Monday, November 12, 2012

2012 Election Post-Mortem Rant #2

A couple of days before the election a friend shared a link on Facebook:

Chrome extension blocks political Facebook, Twitter messages | BG 
New Chrome extension replaces your friends' political Facebook rants with pictures of cute kitties

My friend's reaction was: Good because what we need is a less engaged populace. Idiots. This is the cost of having a democracy or constitutional monarchy. May I humbly suggest you move somewhere more despotic if you're annoyed by political engagement.

I agree with my friend. We need more people active and engaged in politics (and that 'we' applies to every country in the world, both democratic and non-democratic).

However, I also have sympathy for the people who would install this extension.

I keep coming back to this topic on my blog. Apparently I can't shut up about it. Last month I wrote:

I know that the culture is full of people who think that the way to discuss politics is to park their face two inches in front of their opponents and launch a tirade of nonsense. The loser is the person who flinches from the barrage of spittle. The winner might be vaguely aware that they violated some norm of civil behavior (or common sense), but they were justified, because the topic was important!

And I bring that up again because I like the mental image, but I'm not going to talk about them right now. Instead, I'm going to talk about a calmer sort of person.

And since I picked on Libertarians last time, now I shall pick on Democrats for fairness' sake.

In the just-finished presidential election, we Democrats defeated a comical villain named Mitt Romney. Among Romney's many characteristics that made him a cartoony bad guy, he believed that a corporation was a kind of human being. This belief can be seen here:

Now, of course the notion that Romney believes a corporation is a kind of human being doesn't actually make any sense. That is not a thing that sane human beings believe. Furthermore, most of us Democrats are actually aware that Romney, in the above video, was really trying to convey something like 'Corporations are made of employees, and when corporations are taxed, people are taxed'.

But that's not as funny.

So anyway, we know that Romney thinks a corporation is a kind of human being. Ha ha ha, what a maroon! And we Democrats incorporate this belief into the dismissive comments we make about him to each other, to make ourselves feel good. All in good fun. No feelings get hurt.

Then we talk to a Mitt Romney supporter, but we forget to stop talking like we're still in our own echo chamber.

Hilarity ensues.

Look, I've tried hard to get engaged in online political discussions this election season. I live outside of the United States, and Americans I know personally here tend to agree with me, in broad strokes at least, about American politics, so I looked to online comment threads to see some real political discussion. I tried to be smart. I didn't read YouTube comments or anything like that; I tried to read political threads on sites where I could be assured of a modicum of intelligence while still getting a diverse range of views.

But it always, always, always turned into people criticizing each other for mischaracterizing their views, or their favored candidate's views, or what their favored candidate said.

And the flight off the rails always, always, always started with some variation on the scenario I described above: one person unwisely saying to another, 'Mitt Romney says corporations are a subspecies of homo sapiens, you know.'

And I've seen the same scenario playing out on Facebook comments and blog posts. Probably happened in person in the USA, hundreds of thousands of times a day, every day, in the weeks leading up to the election. Again, I'm not talking about legitimate differences of beliefs; I'm talking about someone forgetting to keep their cartoon image of the politician they don't like stuffed away.

After a while, I can certainly imagine someone wanting to download that Chrome extension that replaces political rants with pictures of fluffy kittens.

And that's a tragedy. I am actually not one of those people who believes there is no difference between D and R beyond branding and window dressing. I believe there were important races that were decided on November 6. I believe important choices were made. I believe that some of the politicians running were, in fact, more putrid than others. But some people only hear back-and-forth yapping.

Our culture is failing them.

Incidentally, the reason I picked on the Democrats this time around for turning Romney into a silly cartoon is that I thought and I thought, and I thought some more, but gosh darn it, I just plain couldn't think of a single instance of the Republicans doing it to Obama.

1 comment:

Jenna Cody said...

I dunno, I took that "corporations are people, my friend" comment to mean "Citizens United ruled that corporations can directly advocate for and endorse politicians and use funds to do so directly from their treasury...which means they have these rights of free speech just as people do, and therefore they are people".

I realize that wasn't actually the context of the speech he was giving, but that's how I saw it interpreted.

All in all there are times when Democrats get it wrong (a total misunderstanding of what Citizens United meant, or your example in this post, or at least one Facebook post from a friend railing against something Ann Romney apparently said, linking to a satirical web page "quoting" her - of course she never actually said it, and even the most hardcore of Democrats should on instinct be compelled to check something like that. It was right there on Snopes as untrue).

But more often than not that's not where I hear the crap coming from. This is purely anecdotal, but take my Facebook feed for example. As you know, it's overwhelmingly liberal. There's that one Libertarian (who has a good heart but misguided ideas) and a few conservatives from high school, maybe a couple of independents scattered about. I've never heard a liberal (not necessarily Democrat, but a liberal) say anything even remotely like "Facts don't prove a damn thing!" or "Poor people are poor because their lazy [sic], why should I pay for those pothead immigrants on welfare?" or "We had to go into Iraq because Saddam was genociding his people with weapons of mass destruction" or "You're lying, it's easy for anyone to get health insurance if they want it". Nobody's spouted off other more bigoted Republican platforms (like "marriage is between one man and one woman" or "I can't believe those homos think they have the right to get married like normal people" or "Oh come on, calm down, we all know what Akin really meant when he said that, it's not a big deal") on my own feed, but I've seen it in comments on others'.

Then there is, in effect, *your own anecdote from your life can't possibly be true because it violates my worldview, therefore you are wrong about your own life* (which a commenter on that well-known online magazine did to me, and a commenter on my blog once did regarding her views on young, sexually active women).

There is probably an element of liberal bias - but seeing as I called out that one friend on her fake Ann Romney quote, I don't feel it's that strong - and I do realize one Facebook feed worth of information is hardly a statistic, but all of this informs my belief that conservatives do this far more than liberals. An after-effect of a philosophy whose basis is "MINE!" rather than one whose basis is "ours"?

By the way, you are tempting me to make that blog post I joked about (I still won't make it, but all this talk of fluffy kittens...).