide.  I'll leave you with some of the quotes I found most compelling:

"Dehumanization is a mechanism that imposes degrading attributes on individuals and also entire groups for purposes of massive group destruction," (Hagan:3)

"Collective dehumanization processes place groups outside the normative universe of moral protection, leaving them vulnerable to targeted genocidal victimization." (Hagan:3)

(on cursing: think "f-ing idiot")
"Cursing sets up violence to be a sacrifice to honor the attacker as a priest representing the collective moral being" (Katz:1988:36-37)

"It is the 'us' versus 'them' intensification of group conflict that raises 'righteous slaughters' to mass atrocities. Katz (1988) argues that disabling the moral inhibition against murdering a "loved one" is accomplished by person specific cursing, while mass murder raises the stakes from individual denouncement to group dehumanization." (Hagan:14)

"such extreme dehumanization becomes possible," Kelman and Hamilton (1989:19) observe, "when the target group can be readily identified as... a distinct racial, religious, ethnic, or political group regarded as inferior or sinister." (Hagan:15) 

Hm. Inferior or sinister. This is what I am seeing many of my fellow countrymen suggesting about those on the political right. Or those on the political left.

Am I a reactionary? Do I think a massacre is imminent? Am I proposing tongue-tying political correctness?  I would say that with a cautious heart, I urge my fellow countrymen and women to move back toward civility, the Golden Rule, true dialogue (not reactionary mud-slinging) and a refusal to give in to the fear.  Regardless of my aforementioned very strong beliefs I refuse to stoop so low as to call someone who disagrees with me an "idiot," or worse. I assume (with hope) that you have your good reasons for believing as you do, just as I have mine. I may not agree with those reasons, may try to dissuade you from them, may wonder how you came about them... but I sure will never hear them, nor will you hear mine if we submit to the temptation to hysterically insult one another. And if we don't hear, and I mean truly Hear each other, then there is not much of a country left to defend. For I would aver that a country is made up of people united by some commonality and relationship with each other... not just an imaginary political line. 

One last thing... and this is the one thing from which I draw consolation: it sweetly speaks to me of the untenability of relativism. It does not matter what the perspective, how wide the disagreement or how vast the difference in opinion, the majority of people still seem to think that THEY are right. This to me suggests that the majority of people think that there IS a right ...and a wrong. That there is something that is TRUE, and this truth is knowable. If they did not think so, they would not be so adamant and irritated about their "rightness" being opposed.  May we find once again what is True. And Right. And Good. But not at the expense of consideration for our neighbors and personal integrity.

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:6

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