Wednesday, August 22, 2012
In Which I am Collateral Damage
You know, in the last week, I've been called racist, intolerant, hypocritical, sexist, judgmental, naive, stupid, and hateful.
Oh, not me personally. You didn't mean me. You never meant *me* (except maybe one person, who can go to hell anyway). You would never say those things about your friend Badger, of course. And when I say, "you hit me with that shotgun blast, there," all I get back is a vague explanation that "it's different."
You meant those other people, with your broad-based polemics. I am not a delusional, misguided child for believing in a divinity; those other people who believe in THAT god are. I am not a narrow-minded body-shaming fat hater; those other people who talk about the importance of exercise and good food are. I am not a racist; those other people who say that race relations are too complicated to be explained in simplistic terms are. I am not a hypocrite; those other people whose morality is nuanced and based in more than yes or no perfectly consistent logic are. I am not a sexist; those other people who call out patterns of interaction in gender relations and find problems with them are. I am not a homophobe; those other people who support civil marriage are. I am neither a gun nut nor a gun control nut; those people who believe in sensible restrictions without unnecessarily curbing the rights of others are apparently both.
*I* am not stupid; those people are.
But...the line between me and 'those people' seems to be that I am on your side, politically, and they are not. You've Othered them quite handily, using broad statements to explain why they're Just Plain Wrong, inferior and not deserving of basic respect, courtesy, or civility. From where I am standing, though, I can see their perspective and it's really not that alien. You've just taken no more time to really understand it than they've taken to understand yours, and while you feel justified in dismissing them unheard once you've classified them as 'thinking wrong', when they treat you the same way you use it as further evidence of their narrow-minded inferiority.
I don't believe in Othering people. I don't like it. And a large part of the reason that I don't like it is based in what's happening in my culture. We divide into armed camps and defend them with lobbed philosophy. We create classes of people based on thinking, and we dismiss and ridicule 'anyone who could ever think that way'. Well, on my way to the 'right' opinion I appear to have walked down some 'wrong' hallways, and found value in what I learned there. Rather prophetically, yesterday's Free Will Astrology e-mail contained a discussion of how it is possible to learn from people who do or think things you don't approve of. If we only learned from people who agreed with us 100%, Rob tells me, we'd never learn anything. I couldn't agree more, but this appears to have left me somewhat tainted, and likely to find myself the unintended target of my friends' scorn.
The brush we paint Other People with gets broader every year, as we pull further and further from open, reasoned discourse. We divide into smaller and smaller groups, with each group priding itself on intellectual or philosophical purity for having come to the 'right' conclusions. We present false dichotomies to marginalise others' opinions, reducing them to "Well, either you're stupid and I win, or you're a liar and I win." We create point-scoring nit-picky arguments that fit into captions and onto bumper stickers. Arguments small enough to fit on a bumper sticker cannot possibly be large enough to explore the complexity created by widely divergent cultures trying to find a living peace with one another under one government. And when we reduce by furious application of heat and pressure, we lose the most delicate elements of that interaction first: compassion, kindness, civility, reasoned understanding.
I spent almost an hour before I fell asleep last night, reading over people's increasingly defensive and dismissive answers to my conversations with them. I went to bed hurt, angry, and sick to my stomach. If you're one of those people, and you're waiting for an answer from me, this is what you're getting: no more. I cannot engage to defend myself against your friendly fire any more today. Maybe another day, but don't hold your breath. You're applying opinions by Uzi, spraying poorly-formed and fast-moving bullets of thought in the general direction of those you perceive as enemies.
And you're badly wounding those of us trying to stand on common ground.