January 2011

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I’m having a bit of trouble discussing politics these days. I caught myself this weekend blowing up like a jerk on a thread that a friend (super, super awesome friend) had posted in my Google reader. And it gave me pause.

First, sorry again random guy from the internet (even though I don’t think you’ll see this), for accusing you of being a Republican. Them’s fightin words. I was being a dick. And to be fair: accusing the wrong person of being a Democrat can be fightin words as well.

I used to be really, really bad about this. It takes me back to a job I had a little while back. The corner of the office we were in was split pretty evenly between Repubs and Dems, and being the Bush years as it was, we got into some very, ahem, spirited debates. There was this one guy. Let’s call him Dale. We haven’t kept in touch, but I can 110% guarantee you that where ever Dale is, he’s a proud member of the Tea Party. This dude and I used to get into out and out shouting matches. I would like to say that history has proven me right, but I’m sure he would see it differently. We would even argue about how to pronounce the name of the restaurant across the street. That’s how me and this guy were.

But I learned some lessons then about cooling my temper. And he did too. He’s not a bad guy. Just extremely idealistic.

I’ve been good these days, but lately I just find it so hard. The shooting in Arizona has supposedly cooled tempers for the time being, but the cynic in me says that we’ll be back to shouting at each other before too long. I know we will. I just caught myself doing it.

I don’t intend this journal entry to be a treatise on what’s wrong with us or how to fix it. Although I primarily blame televised news. Journalism used to mean something in this country. Now our journalists are called newscasters, and they have lots and lots of plastic surgery. They think that presenting two sides to every issue is being thorough (though there are almost never two sides to any story–and frequently one of the sides presented is woefully over-represented.) Fact checking doesn’t exist. Statistics are as meaningless as ever.

Anyway, I’m rambling.

This is a reminder to me to be on good behavior. To lead by example.

I think what happens to people these days is simple: we can cherry pick our information. Do you identify as a Republican? Then watch Fox News. Do you identify as a Democrat? Then watch MSNBC (I think… I don’t actually watch MSNBC). Do you want to actually be informed about events? Then listen to NPR.

The point is it’s too easy these days to ignore anything you don’t want to hear. Just change the channel. I was thinking about this, and in a strange way a great deal of erstwhile editorial power has been placed in the hands of the consumer. We edit out what we don’t like, and we get our information from sources that confirm our self identity. To be perfectly honest, I see absolutely no solution to this problem. When you get down to it, we’re not debating facts. We’re screaming at each other “my identity is more real than yours.” Which, of course, for each of us individually is true.

The political conversations I have with my centrist friends (especially my center right friends–myself being center left) can be pretty amazing. But along the way so much frustration builds up.

It’s not a resolution exactly, but I have an idea: smile and ask questions. This is a mental note to myself not to be one of those ranting dickheads. Smile. Ask a question. Slow things down and either steer the conversation to something positive, or simply leave it alone.

There’s something I’ve noticed myself doing more and more of as I get older: giving negativity no quarter. I don’t care for people who do nothing but bitch. And I ignore them. But it’s a lot more difficult when my principles urge me to engage negativity.

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