Monday, July 27, 2020

On the State of the Disunion

As a middle-aged, American-born, heterosexual cis white man, I- well, I just shut myself out of the conversation, didn't I? I've still got opinions, though, and they don't always line up neatly with (or against) my demographic... and I really need to vent.

There's this ridiculous notion going around that one's "unalienable" right to liberty supersedes everyone else's reasonable expectation of health and safety. I can appreciate exercising one's rights even when that makes others uncomfortable or angry; I've certainly done so myself. I can't understand how you can want to live in a society but flout its conventions or scientifically-based rules designed to minimize the spread of a contagious disease throughout that society. You're as entitled to an opinion as I am, but my well-being shouldn't be dependent on your opinion. If you're significantly increasing the chances of the pandemic spreading, maybe you need to rethink whether you belong around other people at all (or at least other people who are willing to endure some inconvenience to reduce your risk).

Going back to upsetting others while exercising one's rights: yes, here in the US, we have the right to free speech. You, I, Donnie Dumbo, the CEOs of companies like Goya or Tesla or Facebook, politicians and political commentators espousing far-left or far-right ideologies (or anything in-between), authors and actors and singers and dancers and athletes, and any average Joe or Jane are all free to say just about anything we want, whether or not it's backed by popular opinion or facts or the almighty dollar.

What some people are objecting strenuously to these days, and labeling 'cancel culture,' is the new realization that they are not necessarily free any longer from the consequences of what they say or do, that they can be called out for it, rightly or wrongly, and that's just not the same thing as taking away your freedom of speech. (They of course have the right to write and sign that open letter, as their detractors have the right to rebut.) Too many people have gotten too used to the lack of repercussions. It's that lack of real response to what you said, and in some cases your platform, that's being canceled, not your right to say it. The First Amendment still lets you spew ignorance and hatred and bad jokes and laughably sad conspiracy theories, but the American people are making it clear that they increasingly no longer feel like they can't or shouldn't object, with their words or their wallets or their presence on the streets. In the United States of America, you've always had the right to be an asshole, and you still do; you're just more likely to pay a price for it these days. That should never include violence, of course, actual or threatened or encouraged, but if you're losing followers or friends or political support or job security or market share or profits, and that concerns you, maybe you need to rethink your words before you speak or tweet or post them.

This goes for anyone and everyone. People with whose opinions I generally agree are certainly not immune from saying stupid or cruel or blatantly false things. We all need to stop making excuses for 'our' person saying or doing something that we'd condemn if the 'other side' said or did it. Humans seem to have an innate need for an "us against them" mentality, to label someone as "other" and then fear/hate the "other," and that's hardly new. If American conservatives and liberals, and libertarians and progressives and socialists and neocons and neolibs and everyone else, won't stop the posturing and the finger-pointing and the wagon-circling when one of their own is rightfully called out, however, things are going to get uglier. I don't care about the Republican and Democratic parties; whether they survive or not makes no difference to me. What concerns me is their manipulation, their turning citizen against citizen over real (immigration, riots, unidentified federal forces with unmarked vehicles detaining law-abiding citizens in American cities - notice how non-violent, unarmed moms and nurses get tear-gassed?) or imagined (the "deep state," QAnon, the "destruction" of the treasonous Confederate "heritage") outrages while carefully maintaining the status quo.

Regardless of who wins the election ninety-nine days from now (con? yay!), neither the world nor the nation will burst into sulfurous flames on November 4th, or January 20th, no matter what the rabble-rousers on both sides tell you. (But vote, damn you!) Trump isn't the source of all (or even most) of the good or the bad things happening in this country. Trumpism and the issues that led to its rise won't end if Biden is elected president and Democrats keep the House and take the Senate. Progressivism and the issues that led to its rise won't disappear if Trump gets a second term and Republicans hang on to the Senate. The pandemic won't suddenly disappear, the economy won't be magically resuscitated, the rough beast won't stop slouching towards Bethlehem, we won't get Carl Reiner or Little Richard back. A dozen more Kamalas or AOCs or Notorious RBGs, or a dozen more Cruzes or Grahams or Joseph Kevin McCarthys, won't radically change my or your day-to-day life.

Change has to come from us. But we need to work together and agree on areas we want to change, then insist that our "leaders" listen. As long as we stay divided, and keep sniping at each other, and continue to insist that either:
  • you blindly follow authority and wear a mask, or you're stupid or selfish and want others to die
  • you don't care about unemployed Americans, or you don't understand this country was built by immigrants
  • you love abortions, or you hate women having choices and agency
  • you're "woke" because you're afraid not to be, or you're a racist/sexist/homophobe/transphobe
  • you're a violent, radical member of Antifa, or you're a fascist or "Profa"
  • you want to kill cops, or you want cops to kill minorities
  • you're out to destroy honest American businesses, or you're out to destroy the environment
  • you're a socialist or communist, or you don't care that Wall Street and big corporations get fat on our blood, sweat, and tears
  • you're a social justice warrior only "virtue signaling" on Twitter, or you're a social injustice warrior only "vice signaling" on Parler
we're not going to get anywhere. Life is rarely that black and white. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts have this year confounded those on the left and the right who assumed that because they personally lean conservative and were nominated by Republican presidents, they would of course always rule on the side of the more conservative litigant. That's not how it works, or at least not how it should. There are Democrat legislators supportive of Trump, and there are Republicans putting money and effort into voting him out. This is how people work. Turns out you can say and believe that Black Lives Matter yet still acknowledge that police have a sometimes brutal job (encompassing more than it should, really) and most of them do it well. You can support our troops yet still want to spend less time and money on war. You can love the country and respect the presidency yet still be appalled by the words and/or deeds of the Oval Office's occupant. You can be comfortable and secure with your masculine heterosexuality yet still be a supportive ally to women and to LGBQTIA+ people. And you can be upset or angered by someone's speech or actions yet maintain grace and dignity in your response.

Most people aren't either angelically good or demonically evil, but somewhere between. Most of us don't actually hate each other, and understand that there are areas where you can compromise, and you can actually agree to disagree when the compromising's done, and that's what we need to remember. Don't let the demagogues rile you up. Anger can be power (d'you know that you can use it?), but you don't have to let yourself get angry over everything, and hate ultimately does no one any good. Well, maybe Facebook.

Sometimes it's your reaction, more than the action, that hurts you. Change your state. Remember the humanity of the person you think is so wrong. Remember your own, and that you've been wrong before, too, and will be again. Ultimately, whether my neighbor / manager / colleague / cashier or clerk / bus driver / local cop is gay / Muslim / a single, unwed mother / black / trans / a Spanish speaker / a member of the Democratic or Republican or Green or Libertarian Party doesn't matter to me. What you do or say or think in private, what you do or don't eat or drink, who you do or don't sleep with, how or if you practice a faith, doesn't matter to me.

What does matter to me is whether or not you're willing to have a discussion, to acknowledge that others have the same rights you do, even others you dislike or disagree with; that no one who doesn't pose a physical threat should be hurt or killed by those we've entrusted with keeping the peace; that treating each other with more respect and civility and humanity without needing government to mandate that behavior would be better for everyone; that talking less and listening more is a great start.

And with that, I've done more than enough talking.

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