4 September 2008
I just spent about fifteen minutes gawking over the storm of comments following this post on Dooce.
There’s the outlying portion of her readership that is offended because she runs a personal website, has taken that space to explicitly state her opinion, one time, on political issues, and thinks — usually preceded with words to the effect of “and this is the LAST TIME I will visit your site” — that her opinions are wrong. (The English teacher in me is always amused by “your OPINIONS are WRONG” reactions. I can think your opinions are ill-founded, ill-informed, or petty, and I may well extend these assessments to your character and your intellect, but I have a hard time knocking down an entire set of beliefs as completely off the moral scale because they don’t agree with my own.)
Then there’s the mega-dittos people, or those posting a simple note of acknowledgment, despite perhaps not agreeing with her views.
Then, perhaps inevitably on the internet as in life, you get into The Crazy. (The Crazy, it should be noted, can never express their opinions with any kind of brevity or command of neutral language, except maybe in the case of posting one-line links to websites that promise to reveal THE TRUTH about the FILTHY BIAS of x or y.) And those are the responses that cause a tangible spike in my blood pressure. Now, in Madison, there’s a certain, er, homogeneity in political belief. And I know plenty of Republicans, Democrats, partially-adherent Green Party or Progressive Dane members, and unabashed Libertarians of various backgrounds and belief systems, but because almost all of these people are reasonably intelligent individuals in some way affiliated with the University system, there’s some kind of tacit respect underlying the discussion du jour of political rhetoric, tactics, or whatever.
So — removed from the world as I am, I suppose, by the ivory tower of elitist snobbery and below-the-poverty-line starting wages — it comes as a sock in the gut to see so much yelling, and so little listening or understanding. I know that’s often just how things are, how the media runs, and how people find it easy to parse the universe in general. But honestly? I’ve never had, say, two students in a classroom, students with the common bond of sitting in the same discussion section every week, being assigned the same reading material (that they both likely hate or don’t care about), and dealing with the same awful essay prompts that I’ve written, screeching HOW DARE YOU at each other, referring to each other as “typical” liberals or conservatives with no character / morals / family values / responsibility / compassion / intelligence / work ethic, or anything anywhere close to that kind of extreme. I’ve been spoiled by being almost completely surrounded by very cool, smart, and accepting people, and also by having the luxury of choosing to not engage with those who really don’t want to hear anything that might challenge their carefully-constructed illustration of the world, or who try to convince me of the very real danger presented by a citizenry without their own private militias. I’m, as you probably know or have guessed, of a moderately liberal bent. But even if we don’t see eye to eye, I’ll probably like you and respect you well enough if you’re another decently smart and open-minded type, and we’ll get along famously.
So, to the thing that surprises me most: sometimes, when I meet someone here in Montréal who finds out that I’m an American, they say “Ah!”. And then, completely frankly, curiously, and unagressively, they ask me my opinion about the U.S. presidential race. Just like that: “So what do you think about the election?” And I really can’t get used to it: this person, who I don’t know, who doesn’t have any knowledge or vested interest in me, is nevertheless genuinely interested in knowing my opinion about the politics of my home country.
Il faut cultiver notre jardin. But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to dust off some of my talking points.