“Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.”
Like most active bloggers, it brightens my day to notice a surge in readership or some hint that lively discussion might unfold. Yet I knew from the beginning that my daily posting habit tapped reserves of proverbial steam that would not last indefinitely. Social activities, other creative efforts, etc. can draw attention away from a project like this. Yet there are other forces that may also work against its momentum.
My problem is peculiar in that I have just the opposite of ideal detraction. By that I mean I would much enjoy the challenge and stimulation of facing many thoughtful critics each able to level sound sensible arguments in support of some view I do not presently hold. Instead I find myself intermittently preoccupied by a single fool apparently unable to formulate coherent thoughts, never mind applying them in the form of sound sensible arguments.
A day or two after each new post hits the Web, I can expect a little hate sent in my direction. This should not be a problem for me. Save for a small number of people I know personally, I do not have any emotional investment in how others regard me. Of course it is nice to see one’s ideas well-received elsewhere, but even an enormous amount of hate would be a small price to pay for an enormous amount of insight into the reasoning that supports different perspectives on the world. Instead I find myself crestfallen with each new realization that the only challenge I have raised is really no challenge at all.
I am certain typical political conservatives, never mind intellectual leaders of the subculture, are neither as ill-mannered nor ignorant as the thorn in my side. I know plenty who are far superior on both counts to the one presently vexing me. On the other hand, even when I pour over the content of the American political right’s most credible publications, I find a wealth of appeals to misplaced or twisted idealism instead of fact-based analysis of the world as it exists.
It is not a fact that most Americans long to live in a cutthroat society where economic competition starves the weak and enables the strong to thrive. It is also not a fact that slashing taxes and social services promotes the kind of socioeconomic mobility in which such competition could theoretically focus on merit. Yet those non-facts (a.k.a. fictions) may be the most crucial beliefs at the heart of the political movement dragging this nation in the wrong direction.
Surrounding themselves with like-minded (or at least similarly visceral) individuals, anarcho-capitalists have something in common with white supremacists — both are lunatic fringes populated by people convinced that a majority of American citizens are being oppressed because institutions do not enact a particular lunatic fringe agenda. This is not to say that anarcho-capitalists are necessarily racist. It is to say that they compound ignorance and arrogance in distinctively despicable ways.
Yet hatred of human beings is a barrier to finding solutions to social and political problems. In theory it may have some use in the context of an actual military engagement. Yet whenever time for reflection exists, hatreds concentrated on specific individuals or generalized toward entire groups are emotions every bit as useless as they are dark. For example, a number of weak-minded Americans find that hating Islam is more comfortable than trying to understand Islam. Yet the pro-apocalypse crowd are not the only ones to be tainted by hate.
People with a good grip on the facts of recent world history may find it hard not to hate George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. An honest informed assessment reveals that they sent many brave soldiers to die carrying out ill-conceived plans in pursuit of nebulous goals. The extent of this tragic waste raises serious questions about their fitness to pursue the offices they now hold as well as the purity of their motives in governance. Add to that getting mediocre economic performance out of unprecedented deficit expansion, deliberately obstructing national efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, merrily accepting campaign victories achieved through profound acts of sleaze, etc. and they certainly stand out as two of the most contemptible figures in modern public life.
Yet personally, I do not go beyond contempt and into the realm of hatred when it comes to villains of that, or any other, variety. Contempt is an attitude that can coexist with reason. Hatred and rational thought are mutually exclusive. It could well be that the difference between an ascendant American political left acting as a refined tool or a blunt instrument is the difference between contempt for or hatred of outgoing executive officials.
If those who support successors to the Bush-Cheney team are driven by hostility, the tendency will be toward change for the sake of change. If they are instead driven by contempt, then the tendency will be toward change for the sake of progress. To those of us deeply desiring progress, that is a crucial difference. One approach could leave the nation bogged down in endless investigations and recriminations, dedicating years to dwelling on the past. The other might instead restore Constitutional checks and balances and implement new protocols to guard against future abuses of executive power. Clearly one has more potential to benefit the nation and the world.
As a particularly portentous Presidential election year approaches, it is vital that we minimize the extent to which we indulge personal animus. The outgoing President and Vice President have done some truly horrible things. They certainly do not deserve to be remembered as honorable public servants. However, they also do not deserve to be elevated in status to the point where they are considered the root of all evil. This nation is a big complex place with big complex problems. If we settle for “not Bush” as enough to demand of our future leaders, then we face a long haul before those standards rise back up to expectations held in the late 20th century.
To the degree people of differing opinions are willing and able to engage in a meaningful clash of ideas, the best results for all involved will follow from a high levels of vigor and fairness in those clashes. To the degree that willingness or ability is lacking, then the clash of ideas must give way to the clash of tactics and strategy in generating electoral turnout. Yet through it all we must remember that it only diminishes us, and the appeal of our beliefs, if we should rely on hate for motivation.
Like the figureheads of the modern political right, a substantial portion of social conservatism’s grass roots seethes with some witches’ brew of hatred and fear and avarice. Individuals unable to produce or receive any sort of insight may rightly be ignored, but even they are unworthy of strong emotional reactions. Should I step in fresh dung while out hiking, I do not become angry at the crap on the ground. Instead I seek a means to clean my shoe before continuing on my journey. Our reaction to an encounter with one, or even a swarm, of the Internet’s many right wing sock puppets should be much like my reaction to an errant footfall on an unclean trail.
On the other hand, should you be so fortunate as to find someone who holds different views and can defend them with more reasoning than bluster, double the cause exists to transcend hostility. Not only may it cloud your own reasoning, but it may also obscure a clear view of real insights offered up by that prospective adversary. Recognize that there is a real human on the other side of those disputes. Recognize that if the truth is knowable, exchanging reasonable arguments provides you both with a unique way to grow closer to it. With such recognition comes the knowledge that there is value in worthy opposition.
Then, when all this recognition is achieved, send along some pertinent contact information — I can’t seem to shake my troglodyte’s fixation, so it would please me to be able to refer him to some sane civil sensible examples that he might one day know the joys of being somewhere much closer to effective in his own attempts at advocacy. I do not want to actually hate a living breathing human being. As a hedge against that dark emotion I hold out hope that his profoundly contemptible online persona is a hollow shell that could be redeemed if only it were filled with useful substance.