Liddick: Bridging gaps between intellectual ghettoes (column)
May 8, 2017
Travel broadens the mind. Particularly when one encounters people living on the same planet but in different universes.
My wife and I occasionally have conversations with Liberals. Real, honest-to-God, Obama-could-do-no-wrong, capitalists-are-evil, America-is-the-worst-country-ever, no-borders, free-everything-for-everyone, eat-the-rich Liberals. They are mostly good-hearted folks, mind; they have children, pets, commitments, concerns. But they have profoundly different ideas about the foundational principles of our country, its governance and purposes. Which is okay; this is America, after all.
But discussing our differences can be difficult. Sometimes meaningful, civil conversation ensues and, if no minds were changed at least all parties come away with a deeper appreciation of the thought process behind the other point of view. More often, those leaning hard to the left will first resort to platitudes, then epithets, then end with shouting, or huffing off, or both. The word "racist" is the usual opener, triggered by some misgiving over the former president's policies or concern over the chaos that immigration, both legal and not, has become. Then the exchange deteriorates.
After a number of such experiences, one observes that the left — or Progressives, if one prefers — are curiously, if not singularly, obsessed with race. Since politics is not genetic one cannot trace this peculiarity back to the days when most slaveowners were Democrats; rather, their current fixation seems a shortcut to relative virtue: they claim to care more than their opponents about minorities, so they're better people. But they refuse to examine the predictable and perverse results of policies they embrace, so their virtue exists mostly in their imagination.
Progressives also take themselves very, very seriously. One friend criticized President Trump for "only reading headlines," a concern I share: the chief executive should be well-informed. But later, when we were discussing contemporary racism he said that his New York Times app constantly filled his inbox with notifications of police shootings of minorities; this proved the police are racist. When asked if he followed up by reading the findings of inquiries into the incidents, he replied that he didn't have time to do so. In the interest of friendship, I didn't note that his information habits seemed remarkably like those he found lacking in the President.
Then there's the least comprehensible response: fleeing a conversation which is not going the way one wishes. To one who likes talking through ideas and is inured to the use of epithets this seems odd; remaining to talk through disagreement often provides insights. But for many this seems not an incentive but a threat — perhaps springing from lack of confidence in one's convictions.
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These and other reactions are doubtless exacerbated by the results of the last election. Hillary was going to win, as everyone knew. The polls showed it. The media said it — with the exception of Fox News and a few other Rightie troglodytes. So when it didn't happen, it couldn't have been an honest race. Democrats can't lose. Somebody must have thrown it. Stolen it.
Whatever the origins of these reactions, they spell trouble for the body politic and the country. Whether howling mobs of masked thugs, or rooms full of people with faces contorted in purchased outrage, or old friends who prefer dubious convictions and worn-out slogan to honest discussion and new approaches; current trends are not encouraging.
We are increasingly a people compartmentalized. The politics we pursue are focus-grouped, test-marketed and tailor-made for the smallest and most homogeneous group possible for the electoral purpose desired. Other, similar groups are given different, and often contradictory, messages. Our news is similarly processed, segmented, selected and massaged for smaller and smaller sectors of the audience.
We help create these intellectual ghettoes. When we click on this story and not that; when we read her opinion and not his; when we nod and smile at ugly caricatures we take that next small step toward a nation in which we see each other not as fellow citizens but as exploiters and victims. The walls between us rise a little higher. For a preview of the end state, see Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela.
When the flow of ideas among citizens stops, self-government dies. If we ignore the things we share and lose the urge to talk to each other as neighbors, we will come to see each other as monsters to destroy. Disagreements will become heresies against the truth, as known by a growing number of increasingly insular groups; our country will drown in the ocean of our collective misunderstanding, suspicion, invective and hatred.
Or, we could talk.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.